Pac-12 Season-Openers Continue into Week One
Preseason Rankings: Four Pac-12 teams are ranked in both the AP and Coaches Preseason Top 25 polls. While USC (4/4), WASHINGTON (8/7) and STANFORD (14/14) hold three spots among the Top 15 in each poll, WASHINGTON STATE comes in at No. 24 in the AP and UTAH is at No. 25 in the Coaches poll.
OPENERS: The Pac-12 looks to bounce back from last year’s season-opening record of 7-5. Those five losses were more than a third of the league’s non-conference losses for the entire season, including postseason. Last year, the Pac-12 was 29-13 (.690) in non-league action. UTAH currently has the Pac-12’s longest winning streak for season-openers with nine, followed OREGON (5) and CALIFORNIA (3) ... The reigning Conference champions/co-champions are 109-20-4 (.834) all-time in season openers, including a 22-2 (.917) mark over the previous 20 seasons.
PRESEASON HONORS: Seven Pac-12 student-athletes picked up Associated Press Preseason All-America honors... First Team selections include USC sophomore QB Sam Darnold, WASHINGTON STATE senior OG Cody O’Connell, WASHINGTON senior LB Azeem Victor, and UTAH junior P Mitch Wishnowsky. Second Team honors were bestowed upon Washington DT junior Vita Vea, USC junior LB Cameron Smith, and USC junior CB Iman Marshall.
HEADING EAST: With a pair of Pac-12 teams opening on the east coast this weekend, it’s worth noting that since 2000, Pac-12 teams are 32-34 in the eastern time zone. Throw out the games at Notre Dame, and Pac-12 teams are 25-19. The last non-Notre Dame win on the East Coast was Washington State’s 37-34 win at Rutgers in 2015.
PAC-12 FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK:
SHORTENED TIME OF GAME: The Pac-12 Conference will conduct a test program to improve the viewing experience for fans in stadium and on-air by taking steps to shorten the length of football games. All non-conference football games on Pac-12 Network this season (could be up to 15 games) will have reduced break times between the 1st and 2nd quarters and between the 3rd and 4th quarters. In addition, three non-conference games will have adjusted commercial formats to reduce four additional minutes of break time, and halftime for seven non-conference football games will be reduced from 20 to 15 minutes (approval was needed from each opponent). For certain games, Pac-12 Networks will experiment with :01 kickoff times. These experimental efforts are meant to shorten game length up to 10 minutes and reduce broadcast windows by up to 15 minutes. Below is the Pac-12 Networks schedule of games and the experimental adjustments for each game.
FEELING THE RUSH: While the Pac-12 is loaded with talented quarterbacks, the running game should not be overlooked. Just look at last week’s results where STANFORD’s Bryce Love rushed for 180 yards and OREGON STATE’s Ryan Nall picked up 115 yards. The league returns three 1,000-yard rushers from last season in WASHINGTON junior Myles Gaskin (1,373 yards/5.8 avg/10 TDs), COLORADO senior Phillip Lindsay (1,252 yards/5.1 avg/16 TDs) and USC junior Ronald Jones II (1,082 yards/6.1 avg/12 TDs), but three other returning running backs have posted 1,000-yard seasons during their careers - ARIZONA senior Nick Wilson (1,375 yards in 2014), OREGON senior Royce Freeman (1,365 yards in 2014; 1,836 yards in 2015) and ARIZONA STATE senior Demario Richard (1,050 yards in 2015).
NOTES FROM THE NORTH:
CALIFORNIA: Serious competition for the starting QB position between freshman Chase Garber, sophomore transfer Brandon McIlwain and sophomore Ross Bowers. They’ll have big shoes to fill following the 4,295 passing yards and 37 TDs put up by Davis Webb last season ... Senior PK Matt Anderson set the single-season modern era record in points scored with 117 points last season and is a Lou Groza Award candidate in 2017 ... The Bears open the season at North Carolina on Sat., Sept. 2. It’s their first game in the eastern time zone since 2012 (35-28 loss at Ohio State). loss at Maryland in 2008 (35-27). The last victory in the eastern time zone came during the 2002 season when Cal won at No. 15 Michigan State, 46-22.
OREGON: Coach Willie Taggart will make his Oregon debut Sat., Sept. 2 against Southern Utah. He’ll look for a better debut than previous Duck coaches as only two of the last eight Oregon coaches since 1951 won their first game - Mike Bellotti (27-20 at Utah, 1995) and Mark Helfrich (66-3 vs. Nicholls, 2013) ... Senior RB Royce Freeman has posted 4,146 rushing yards and 44 TDs over the last three seasons. He’s only nine rushing touchdowns shy from becoming Oregon’s all-time leader in career rushing touchdowns and 936 yards away from equaling the Ducks all-time rushing record.
OREGON STATE: Junior QB Jake Luton completed 27 of 47 pass attempts for 304 yards and 2 TDs in his Oregon State debut last week. He connected with nine different receivers. His two primary targets were Jordan Villamin (7 receptions, 77 yards) and Noah Togiai (7 receptions, 67 yards, 1 TD). Only one other quarterback threw for more yards in his Oregon State debut - Matt Moore (367 yards vs. Portland State, Sept. 3, 2005) ... Junior RB Ryan Nall picked up where he left off last season, rushing for 115 yards on 15 carries (7.7 avg) and 1 TD. It was his seventh career 100-yard rushing game, and fifth in the last seven games.
STANFORD: Stanford opened the season victorious with a 62-7 win over Rice in Sydney, Australia. The 62 points scored are the most in a season-opener for the Cardinal since a 68-20 win over San Jose State to kick off the 1968 season ... Junior RB Bryce Love posted a career-high 180 yards rushing on 13 carries (13.8 avg). Love has an impressive 7.8 yards per carry average for his career as he’s rushed for 1,189 yards on just 153 carries over the last two-plus seasons ... Junior RB Cameron Scarlett scored three rushing TDs on just eight carries in the win over Rice. He rushed for 59 yards (7.4 avg) ... Has made 177 consecutive extra-point attempts, the third-longest streak in the nation (Michigan - 284, Memphis - 209). The streak dates to Stanford’s matchup at Oregon State on Oct. 26, 2013 ... Stanford’s 75 wins against FBS opponents this decade ranks second nationally. Only Alabama (79) has more ... Stanford has won at least eight games for a school-record eight straight seasons.
WASHINGTON: Since 2000, the Huskies are 1-6 in the eastern time zone with the one victory coming at Syracuse in 2007, which was also the last time the Huskies opened the season in the eastern time zone ... Junior RB Myles Gaskin rushed for 1,000 yards (1,373) for the second straight season and has rushed for 2,675 yards and 24 TDs in two seasons ... Junior QB Jake Browning set the UW and tied the Pac-12 single-season record with 43 TD passes in 2016.
WASHINGTON STATE: The Cougars are looking for their first season-opening win since a 64-21 win over Idaho State in 2011 ... WSU set school single-season records for points (496) and touchdowns (67) last season ... Senior QB Luke Falk threw for 4,470 yards last season, third-most in WSU season history. He matched his WSU record of 38 TD passes set in 2015. He owns 89 career TD passes, trailing only Connor Halliday’s school record of 90.
NOTES FROM THE SOUTH:
ARIZONA: Redshirt junior Brandon Dawkins is bidding for the starting QB job after rushing for 944 yards last season and passing for 1,348 yards. He accounted for 18 total touchdowns. His 944 rushing yards were fifth-highest by an FBS quarterback last season ... The Wildcats open at home with Northern Arizona, who it has defeated in all 12 previous meetings in Tucson by a combined score of 479-88, including a 153-23 margin over the last three games.
ARIZONA STATE: There’s still tight competition at starting quarterback between returning starter Manny Wilkins, who threw for 2,329 yards and 12 TDs, and transfer Blake Barnett ... Senior RB Kalen Ballage is a dual threat for the Sun Devils, having rushed for 536 yards and 14 TDs, while collecting 44 receptions for 469 yards and one score in 2016. He also added 409 yards on kickoff returns ... A big shoe to fill for the Sun Devils this season will be at place kicker where Zane Gonzalez exhausted his eligibility after establishing an FBS career record of 96 field goals, while setting a Pac-12 career scoring mark with 494 points.
COLORADO: The Buffs look to follow up on their first 10-win season since 2001 ... Senior RB Phillip Lindsay rushed for 1,252 yards and a Pac-12 best 16 rushing TDs last season and has compiled 2,296 rushing yards in his career with a total of 22 rushing TDs. Starting quarterback duties are slotted for sophomore Stephen Montez. Montez threw for 1,078 yards and 9 TDs last season in a couple of starts in place of the injured Sefo Liufau. He averaged 12.99 yards per completion, which was third among Pac-12 quarterbacks last season.
UCLA: Senior LB Kenny Young is third among all returning Pac-12 players averaging 7.5 tackles per game last season ... Senior WR Darren Andrews looks to be the go-to receiver for junior QB Josh Rosen. Andrews has 102 career receptions for 1,204 yards and 5 TDs. Over the last two seasons, he and Colorado’s Shay Fields have caught more passes (98) than any returning player in the conference, while his receiving yardage (1,152) during the past two seasons is fourth among returning players, trailing Fields (1,481), Washington’s Dante Pettis (1,236) and Oregon’s Darren Carrington (1,215).
USC: The Trojans open the season with a nine-game winning streak, their longest since 2008-09 ... QB Sam Darnold is coming off a freshman campaign that saw him complete 246-of-366 passes for 3,086 yards and a USC freshman record 31 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. Darnold is the first USC QB since Matt Leinart (2004) to throw multiple TDs in seven straight games ... Junior RB Ronald Jones II is one of three returning Pac-12 running backs to rush for 1,000 yards last season as he posted 1,082 yards on 177 carries (6.1 avg) with 12 TDs.
UTAH: The Utes have tapped sophomore QB Tyler Huntley as the opening day starter. Huntley threw just seven passes last season, completing five for 60 yards ... Junior P Mitch Wishnowsky was named preseason first team All-America by the Associated Press. The reigning Ray Guy Award winner averaged 47.7 yards per punt and led the nation in net punting (44.63 avg). Of his 64 punts, 17 were downed inside the 10-yard line, while only two were touchbacks (both in last year’s season-opener).
POLL NOTES: USC makes its 20th appearance all-time in the Top 5 in the AP preseason poll ... Washington’s No. 8 preseason ranking is its highest since opening at No. 4 for the 1997 season. The Huskies have been ranked in the AP Top 10 for 16 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch in the Top 10 since 1990-92 (37 straight weeks) ... It’s the seventh consecutive season that Stanford has appeared in the AP preseason Top 25. The Cardinal are one of eight teams to have appeared in the AP preseason poll in each of the last seven seasons, joining Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, USC, Oklahoma, LSU and Georgia ... Washington State is making its third-ever appearance in the AP preseason Top 25 (also in 1952 and 2002).
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