Cross’ Picks: Pac-12, Big 12 looking for fast starts

Ken Cross

September 01, 2015 at 11:42 pm.

Quarterback Cody Kessler (6) is back to lead an experienced USC offense. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Cody Kessler (6) is back to lead an experienced USC offense. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, I will focus on the Pac-12 and Big 12 as we take a quick look into each conference’s match up and pick the games against the spread. With the mismatches in some situations in Weeks One and Two, I thought we would open with key games or games involving nationally ranked teams. Thursday night sees intriguing openers in each conference.


Thursday, Sept. 3

Michigan at Utah – Jim Harbaugh’s debut will be in a raucous Rice-Eccles Stadium as the first-year Michigan coach refuses to name a starting quarterback out of two experienced signal-callers in Jake Rudolph and Shane Morris. Utes running back Devontae Booker is Utah’s first Heisman candidate since Alex Smith in 2004. “Sack Lake City” is generally intact after the Utes led the nation in sacks per game a year ago with 55. Players accounting for 34.5 of those return this season.


UTSA at No. 19 Arizona – The Roadrunners will not catch the Wildcats napping after Arizona pulled out a 26-23 win in San Antonio last season. Texas-San Antonio controlled the clock for 33 minutes and almost pulled a shocker. Scooby Wright and company should have a big night on defense against a Roadrunners unit that has only eight offensive players out of their first 22 with significant playing experience.


Friday, Sept. 4

Washington at No. 23 Boise State – The Broncos will have an inhospitable welcome planned for former coach Chris Peterson, who took Boise State into the upper echelon of college football with a 92-12 record over eight seasons. The Huskies are going to break in some new offensive skill people against a Boise State defense that allowed opponents to score on only 29.3 percent of their drives last season.

BRONCOS (-11) 31, HUSKIES 13

Saturday, Sept. 5

No. 21 Stanford @ Northwestern – Having an experienced quarterback like Kevin Hogan inside a well-designed offense like David Shaw’s will give the Cardinal a huge advantage every week. The Cardinal’s running back by committee, led by Remound Wright and Barry Sanders, Jr., will gash a very un-athletic and questionable Northwestern defense.


Virginia at No. 13 UCLA – The Bruins struggled in a mid-day start and in immense humidity in Charlottesville a year ago, but left town with a 28-20 win despite only one offensive touchdown. Josh Rosen debuts as the UCLA quarterback with a myriad of athletic wide receivers so the Cavaliers face a stern test.

BRUINS (-19 1/2) 38, CAVALIERS 10

No. 15 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M – Houston, Texas, and NRG Stadium will host the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. This is a fast, athletic Sun Devils defense that will blitz from anywhere on the field. Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen proved he was capable last season but the front wall may time to develop with some new faces up front. John Chavis comes to College Station from LSU as the defensive coordinator. The Aggies will know where they stand immediately against efficient quarterback Mike Bercovici and speed merchant D.J. Foster. The Sun Devils are 0-6 lifetime vs. the SEC.


Eastern Washington at No. 7 Oregon – The irony is Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams graduated from EWU in the summer and came over to Eugene to compete for the job, beating out Jeff Lockie. The Ducks have another loaded offensive squad even with Thomas Tyner out due to injury. The key for Oregon is defensive coordinator Don Pellum and how much the Ducks’ defense improves in his second season in the position.

DUCKS (No Line) 41, EAGLES 16

Arkansas State at No. 8 USC – Watching quarterback Cody Kessler throw to to wide receiver JuJu Smith against a rebuilt Red Wolves secondary is worth the price of the ticket to this one. The Trojans are in many people’s Final Four but with the talent on both sides of the ball, that national championship feel is back in LA. Su’a Cravens and Adoree’ Jackson are as good as it gets as a 1-2 punch on defense. Arkansas State is a good Sun Belt team but no match here.


Big 12

Thursday, September 3

Oklahoma State at Central Michigan – Oklahoma State boasts a deep receiving core led by Brandon Sheperd, who averaged 18.9 yards per catch a year ago. The Pokes oddly were 82nd in the nation in total offense, so Mike Gundy wants quarterback Mason Rudolph to settle in and hold the job.

COWBOYS 40, CHIPPEWAS (+24 1/2) 21

TCU's Trevone Boykin (2) is one of country's most dynamic players. (Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports)

TCU’s Trevone Boykin (2) is one of the country’s most dynamic players. (Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports)

No. 2 TCU at Minnesota – If anyone ever came into a season with something to prove, it is the Horned Frogs after unceremoniously being left out of a chance to play for a national championship a year ago. Trevone Boykin is on nine different watch list as the team’s leader and quarterback, and with receiver Josh Doctson and tailback Aaron Green leading the offensive side of the ball, the penchant is there to put up some numbers on an outmanned Gophers defense.

HORNED FROGS (-14 1/2) 35, GOPHERS 10

Friday, September 4

No. 4 Baylor at SMU – The Bears led the nation in scoring and total yardage and their entire offensive line, backfield, and ten of 13 wide receivers return. Playing pitch and catch with Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon is the perfect scenario for new quarterback Seth Russell. Former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris debuts as the Mustangs head coach.

BEARS 51, MUSTANGS (+36) 17

Saturday, September 5

Texas at No. 11 Notre Dame – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is concerned about the skill people on offense for Texas, noting that Tyrone Swoopes “feels really comfortable” inside of Joe Wickline’s up-tempo offense. For Swoopes to stay that comfortable, he will need production from Jonathan Gray all season to open up the passing game. Notre Dame returns an experienced offensive linemen and a smooth quarterback in Malik Zaire. At night game in South Bend is tough on opposing foes.


Georgia Southern at West Virginia – The Mountaineers need to be on upset alert after losing so many key contributors. Georgia Southern has made its mark over the years with a power running-option attack and it could present the Mountaineers with a lot of problems. WVU will lean on Rushel Shell as it’s go-to back until the offense, in general, matures. Skyler Howard started the Mountaineers’ last two games at quarterback and threw for 829 yards. Matt Breida ran for 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago for the Eagles.

MOUNTAINEERS 31, EAGLES (+19 1/2) 24

Akron at No. 19 Oklahoma – The Sooners could be a dangerous team. With a star runner like Samaje Perine leading a deep backfield, Baker Mayfield just needs to manage games and grow into the position. OU was 117th in the nation against the pass a year ago, but that number matters little against the overmatched Zips, who have quarterback issues and are picked near the bottom in the MAC by Lindy’s.

SOONERS (-31 1/2) 55, ZIPS 7