The college football season officially begins Thursday and two Pac-12 teams will be part of the action against two Mountain West teams.
Utah hosts in-state rival Utah State while USC travels to Honolulu to face the Rainbow Warriors. Each weekend during the season, I will attempt to predict each Pac-12 game (except the one involving Arizona — hey, this Web site is called WildAboutAZCats.net — so you can figure out why).
Let’s get on with the season. The wait is finally over. …
When: Thursday, 5 p.m., Tucson time. Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City. TV: Fox Sports 1.
Spread: Utah by 2.5.
When does Utah play Arizona?: Sat., Oct. 19, at Arizona Stadium.
Why Utah State will win: The Aggies, who advance from the WAC to the Mountain West this season, lost head coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin, but they return 14 starters from last year’s 11-2 team. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells, responsible for the development of talented senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton — remember that name this season — takes over as head coach. The Aggies snapped a 12-game losing skid to Utah last season with a 27-20 overtime win in Logan, Utah. Keeton proved to be the difference for Utah State as he passed for 216 yards and two scores and rushed for 86 yards on 17 carries.
Why Utah will win: The revenge-minded Utes were humbled by last year’s loss to Utah State and a 5-7 record after preseason prognosticators thought they would challenge for the Pac-12 South title. Embattled coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team averaged “only” 26 points per game last season, hired former ASU, Oregon State, Washington State … (he is almost halfway through the Pac-12) … coach Dennis Erickson to help 25-year-old Brian Johnson as coordinator of the offense. Erickson, 65, has a history of grooming prolific passers and sophomore Travis Wilson appears ready to be his next achievement. Utah’s offense should start to click with an already sound defense.
Outcome: Utah will win by 6.
Reason: Playing at home with a returning quarterback, new co-offensive coordinator in Erickson and new facilities, tips the scale against a Utah State team transitioning with a new head coach on the road.
When: Thursday, 8 p.m., Tucson time. Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu. TV: CBS Sports.
Spread: USC by 24.
When does USC play Arizona?: Thurs., Oct. 10, at the L.A. Coliseum.
Why Hawaii will win: Second-year coach Norm Chow, the offensive coordinator at USC during their early glory years with Pete Carroll, has a quarterback he can rely on. Ohio State transfer Taylor Graham, recruited by former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, has NFL size (6-5, 235) like his dad Kent Graham (a former Ohio State QB). Graham also has a strong arm and good skill position people to distribute the ball. USC’s weakness is its secondary because of inexperience and a lack of depth. The Rainbow Warriors were 20-point home underdogs to USC two years ago and the Trojans escaped with a 49-36 win. And that was under a Hawaii coach on the way out — Greg McMackin.
Why USC will win: The Trojans, despite their 7-6 season last year, still have the most talent on paper than any team in the Pac-12, including Oregon. How that talent will be coached by Lane Kiffin and Co. is another matter, but the Trojans are formidable at many positions. Marquise Lee has the big-play potential to make either Max Wittek or Cody Kessler look like effective quarterbacks. Lee will draw defenders which should open the field for others. The Trojans’ defensive line, led by sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams, should make life difficult for Hawaii’s suspect offensive line (40 sacks allowed last year) and Graham in this game.
Outcome: USC will win by 28.
Reason: The jury is still out on Chow being an effective head coach and USC simply has too much for a reeling Hawaii program coming off a 3-9 season.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.