UCLA, USC Head to Lone Star State in Week 1

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Coming off its centennial celebration during the 2015-16 season, the Pac-12 will now enter its 101st season looking for another successful football campaign...

•    A record 10 teams participated in postseason bowl games following the 2015 season.

•    A Heisman runner-up in STANFORD’s Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 2,019 yards and broke the FBS record for all-purpose yards with 3,864 yards ... WASHINGTON STATE quarterback Luke Falk returns after leading the FBS with 380.5 passing yards per game.

•    Nine different Pac-12 teams were ranked in the Top 25 at one point during the 2015 season, with five different teams ranked in the AP Top 10 at some point during the season.

Following the Pac-12 in Rio... OREGON WR/KR Devon Allen represented Team USA at the Rio Olympics in the 110m hurdles where he finished fifth ... USC CB/WR/KR Adoree’ Jackson (long jump) and ARIZONA STATE WR/KR Tim White (triple jump) attempted to make the USA squad, but came up short ... Former Cal running back Jahvid Best (100m) represented St. Lucia ... If the Pac-12 was considered a country, it’s student-athletes, both current and former, would have placed fifth in the medal count at the Rio Olympics:

USA (46 G, 37 S, 38 B)    121

CHN (26 G, 18 S, 26 B)    70

GBR (27 G, 23 S, 17 B)    67

RUS (19 G, 18 S, 19 B)    56

Pac-12 (25 G, 13 S, 17 B)    55


Thur. Sept. 1 Site Local Time/TV
Southern Utah (0-0) at UTAH (0-0)
Series: First Meeting
Rice Eccles Stadium (45,807) 6 p.m. MT
OREGON STATE (0-0) at Minnesota (0-0)
Series: MInnesota leads, 2-1-0. Last: Minnesota 42-12 (1981)
TCF Bank Stadium (52,525) 8 p.m. CT
Fri., Sept. 2 Site Local Time/TV
Colorado State (0-0) vs. COLORADO (0-0)
Series: COLO leads, 63-22-2. Last: COLO 27-24 OT (2015)
Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium (67,125) 6 p.m. MT
Kansas State (0-0) at 8/7 STANFORD (0-0)
Series: First Meeting
Stanford Stadium (50,000) 6 p.m. PT
FS1/FOX Deportes
Sat., Sept. 3 Site Local Time/TV
Rutgers (0-0) at 14/18 WASHINGTON (0-0)
Series: First Meeting
Husky Stadium (70,083) 11 a.m. PT
UC Davis (0-0) at 24/22 OREGON (0-0)
Series: First Meeting
Autzen Stadium (54,000) 2 p.m. PT
20/17 USC (0-0) vs. 1/1 Alabama (0-0)
Series: Alabama leads, 5-2-0. Last: Alabama, 24-3 (1985)
Dallas, AT&T Stadium (80,000) 7 p.m. CT
Eastern Washington (0-0) at WASHINGTON STATE (0-0)
Series: WSU leads, 3-0-0. Last: WSU, 24-20 (2012)
Martin Stadium (32,925) 5 p.m. PT
BYU (0-0) vs. ARIZONA (0-0)
Series: ARIZ leads, 11-9-1. Last: BYU, 20-7 (2007)
Glendale, Ariz., Univ. of Phoenix Stadium (63,400) 7:30 p.m. PT
Northern Arizona (0-0) at ARIZONA STATE (0-0)
Series: ASU leads 21-14-4. Last: ASU, 63-6 (2012)
Sun Devil Stadium (56,232) 7:45 p.m. PT

OFF AND RUNNING, THROWING: California opened the college football season by defeating Hawai’i, 51-31 in the Sydney Cup in Sydney, Australia. In his Cal debut, Davis Webb connected on 38 of 54 pass attempts for 441 yards and 4 TDs. It was the most passing yards in a non-overtime game by a Cal quarterback not named Jared Goff, ranking 10th for most passing yards in a single game in Golden Bear history. Webb connected with 12 different Cal receivers, led by Chad Hansen’s 14 receptions for 160 yards. Khalfani Muhammad rushed for 96 yards on 10 carries, while Vic Enwere added 73 yards on 10 carries.

THE POLLS: For the fourth consecutive year, the Pac-12 places at least five teams in the preseason Top 25 polls.

NON-LEAGUE SLATE/PAC-12 SCHEDULE: The Pac-12 posted a 35-12 record in non-conference play in 2015 and is 72-21 in non-league action over the last two seasons. The Pac-12 will look for the same success in 2016 as non-conference schedules include 18 opponents that participated in a bowl game last season. In all, 11 Pac-12 teams will face a team that appeared in a bowl game last season with USC facing three such opponents. FBS opponents that dot the Pac-12 schedules combined to go 190-169 (.529) last season.. . . Each Conference team will play a nine-game league schedule that includes five games within its own division and four games in the other division. Teams with the best record in their respective divisions will meet in the Pac-12 title game on Friday, Dec. 2 (FOX) at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. 

THE RETURNEES: A total of 169 starters, who started at least half of his team’s games or a majority of games at a specific position, return to Pac-12 football squads in 2016.  That’s out of a possible 288 (including placekickers and punters) for an average of 14.0 starters returning per team. COLORADO returns the most with 20 starters, followed by WASHINGTON and WASHINGTON STATE each with 16 returning starters. ARIZONA STATE, OREGON, STANFORD and CALIFORNIA return the fewest starters with 12... Take note, Stanford had the fewest returning starters (11) last season and ended up capturing the Pac-12 championship. Here are the numbers:

THE HEADLINERS: Among those 169 returning starters are a number of headliners, including a total of 14 first-team and nine second-team All-Pac-12 performers.  Look for Pac-12 teams to once again posess explosive offenses as nine league teams averaged 400 yards or more in total offense, while 10 teams averaged 30 or more points per game. High-profile playmakers will be key in continuing the Pac-12’s success on offense. Returning all-conference performers include WASHINGTON STATE quarterback Luke Falk (380.5 passing yards/game, 38 TDs), STANFORD running back Christian McCaffrey (FBS record 3,864 all-purpose yard/276.0 pergame), OREGON running back Royce Freeman (141.2 rushing yards/game, 17 TDs), WASHINGTON STATE wide reciever Gabe Marks (104 receptions, 91.7 yards/game, 15 TDs) and USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (89 receptions, 103.9 yards/game, 10 TDs) ... Defenses will look to fly to ball with strong pass rushers and run stoppers in returning All-Conference perfomers Lowell Lotulelei of UTAH and Deon Hollins of UCLA, as well as USC’s Cameron Smith, the Defensive Freshman of the Year. The Pac-12 will be loaded in defending the deep threat with a total of 39 starters returning to roam the secondary. Among those returnees are all four first-team All-Conference defensive backs - WASHINGTON’s Budda Baker and Sidney Jones, USC’s Adoreé Jackson and UTAH’s Marcus Williams. In addition, three of the four second team members return - COLORADO’s Chidobe Awuzie, and UCLA’s Randall Goforth and Jaleel Wadood.

BIG ARMS TO REPLACE: Conference teams will need to replace seven starters behind center that combined to throw for 19,721 yards and 168 touchdowns. However, the league has plenty of talent, both young and veteran, ready to step in to keep Pac-12 offenses moving at high levels. Upperclassmen poised to have big seasons include ARIZONA senior Anu Solomon (2,667 pasing yards/242.5 avg/20 TDs), COLORADO senior Sefo Liufau (2,418 yards/219.8 avg/9 TDs) and WASHINGTON STATE junior Luke Falk (4,566 yards/380.5 avg/38 TDs). Sophomores Jake Browning (2,955 passing yards/246.2 avg/16 TDs) of Washington and UCLA’s Josh Rosen (3,669 passing yards/282.2 avg/23 TDs) will look to exceed their exceptional first-year numbers.

NOT RUNNING ON EMPTY: The league returns multiple running backs who are ready to grab a share of the spotlight. In addition to McCaffrey (2,019 yards/144.2 avg/8 TDs), who became just the fourth player in league history to rush for 2,000 yards, OREGON junior Royce Freeman (1,836 yards/141.2 avg/17 TDs) has been one of the Pac-12’s top rushing threats the last two seasons with a combined two-year total of 3,201 rushing yards and 35 TDs. WASHINGTON sophomore Myles Gaskin is third among returning rushers with 1,302 yards and 14 TDs. ARIZONA STATE junior Demario Richard rushed for 1,050 and 7 TDs, while the USC tandem of sophomore Ronald Jones (987) and senior Justin Davis (902) combined for 1,889 yards and 15 TDs. ARIZONA’s Nick Wilson (729 yards/8 TDs) looks to bounce back to from after injury limited him to nine games last season. He posted 1,375 yards and 16 TDs in 2014..

GIVE THEM A HAND: Like the league’s quarterbacks, eight of the Pac-12’s top receivers have moved on, but the cupboard is not bare. Among the notable returnees are Biletnikoff Award semifinalists USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster (89 rec/1,454 yds/10 TDs) and WASHINGTON STATE’s Gabe Marks (104 rec/1,192 yds/15 TDs), along with Washington State’s River Cracraft (53 rec/615 yds/4 TDs), ARIZONA STATE’s Tim White (57 rec/633 yds/8 TDs), OREGON STATE junior Jordan Villamin (43 rec/660 yds/5 TDs) and senior Victor Bolden (46 rec/461 yds/3 TDs). 

ISN’T THAT SPECIAL: Special teams around the league will continue to produce big plays behind kick returners McCaffrey (28.9 avg), White (27.0 avg), OREGON’s Charles Nelson (26.5 avg) and Bolden (25.2 avg). Add the return of WASHINGTON’s Jon Ross (24.7 avg in 2014), who missed last season with an injury, and these kick return specialists could quickly change the game. WASHINGTON’s Dante Pettis (16.9 avg) and USC’s Jackson (10.5 avg) have been elusive punt returners as each took a pair of punts for touchdowns last season ... The kicking game is solid with the return of all but two of the league’s regular placekickers. OREGON’s Aidan Schneider is the nation’s top returning kicker in terms of field goal percentage (.917), with ARIZONA STATE’s Zane Gonzalez among the FBS leaders in field goals made per game (2.00). With 386 career points, Gonzalez is on the verge of becoming the Pac-12’s all-time scoring leader as he trails UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn who set the record last season at 413 career points. Last-second outcomes will hinge on the foot of veteran kickers like STANFORD’s Conrad Ukropina, CALIFORNIA’s Matt Anderson, UTAH’s Andy Phillips and WASHINGTON’s Cameron Van Winkle.

THE DEFENSE DOES NOT REST: With the glut of returning defensive backs around the Conference (3.25 returning starters per team), opposing offenses will find it challenging to move the ball through the air. However it starts up front with pressure from the trenches. ARIZONA’s Sani Fuimaono and ARIZONA STATE’s Tashon Smallwood give each desert team a strong presence on the defensive line. CALIFORNIA’s DeVante Wilson and STANFORD’s Solomon Thomas are a pair of defensive ends to keep an eye on in the Bay Area. UCLA veteran linebackers Deon Hollins, Jayon Brown and Kenny Young lead a Bruin defense that returns nine starters. COLORADO also returns nine starters led by LBs Kenneth Olugbode and Rick Gamboa. Three of Utah’s seven returning defensive starters come from the front line in LT Lowell Lutulelei, DE Kylie Fitts, RT Filipo Mokofisi. WASHINGTON returns linebacker Azeem Victor, last year’s team leader in tackles. WASHINGTON STATE’s defense will look to LB Peyton Pelluer and DT Hercules Mata’afa. Pelluer led the team in tackles, while Mata’fa pulled down Freshman All-America honors.

THE COACHING RANKS: Ten of the 12 head coaches have been leading their respective teams for five or fewer seasons. Only Stanford’s David Shaw (6th season) and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham (12th season) have guided their respective squads for a longer period. While USC coach Clay Helton had the interim label removed prior to the Pac-12 Football Championship Game, there were no off-season coaching changings in the Pac-12. Pac-12 head coaches have combined to post an impressive FBS record of 737-421 (.636).

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