While the Cal football team is taking this weekend off in the aftermath of its 51-31 win over Hawaii in Australia, the remainder of the Pac-12 remains busy. And though some of the Bears’ conference rivals are playing lesser opponents, other Pac-12 teams are already playing crucial games at this early juncture in the season.
Kansas State at No. 8 Stanford
The Cardinal will face an unranked but well-coached Wildcats squad on national television Friday, as the game will air at 6:00 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
Stanford lost its opener against Northwestern last season, a game that cost it a spot in the College Football Playoff, and it should be on guard against a Wildcats team prone to shootouts — Kansas State gave up an average of 30.3 points per game last season, but scored nearly 30 of its own per matchup.
Stanford, which will be helmed by a new quarterback for the first time in years after Kevin Hogan went to the NFL, gets an opportunity to let its revamped offense settle in. And while a lot of eyes will be on Ryan Burns — the Cardinal’s new starting signal caller — in the leadup to the game, by the end of Friday’s matchup, Christian McCaffrey will embed his highlights in viewers’ minds.
After the lack of national attention cost McCaffrey a Heisman last season, Stanford will likely be eager to feed him the ball and add to his resume this time around.
The Cardinal, however, is typically not a team prone to distraction and will likely leverage the motivation from last season’s loss into a big win.
BYU at Arizona
The Wildcats will play the Cougars on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. Arizona is a team that would finish in the middle of the pack in most of the nation’s conferences, but the Wildcats will likely find themselves in the mix at the bottom of the hyper-competitive Pac-12 this season.
That makes this weekend’s game all the more important for Arizona, as securing a win over BYU would do a lot to help the Wildcats’ bowl chances.
Quarterback Anu Solomon will likely get another opportunity to lead Rich Rodriguez’s offense and will get a good opportunity to prove himself against a Cougars defense that allowed barely more than 21 points per game last season. Rodriguez’s team will have the upperhand against an underrated BYU team that will still be working out early season kinks, as the matchup will be the new coaching regime’s first.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 20 USC in Arlington, Texas
This game, which airs at 5:00 p.m. on ABC, is likely to be the weekend’s marquee matchup. With two of the sport’s most notable programs facing off for the first time since 1985, all eyes will and should be on this matchup.
The Trojans will be facing the country’s top-ranked team and oddsmakers have acted accordingly, favoring the Crimson Tide by 11.5 points. A win by USC, however, would be key in changing the perception of the Pac-12, which has long been ignored by the East Coast media. And though Pac-12 teams have had — and squandered — numerous chances to beat SEC titans in the postseason in recent years, Trojans fans have long argued that once USC was given a chance against the south’s elite teams, it would put it to good use.
The Trojans will go into the matchup hoping to make up for their lack of depth on the defensive line by relying on a group of high-profile players, including JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ronald Jones II, Adoree’ Jackson and new quarterback, Max Browne. Alabama, meanwhile, once again has buoyed its consistent recruitment of stars into the nation’s best roster from top to bottom, featuring players such as Calvin Ridley and Cam Robinson. Under Nick Saban, perhaps the best coach in the history of college football, the Crimson Tide will be expected to win — as it always is.
No. 16 UCLA at Texas A&M
The Bruins, led by the highly touted Josh Rosen, will be heading the weekend’s other big Pac-12 vs. SEC matchup. They will play the Aggies on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on CBS.
Though Texas A&M is unranked, the Aggies have enough talent to at least make things interesting against Rosen, Soso Jamabo and crew.
Myles Garrett, expected by most to be a top-three pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, essentially owns a timeshare in opposing quarterbacks’ backfields and is likely to be rearing at the opportunity to make Rosen’s life a living hell.
Texas A&M boasts a talented receiving corps, featuring Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones, that will make life easier for quarterback Trevor Knight. They will lead the Aggies to a home upset Saturday, giving the SEC a 2-0 advantage in the week’s games.