You’re only guaranteed to get 12 of these a year so we might as well get excited about all of them. Here’s a look at where the Cougs fall in their opponent’s schedule.
Saturday, September 3rd, 6:30 PM PT (PAC-12 NET)
It seems like only yesterday Paul Petrino and Mike Leach were shaking hands and dog-cussing each other on the field after a fairly uneventful Battle of the Palouse blowout.
Time marches on.
Idaho parted ways with Petrino before its season finale win over rival Idaho State, an accomplishment listed on a website alongside other 2021 season highlights such as a “close loss to UC Davis 27-20” and having “Beat Simon Fraser (D2) and Southern Utah by three scores each.”
Jason Eck was hired away from the Offensive Coordinator position at South Dakota State to be the new Vandals head coach last December. This is a return to the Palouse for Eck, who coached the Vandal offensive line under Nick Holt (’04-’05) and Dennis Erickson (’06). Eck and WSU head coach Jake Dickert even shared time on staffs at a couple of spots; Minnesota State (’14) and South Dakota State (’16).
His offense helped the Jackrabbits to the 2021 national championship, with FCS Top 10 rankings in most passing and rushing statistics, including eighth in scoring. Eck’s offenses can typically run the ball very well. If anything can give a quick read on how the trip to Wisconsin may go, pay attention to the interior line play. WSU’s edge rushers have gotten the preseason publicity they’ve rightly deserved, but the test over the next couple weeks will likely come inside.
Rejoice for the return of Cougar Football Saturday, great weather, and two teams just having a lot of fun out there. Doing their best.
At No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers
Saturday, September 10th, 12:30 PM PT (FOX)
The Badgers start the season ranked and will likely stay that way after a tilt with the Illinois State Redbirds of the Missouri Valley Football Conference in Week 1. That game could be an appetizer for you on Saturday — the broadcast is on FS1 at 4 PM PT.
After the Cougs, Wisconsin hosts New Mexico State before heading to Columbus.
Head Coach Paul Chryst returns quarterback Graham Mertz, who is very much a Wisconsin quarterback, and running back Braelon Allen, who is very much a Wisconsin running back. Mertz didn’t really elevate his play the way fans hoped be might last season and had a solidly average sort of year, completing near 60% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Allen became the workhorse for the offense and racked up 1300 yards at 6.8 per attempt with 12 TDs.
This will be an awesome contrast in styles.
Colorado State Rams
Saturday, September 17th, 2:00 PM PT (PAC-12 NETWORK)
It’s nearly a decade later, and I’m still genuinely upset by what happened in the New Mexico Bowl.
First year CSU head coach Jay Norvell was lured away from Nevada by a Colorado State program eager to show it’s better than a rehab stint for a dismissed Power Five coach. The Rams have made a serious investment in football recently and an innovative, high-powered offense such as Norvell’s reflects the excitement they want in their program.
They’re calling it #FortAirRaid.
They didn’t just get Norvell from Nevada. Wide receivers Tory Horton and Melquan Stovall, accounting for roughly 110 receptions and 1300 yards last season for the Wolf Pack, made the move with him. So did CSU’s presumptive starting quarterback Clay Millen. And a bunch of other people who should make the Rams immediately better than their projections would suggest.
Whatever sitting on their hands the secondary and pass rushers got to do in the first two weeks, they’ll get to make up for it here.
CSU will ease you into the Week 1 weekend slate right after GameDay, playing Michigan at the Big House on ABC at 9 AM.
No. 11 Oregon Ducks
Saturday, September 24th, TBD
The Ducks lost Mario Cristobal to Miami and replaced him with a guy who’s never been a head coach and only became a hot name after winning a national title coordinating a defense that had the most NFL talent ever put on a college football field. Will it work in Eugene? Maybe?
Cristobal tried to make the mix of tough and flashy work, and it sort of did, until they had to play an actual tough team like Utah.
Another defensive-first guy that is sewing slogans like “toughness” and “discipline” into the collars of ornate, innovative Nike jerseys will always feel out of touch to me. Violates the notion of Know Thyself.
However, they did lure transfer portal quarterback Bo Nix from Auburn to Eugene and he’s basically anthropomorphized #PAC12AfterDark. Always a give and take with college football.
Oregon has one of the showcase games of Week 1, facing off against Georgia in Atlanta. Head coach Dan Lanning against his former team will be the main storyline with the B-plot being a litmus test for the entire Pac-12 conference. Few people doubt the Ducks will have a formidable defense; even fewer people are confident they know the offense will be any good.
After Georgia, the Ducks host Eastern Washington, then No. 25 BYU before making the trip to the Palouse. Depending on if BYU lives up to some of their hype, that could set WSU up in a nice little let-down spot.
Saturday, October 1st, TBD
Justin Wilcox and his Cal Bears open the season softly with UC Davis and UNLV at home in Berkeley before heading to North Bend to play the Fighting Irish at 11:30 AM on NBC (9/17). They get Arizona at home the next week before coming to Pullman. And a trip to Boulder follows the week after.
That Arizona game would terrify me if I were a Cal fan.
Cal is a weird team in that way. I absolutely expect them to clip someone good, and with just as much certainty, lose to Arizona at home.
Wilcox is replacing most of his offensive skill positions, but it’s not like Cal’s offense was a reliable, known entity anyway. I would expect more of the same from them — a few lucky breaks and they win seven or eight games with a solid defense, or, more normally, bad things happen and they win five.
At No. 14 Southern California Trojans
Saturday, October 8th, TBD
The back-clapping among conference peers didn’t last too long after USC hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. “Finally!” We thought. USC decided to be USC again. After spending half a decade paying Clay Helton for unknown reasons, the Trojans realized they’re the standard-bearer for the conference and decided to pony up for one of the best in the game. To try to sniff the Top 10 for only the second time in a decade.
10 years, one Top 10 finish. From the flagship program in the conference.
You have to go back to 2008 for the last time they finished in the Top 5. Imagine the SEC if Alabama did that over the last ten years. Would it be positioned where it is today? Would the Big Ten be if Ohio State did? Would either of them be pulling West Coast recruits the way they are now?
USC was that to the PAC-12. Then they bailed on a situation their own incompetence enabled.
Anyway, they’ll have an All-Star caliber flag football team on offense and who knows what on defense. We do know defensive coordinator Alex Grinch well enough to guess it’ll be feast and famine. The Trojans are predicted to finish anywhere from bowl eligible to playoff eligible. Both them and Oregon are fun mysteries that way.
The Trojans can take their time easing into the season. They open with Rice, then at Stanford, and home against Fresno State. The Bulldogs, once again under Jeff Tedford, could be pretty good this year and provide a sneaky tough game for Troy.
USC then goes to Corvallis, still to be determined if Riley knows that’s a cursed road trip or not, and hosts ASU at home before WSU comes to town. A trip to Salt Lake City waits on the other side with a convenient bye week following it.
This is one of the more favorable USC conference schedules in recent memory. Oregon State will likely give them the toughest test ahead of the Cougs’ trip to LA.
At Oregon State Beavers
Saturday, October 15th, TBD
Oregon State’s schedule is front-loaded. The Beavs have the ESPN late night honors this Saturday with Boise State, where they’re currently favored by 3. If you have a second screen, that should be on it. Then they go to Fresno State before opening conference play with USC at home, followed up with Utah on the road. That’s a brutal stretch. They go to the Farm for a breather the week before hosting WSU and have Colorado in town the week after.
Jonathan Smith has a lot of people confident in the direction of the Oregon State program, and for good reason. They went to a bowl last season for the first time in seven years and appear capable of replicating all-Pac-12 running back B.J. Baylor’s production with some monsters on the offensive line and a deep rotation of backs. And the secondary could be one of the best in the conference. It wouldn’t be that crazy if this OSU team won eight or nine games.
A bye week sits on the other side for the Cougs.
Thursday, October 27th, 7:00 PM PT (FS1)
We mentioned Oregon against Georgia being a game the national audience would use to judge the entire Pac-12. The Utes don’t carry any less conference weight in Week 1, and arguably carry more. Utah plays Florida in The Swamp at 4 PM PT on ESPN. This will set the tone for Utah’s - and the conference’s - entire season from a national perspective.
The Cougs catch Utah after the same bye week they have. Heading into that bye though is a tough stretch of home against Oregon State, at UCLA, and home for USC. Utah could be a fringe playoff team by that point or out of the Top 25 entirely.
Utah’s always been most dangerous as a disrespected underdog. This is a prove it year to show they can be frontrunners too.
Saturday, November 5th, TBD
David Shaw is entering his 12th year at Stanford. In his tenure, there has been back-to-back Rose Bowls, double-digit win seasons, Heisman finalists, and eight consecutive years of bowls. There was also last year, where they beat No. 14 USC and No. 3 Oregon — winning three of their first five — then lost every game left on the schedule. The last four by blowout.
They should still be a decent, mid-level team. Nothing looks that different from what they’ve been doing in the past. It should be fine. It wasn’t last year. If they can figure out why, maybe they’ll be back to challenging the top-end of the conference but no one is expecting that from them this season.
Stanford gets the Cougs at home, sandwiched between trips to Pasadena and Salt Lake City, with The Big Game following that Utah match-up and BYU to close out the season. Couldn’t blame a team for overlooking Wazzu in that spot.
Saturday, November 12th, TBD
Now in his fifth season, surprisingly after all that’s happened, Herm Edwards is facing the challenge of low expectations. The giant amount of roster turnover doesn’t really afford predictions, positive or negative, and maybe that’s best for ASU this year.
The Sun Devils have an interesting match-up in Week 2, when they head to Stillwater to face No. 12 Oklahoma State. The Pokes are thought to be contenders in the Big 12 and this game should pretty clearly answer where ASU sits in the CFB pecking order. After a date the next week with Eastern Michigan, the Sun Devils open conference play by hosting Utah and going to USC.
The November trip to Pullman is situated between ASU home games with UCLA and Oregon State.
Saturday, November 19th, TBD
It’ll be interesting to hear how the players address this game in the media. Whether they openly admit to it or play it off as a business trip, there’s no doubt some of the roster — if not all — had it circled months ago. Quarterback Jayden de Laura led the Cougs to an uncommon Apple Cup domination before all-but-no-showing a bowl game and transferring to Tucson shortly after.
Head coach Jedd Fisch has named de Laura their starter, while acknowledging there’s been some growing pains learning the offense.
Not much is expected of Arizona this season and the Cougs catch them at the end of a gauntlet. They host USC on October 29th, then play at Utah and at UCLA before hosting WSU the week before the Territorial Cup.
Saturday, November 26th, TBD
Do it again.