Canzano: My Week 1 picks -- football and... dragons?
Pac-12 must shift the narrative on the field.
ATLANTA — I’m here. So are the dragon people, it turns out. The Oregon-Georgia college football game is only one of two large-scale events happening in Atlanta this weekend.
Dragon Con is also here.
The event is billed as the “largest multi-media, pop-culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe.”
Dragon Con expects 65,000 attendees and five sold-out downtown hotels are dedicated to the event. My Uber driver pointed to a couple of Atlanta’s quiet downtown parks on Wednesday evening and said, “Just wait, the dragon people will be sleeping and camping all over the place. There’s no more room in the hotels.”
William Shatner and a bunch of actors from The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones television series are among those here for the event. Basically, Atlanta is House Targaryen between now and Labor Day. Oh, and another 71,000 people are expected for Saturday’s football game between the Ducks and Bulldogs. That feels big, too.
In 2021, the Pac-12 performed historically bad in non-conference games. The outcome was equally dismal in the bowl season — 0-5.
If the narrative of the Pac-12 is going to change, it has to start with a nice Week 1. Utah must beat Florida. Oregon State must beat Boise State. Oregon has to demonstrate it can stand toe-to-toe with Georgia in front of an ABC audience. Beyond that, the conference can’t suffer a bunch of upsets at the hands of sub-tier opponents.
Here are the games (all times PT) and my picks:
Northern Arizona at Arizona State (7 p.m. Thursday, Pac-12 Networks):
The Sun Devils have 51 new players in uniform this season, tops in the Pac-12 according to the research team. They lost their top three rushers and their top four receivers from 2021. So make sure you have a game program. Still, ASU is just plain better than NAU and Herm Edwards is 6-0 in non-conference home games. Transfer QB Emory Jones (Florida) will be a fun watch in the opener. NAU is 1-17 vs. the Pac-12 since 2001.
The pick: ASU 38, NAU 10
TCU at Colorado (7 pm. Friday, ESPN):
The Buffaloes are playing a Big 12 team in the regular season for the first time since ditching that conference to join the Pac-12. TCU has eight straight victories over Pac-12 opponents and I think it gets No. 9 this week. Colorado is at home, but still rebuilding.
The pick: TCU 31, Colorado 17
Bowling Green at UCLA (11:30 a.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Networks):
UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson is the first fifth-year starter at QB in the history of the Pac-12. This is career start No. 36 for Robinson and it should be a cakewalk for the Bruins, who will be eating a lot of non-conference cupcakes this season. Bowling Green had trouble scoring last season, finishing 11th out of 12 teams in the MAC. That trend continues in opening week.
The pick: UCLA 41, Bowling Green 3.
Arizona at San Diego State (12:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS):
The Wildcats are vastly improved under second-year coach Jedd Fisch. He has added 21 players via the transfer portal in two seasons, including quarterback Jayden de Laura. The Aztecs are opening a new venue — Snapdragon Stadium — and are “hoping” for a sellout of the 33,000 seats. Trouble is, the cheapest remaining ticket is priced at $178. I think Arizona hangs tough, but I like SDSU to win the game.
The pick: San Diego State 28, Arizona 24
Oregon at Georgia (12:30 p.m., ABC):
Big stage for first-year coach Dan Lanning and I think his familiarity with the Bulldogs ends up as a small advantage. It’s also Week 1, where weird things sometimes happen. Georgia is the defending national champion, but will start some inexperienced players at key positions on defense. I think Oregon plays within the 17.5-point spread in this one.
How good will SEC-transfer quarterback Bo Nix be vs. Georgia’s defense? That’s the question. Because I think Oregon’s defense keeps the Ducks in this game. The rest of the Pac-12 usually roots against Oregon, but I think they find themselves pulling for the Ducks vs. a big-time SEC opponent.
Said one opposing Pac-12 coach: “I’m pulling for them. It’s a conference thing.”
The pick: Georgia 27, Oregon 20
UC Davis at Cal (1 p.m., Pac-12 Bay Area):
Cal returns only three starters from the offensive side of the ball, per the Pac-12 research team. Starting QB Jack Plummer is a transfer from Purdue, who is viewed as very solid. Cal is well coached and is too much for the Big Sky Conference’s Aggies in this one.
The pick: Cal 34, UC Davis 10
Rice at USC (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks):
Yogi Roth and Ted Robinson are on the TV broadcast for this one. They’ll get the first up-close look at Lincoln Riley’s offense. That said, I’m not sure if we’ll learn a ton. Rice is coming off its seventh-straight losing season. It won’t put up much of a fight. Transfer QB Caleb Williams throws four TD passes and the hype train rolls on.
The pick: USC 42, Rice 7
Utah at Florida (4 p.m., ESPN):
The most important game of the Pac-12’s opening week pits the team everyone thinks will win the conference vs. a rebuilding SEC program. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is coming off a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance and somehow convinced his team that it has unfinished business. Florida has the nation’s longest active home-opening win streak (32 straight). The Swamp is a really tough place to play, but Utah is built tough.
The pick: Utah 30, Florida 21
Colgate at Stanford (5 p.m., Pac-12 Bay Area):
My Stanford friends are down on head coach David Shaw after last season’s 3-9 record. Shaw told me on Media Day that he feels “like a tiger in the weeds.” He has his entire offensive line back. He also has returning QB Tanner McKee and the team’s top-three receivers from last season. In fact, the Cardinal have 87 percent of their total offensive snaps from 2021 back on the field this season. It shows in this game.
The pick: Stanford 35, Colgate 7
Idaho at Washington State (6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks):
I’m excited to see transfer QB Cameron Ward play in the “Coug Raid” offense. Coach Jake Dickert tells me they’ll run the ball some, too. Idaho, meanwhile, hasn’t named a starting quarterback and I don’t think that mystery matters. WSU wins this game easily.
The pick: WSU 35, Idaho 14
Boise State at Oregon State (7:30 p.m., ESPN):
I think this is the second-most important game in the Pac-12 this week. Boise State comes with a nice brand and a bunch of experienced returners, but the program has lost some shine under coach Andy Avalos. The Broncos dropped five games last season. Oregon State is looking for its first opening-week win since 2015. The Beavers will start Chance Nolan at quarterback. He’s more than capable. But it’s the OSU defense I think people will leave Week 1 talking about.
The pick: Oregon State 27, Boise State 20
Kent State at Washington (7:30 p.m., FS1):
Kalen DeBoer’s first game as UW’s coach comes at home against an opponent the Huskies should have no problem handling. Transfer Michael Penix Jr. is the starter for Washington at quarterback. The Golden Flashes aren’t terrible. They made the MAC title game last season, but this is a mismatch. UW is 12-2 in its last 14 home openers.
The pick: Washington 34, Kent State 13
I have the Pac-12 going 9-3 in Week 1. The biggest wins: Utah and Oregon State. The three losses: Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.
Leave them in the comment section.
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