Survive and advance. That’s the mantra in the NCAA basketball tournament, and it’s not a bad idea for college football teams with an eye to something down the road, whether it’s the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (yes, that’s its name) or a berth in the national-title game.
So that will be the fundamental thrust on opening weekend for Pac-12 teams, a few of which might not make it out unscathed. A look at what faces each one, ranked by degree of difficulty from easiest to toughest:
12. UC-Davis at Arizona State (Thursday night). ASU won the only meeting in 1940, and the Aggies, 6-5 last year, have been bent on revenge ever since. “Our camp lasted five weeks,” groused ASU coach Dennis Erickson this week. “It seems like forever.” The game likely will seem that way for Davis. Pick: ASU, 40-3.
11. Idaho State at Washington State. ISU’s 2010 statistics were numbingly bad: Leading rusher had 274 yards, best percentage passer hit 47 percent, the offense had 226 yards per game. The only sobering note for WSU is that it almost went down against ISU’s Big Sky compadre Montana State last year. Pick: WSU, 41-10.
10. Northern Arizona at Arizona. Strange but true: NAU (6-5 last year) has beaten Arizona State 14 times in its history – all of which came before 1939. It has one win in 11 tries against Arizona, and seems unlikely to make it two. Pick: Arizona, 34-10.
9. Eastern Washington at Washington. There’s a first time for everything, and this is the UW’s maiden voyage against an FCS opponent. No reason for shame there (not like an 0-12 season). Pick: UW, 38-16.
8. San Jose State at Stanford. It’s up to Kent Baer, Tyrone Willingham’s defensive coordinator at the UW and now in that role for the Spartans, to try to shut down Andrew Luck. Lots of luck. Pick: Stanford, 30-13.
7. Minnesota at USC. How’s that offensive line looking, Lane Kiffin? “I don’t know that we feel much better than we did going into camp,” says the USC coach. Jerry Kill, late of Northern Illinois, is the new Gophers coach, and the Trojans have spent considerable time viewing NIU tape. The Minnesota quarterback, 6-4, 240-pound MarQueis Gray, caught 42 balls as a wideout last year. Pick: USC, 38-9.
6. Sacramento State at Oregon State. It’s probably a breather for the Beavers, but they’ve been beat up, adding injuries at corner and defensive tackle to their list. And Sac State brings 17 returning starters from a 6-5 team. Freshman Malcolm Agnew, a 5-9, 190-pound back from St. Louis, may be the next smallish OSU runner to excel. Pick: OSU, 27-14.
5. Montana State at Utah (Thursday night). Upset alert for Utes, who travel to USC next week but must first beat a team that won the Big Sky last year and returns seven offensive starters, including talented quarterback DeNarius McGhee. Pick: Utah, 26-20.
4. Fresno State-Cal at Candlestick Park. FSU quarterback Derek Carr, younger brother of ex-Bulldog standout David Carr, says he wanted to play at Cal once. Cal coach Jeff Tedford says the Bears committed to somebody else – “I can’t remember exactly which quarterback it was at the time.” That’s because they’ve all been mediocre lately in Berkeley. Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard will try to change that trend. Pick: Fresno State, 31-30.
3. UCLA at Houston. At Pac-12 media day, Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said he hoped to beat Houston “in an impressive way.” Running back Johnathan Franklin talked about “getting a big win. Not a small win, but a big win.” Earth to Bruins: You’re a three-point underdog. Just win, baby, any kind of win. Pick: UCLA, 27-21.
2. Oregon-LSU at Arlington, Texas. Somewhere in there, buried beneath Willie Lyles revelations and Jordan Jefferson’s barfight and Cliff Harris’ lead foot on I-5, there’s a football game – potentially one that could decide the national title before Labor Day. Pick: Oregon, 19-13.
1. Colorado at Hawaii. Speaking of barfights, Hawaii suspended two players for getting into one Saturday night, including linebacker Aaron Brown of Puyallup. If it weren’t for prolific Warriors quarterback Bryant Moniz, that might help the Buffs break a 17-game road losing streak, which this week, first-year coach Jon Embree was inadvertently referring to as 18. Pick: Hawaii, 35-24.
Last year’s record: 58-18 (38-28-3 vs. spread).