Week 2 in the Pac-12 brings several non-conference games, one conference game, and a host of storylines to pursue. Here is a sketch of what lies at stake for each team.
When there’s a Will, there’s a way: One of the leading NFL prospects in the Pac-12, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton will play a key role in Arizona State’s South Division quest. Injured during a loss to Oregon last season, Sutton returns stronger and quicker than ever in a Thursday opener against Sacramento State. He should have plenty of chances to menace the quarterback and force turnovers by that lowly opponent, putting on a show for scouts and media. Following wins by USC and UCLA last weekend, Arizona State looks to kick off its season with an impressive statement of its own. Sacramento State at Arizona State, Thursday at 7 PM, Pac-12 Networks
No time to be Cavalier: Mark Helfrich’s flock of Oregon Ducks migrates east for a matchup with the ACC’s Virginia Cavaliers. Matchups pitting teams from two AQ conferences against each other always offer an opportunity to build either conference’s reputation, and the Ducks should strike a blow for the Pac-12 in their first meaningful game of the year. One caveat, though: West Coast teams typically do not travel well to the East Coast, as USC found out last year with a shaky performance at Syracuse. And Oregon cannot take Virginia lightly, for they opened their season with a quality win over BYU. Oregon at Virginia, Saturday at 12:30 PM, ABC/ESPN2
The education of Jared Goff: For spans in his first game against No. 22 Northwestern, Cal’s true freshman quarterback Jared Goff looked like a star in the making. He completed two clutch touchdown passes to receiver Chris Harper while building what looked like an inspired comeback. In the fourth quarter, Goff looked like any other guy in the first day of a new job: hesitant, error-prone, and unable to fully master the moment. He should face much less pressure against FCS Portland State, so look for Sonny Dykes to help his young quarterback take the next steps forward in his development. Portland State at California, Saturday at 2 PM, Pac-12 Networks
Aloha, redemption? A team in the extremely formidable Pac-12 North cannot afford to start the season 0-2 before the conference schedule starts. Like Cal, Oregon State thus faces a must-win game against a lowly opponent after losing their opener. Many expected the Beavers to regress in 2013 after a breakthrough 2012, but a loss to FCS Eastern Washington came as a shock to a team that started in the top 25. Unranked and widely scorned now, Oregon State should have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. They host a Hawaii team that hung with USC for a long time last week. Hawaii at Oregon State, Saturday at 5 PM, Pac-12 Networks
Imperfect perfection: The teams that turned the Pac-10 into the Pac-12, Utah and Colorado have struggled ever since their upgrade to one of the nation’s strongest conferences. But both won their Week 1 games against in-state rivals who defeated them last year. That bright start could signal a (limited) turnaround for Utah and Colorado—or prove a mirage. Both teams still have many more uncertainties and flaws than eye-catching weapons. Each will have the chance to start 2-0, however, when they host overmatched opponents Weber State and Central Arkansas in Week 2. Weber State at Utah, Saturday at 2 PM, Pac-12 Networks; Central Arkansas at Colorado, Saturday at 5 PM, Pac-12 Networks
Preview of the main event: In the first conference game of the year, USC (1-0) hosts Washington State (0-1). The Trojans will hope that they scraped off their rust in a shaky opener at Hawaii, where quarterback Cody Kessler fell far short of filling Matt Barkley’s shoes. But the defense subjected the opposing quarterback to plenty of pressure, a good sign against the Air Raid of Mike Leach. His second year at Washington State started much better than the first with a close road loss at Auburn, although he still lacks the marquee quarterback needed for his offense to flow smoothly. His defense remains vulnerable to the big play, not good news against a team with Marqise Lee. Washington State at USC, Saturday at 7:30 PM, Fox Sports 1
Hitting the road: Last year, the very young Wildcats dazzled in their Tucson home and struggled when they left it, absorbing several routs. Rich Rodriguez will look for improvement in that area as his team matures, and they can show it with a very winnable game at UNLV. On the other hand, the Rebels nearly upset Washington State in Las Vegas last year, and they represent a definite rise in quality from the Northern Arizona team that the Wildcats shut out last week. Running back Ka’deem Carey returns from his season-starting suspension, taking some pressure off the passing game. Arizona at UNLV, Saturday at 7:30 PM, CBS Sports Network
Last, but certainly not least: The very last team to take the football field this year is a team that many observers have tabbed for a national title bid. No. 5 Stanford opens its 2013 campaign with its traditional clash against San Jose State, much improved in recent years on both offense and defense. As the Cardinal look to fill key holes throughout their offense, second-year quarterback Kevin Hogan seeks to stay undefeated as a starter. Counterpart David Fales leads the Spartans back to Stanford a year after they came within three points of a massive upset. It would be even more massive this year. San Jose State at Stanford, Saturday at 8 PM, Pac-12 Networks
Home for a hangover: UCLA and Washington both defeated quality opponents by vast margins. They will have a bye this week as their euphoria settles ahead of launching into the conference schedule. While the bye comes at a poor time for accelerating their momentum, it comes at a useful time to reset their focus.
Best of the rest: Looking to catch action outside the Pac-12 this weekend? You could do worse than investigate the latest edition of the long-standing rivalry between No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 17 Michigan. Both teams have sprung plenty of surprises on the other, so Notre Dame cannot rest easy in the wake of its undefeated 2012 regular season. Earlier in the day, SEC East defending champion Georgia continues its brutal schedule by hosting No. 6 South Carolina. The Bulldogs already dropped six spots to No. 11 this week, so they cannot afford to start the season 0-2. South Carolina at Georgia, Saturday at 1:30 PM, ESPN; Notre Dame at Michigan, 5 PM, ESPN