For the last few years, the Pac-12 has been the laughingstock of the Power 5. Football, easily the most visible collegiate sport, has become one of the weakest ones within the conference. Washington was the last team to make the playoff in 2016, and the conference hasn’t won a New Year’s Six game since USC’s iconic 2017 victory over Penn State.
Still, life goes on, and another season is officially underway. The Arizona Wildcats began things with a crushing loss to Hawaii in Week 0, and the rest of the conference started the season this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
There were a few ups and a lot of downs, but the scene is set for an exciting season of college football in the west, even if the conference still seems to be catching up. Here’s the roundup of all the week 1 Pac-12 games.
Cincinnati 24, UCLA 14
In a sloppy but still entertaining contest, the UCLA Bruins simply made too many mistakes to keep up with Group of Five powerhouse Cincinnati.
UCLA had chances to win, but Cincinnati played well and earned the victory. Cincinnati sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder went 18 for 26 for 242 yards and two scores. Running back Michael Warren II scored the Bearcats’ third touchdown of the night on his way to 92 yards. The real star of the game might have been cornerback Javon Hicks, who recorded an interception as well as recovered a fumble.
Speaking of fumbles and UCLA mistakes, Bruin quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson had a night to forget. He finished 8 for 26 for 156 yards, and balanced two TDs with two interceptions. Twice, DTR simply dropped the football, and both times Cincinnati recovered. Almost half of his yards came on a single throw to Demetric Felton.
UCLA under Chip Kelly was hoping to take a serious step forward in Year 2. That still could happen, but a lot of improvement will have to take place over the next few months.
No. 14 Utah 30, BYU 12
It took until game three against the Group of Five for the Pac-12 to get its first win, but Utah got it done by dominating its fierce rival on Thursday.
Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss, two of the best players on the Utes, spent last November injured, and their return was greatly anticipated. Moss easily lived up to the hype, carrying the ball 29 times for 187 yards and a score. Huntley was asked to do very little, but he still performed well, finishing 13 for 16 for 106 yards.
Utah’s offense was fine, but their defense was phenomenal, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and helping put the game away. One note is that the Utes’ left four points on the field in the form of missed kicks. Kyle Whittingham’s special teams unit has been incredible for a long time now, so seeing the Utes struggle their was a shock even though they replace a great kicker and punter.
If Utah can get the kicking game going and Moss keeps churning, the hype around Utah could be for real.
Arizona State 30, Kent State 7
ASU had a lot to replace on offense this offseason, and while beating Kent State isn’t anything to write home about, the offense did show that there’s promise for another solid season in Tempe.
True freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels was one of the highest-rated recruits in Arizona State history, and his true freshman debut was good. Daniels went 15 for 24 for 284 yards and a touchdown, and there weren’t very many freshman mistakes. Of course, he was helped by returning star running back Eno Benjamin, who finished with 102 yards.
The best play of the game for the Devils had to be a 77-yard TD pass to Brandon Aiyuk, where the receiver did most of the work and looked phenomenal. It’s hard to give the defense too much credit for shutting down Kent State, but ASU’s defense did look good.
Overall, there’s no reason the Sun Devil faithful shouldn’t be excited about this season. If Daniels is for real and is ready as a true freshman, then ASU can win plenty this year.
Colorado 52, Colorado State 31
In a rivalry matchup between teams desperately seeking opening wins, the Buffaloes beat out the Rams in a fun shootout in Denver.
Most of the question marks on Colorado’s otherwise strong offense were on the running game, a weakness last year breaking in a new feature back. Alex Fontenot answered the call well, going for 125 yards on just 19 carries, three of which were touchdowns. There was little doubt that the passing game would play well, and that held up, as senior Steven Montez went 13 for 20 for 232 yards and two TDs.
Due to the run-focused nature of Colorado’s gameplan, all-world receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. wasn’t featured much, recording three rushes and three catches. Against more talented teams, that might have to change, but for now, CU should just be happy that the offense looks strong enough to make up for a rebuilding defense.
Oklahoma State 52, Oregon State 36
Speaking of fun shootouts, two OSUs did battle in Corvallis, and in terms of sheer fun it might have been the best game of the entire weekend.
In year two under Jonathan Smith, the Beavers’ goals have to be competence on defense combined with a sneaky good offense. One of those goals was achieved Friday, as Oregon State’s offense kept up at a fast clip to Oklahoma State’s high-powered attack. Jake Luton went 23 for 42 for 250 yards and three scores, and nine of those completions and two of the touchdowns went to star Isaiah Hodgins. Sophomore back Jermar Jefferson was solid on the ground too, going for 87 yards and keeping the team multidimensional.
The 2018 Oregon State defense was one of the worst in the nation, and it’s hard to say if there was improvement. Sure, 52 points is pretty unforgivable, but Oregon State gave up 78 to Ohio State last year in the opener, and Oklahoma State’s offense is pretty incendiary. While the game might have ended in a loss, it was fun to watch, and the Beavers kept up for a while, and that alone is a promising sign.
No. 13 Washington 47, Eastern Washington 14
One of only two Pac-12 vs. FCS matchups in Week 1, the Huskies put away one of the best teams in FCS easily on their home turf.
Perhaps no Top 25 team is dealing with more turnover than Washington this season, and while EWU is an FCS team, this was still a opening test. The newcomers passed, especially former five-star Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason. Eason went 27 for 36 for 349 yards and four touchdowns, spreading the wealth between great receivers Andre Baccellia, Hunter Bryant, and Aaron Fuller.
The running game and the defense also got A’s on the day, but weren’t as phenomenal as Eason. Richard Newton was promising as an explosive runner, and the VERY young defense held a good offense to just 14 points. It may just be a win over Eastern Washington, but the Huskies look just as good as they’ve been all of Chris Petersen’s tenure.
No. 25 Stanford 17, Northwestern 7
No game this weekend lived up, or down, to its billing like this academic, smashmouth slugfest between Northwestern and Stanford in Palo Alto.
Stanford’s goal for this game had to be for K.J. Costello and Cameron Scarlett to keep the offense humming while their young teammates get some experience. That went well at first, as the underrated Costello went a surgical 16-for-20 for 152 yards, and Scarlett went for 97 yards on 22 carries. It might not have ended in a lot of points, and Stanford fumbled twice, but it worked against Northwestern.
Unfortunately, Costello was knocked out of the game at the end of the first half with an apparent head injury. Davis Mills performed moderately well in relief, but the Cardinal need Costello, and have to hope he’s OK. Stanford’s next three games are brutal, and without Costello, a 1-3 start is on the table. For now though, Stanford is 1-0 and can enjoy the win.
California 27, UC Davis 13
The other week 1 FCS matchup in the conference was also against a title contender from the Big Sky. And while it was close, the Pac-12 ended up on top again.
UC Davis went up 10-0 early, and the Aggies’ talent was clear throughout, but Cal’s smothering defense woke up in the second quarter and allowed the Golden Bears to escape. Cal’s offense was one of the worst in the country last season, and while it was an FCS school, it seemed much improved today. Chase Garbers went a perfectly fine 16 for 28 and 238 yards, plus two touchdowns and a pick.
The best news for the Bears had to be Christopher Brown Jr.’s dominating performance on the ground for UC Davis. He carried the ball an astounding 36 times, going for 197 yards, and the touchdown that gave Cal the lead. While a close win to an FCS school and three fumbles can’t make Cal fans feel good, there at least seems to be improvement on offense, and thus there’s hope for the Bears.
No. 16 Auburn 27, No. 11 Oregon 21
In the marquee game of the weekend, Oregon squandered another late lead and saw its playoff hopes dealt quite a blow.
From minute one, this game seemed to be destined for wackiness, as Oregon opened up a 21-6 lead while leaving plenty more points on the table. The Ducks were playing solid, and their vaunted offensive line was winning more often than not against Auburn’s fearsome defensive front. Still, Auburn’s offense got it going under true freshman Bo Nix, and after a few conservative drives from Oregon, Nix got his chance to win the game and took it, throwing a risky ball to Seth Williams for the game-winning score with nine seconds left.
A Justin Herbert Hail Mary flew out of the end zone, and the Ducks lost a gut punch.
The only really bad takeaway Oregon can have is that it lost. Herbert looked like the star he is, going 28 for 37 with 242 yards and a touchdown. Running back CJ Verdell looked great with some help from that O-line, going for 76 yards. The rebuilt receiving corps wasn’t sure-handed all the time, including a dropped TD in the second quarter that could’ve won Oregon the game, but they also helped Herbert the vast majority of the time. The defense wore down a bit near the end, but overall looked like a solid unit. Despite all that, Oregon lost, and this one is going to sting for them and the conference.
#23 Washington State 58, New Mexico State 7
In the genre of utter annihilations, Wazzu destroyed New Mexico State, and while it wasn’t a quality opponent, WSU looked like it will still be in the Pac-12 North race.
For most of the offseason, it seemed like EWU grad transfer Gage Gubrud would be the starting quarterback in Pullman. Instead, longtime backup Anthony Gordon took the field, and he looks like the right choice after one game. Gordon smoked the Aggies, finishing 29 for 35 with 420 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters. Gubrud played in the fourth quarter with the reserves, and still got 76 passing yards and a TD.
In terms of skill positions, Washington State might have the best offense in the conference. Being a Mike Leach team, the running game was barely featured, but Max Borghi still went for 128 yards on a measly 10 carries. Dezmon Patton went over 100 receiving yards, and two more top receivers from 2018 Easop Winston Jr. and Davontavean Martin finished behind some new faces. It may have been against NMSU, but it looks like Leach will have the Cougars on their A-game again.
USC 31, Fresno State 23
It was an up-and-down game for the Trojans, and while they ultimately finished with the victory, it was at best a Pyrrhic one and at worst the beginning of a brutal season, losing sophomore quarterback JT Daniels for the season after he suffered a torn ACL and meniscus.
The game started off great for USC, as it leaped to a 17-3 lead and sophomore quarterback JT Daniels looked at home in new coordinator Graham Harrell’s fast-paced offense. Unfortunately, in a situation mirroring Costello’s injury at Stanford, Daniels went down with a knee injury just before half. Fresno State never went away, and while the two teams traded boneheaded mistakes for most of the second half, the Bulldogs had a real chance to win.
True freshman Kedon Slovis came in as relief for Daniels, and the offense completely flipped into a run-heavy attack. Slovis played like a true freshman, going 6 for 8 for 57 yards with a pick.
Running back Vavae Malepeai carried the load, going for 134 yards on 23 carries and a scorebut maybe Clay Helton and Harrell can pull a rabbit out of their hats.