The 2019 recreation-season gets underway with a heavy slate of non-conference and lesser opponents for the Pac-12. Headlined by just two Power-5 meetings, three schools take on FCS opposition while two more conference schools battle with their in-state rivals.
USC @ Hawaii
USC travels across the ocean to battle it out with Hawaii in an underrated matchup that is expected to see new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s first go with his Air Raid offense. There has been much to say about the quarterback battle down in LA so it will be interesting to see if they share duties or if Kedon Slovis has truly beat J.T. Daniels out as the team’s starting quarterback.
One thing is for sure — the Trojans have a dominant receiving corps lining up against a talented Hawaii secondary. Rojesterman Farris II and Cortez Davis are not to be trifled with and the USC tackles better be on their game against Kaimana Padello on the edge as he recorded nine sacks a season ago.
Utah State @ Utah
The battle for top quarterback in the state of Utah begins to take shape as Jordan Love, admired by draft pundits this offseason for his gunslinger mentality will air it out against Tyler Huntley and the conservative approach from the Utes. One thing is for sure, this game has Zack Moss written all over it as outside of All-American linebacker David Woodward, the Aggies struggled to wrap up last season.
Moss should be all over this one with his legs and tackle-breaking ability.
FCS West @ Arizona
With the new redshirt rule, don’t rule out seeing freshman QB Grant Gunnell a ton in this one for the Wildcats. We would also love to see Khalil Tate for a decent chunk as well, proving his health and perhaps his status as one of the nation’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks.
J.J. Taylor should be primed for a great game on the ground as well as through the air in this one. The Arizona trio at cornerback will definitely make it hard to move the ball through the air against their defense.
FCS West @ Oregon State
The Oregon State Beavers kick off the season against FCS West in what should be a showcase game for their offense. Beaver QB Jake Luton opens up his senior season for the first time in his career with the same, carryover offensive coordinator and is looking to breakout.
Luton should have one of the nation’s top receivers to throw to in Isaiah Hodgins as well as Trevon Bradford and TE Noah Togiai as viable weapons. The running back duo of Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson should also have a field day against a lesser foe.
FCS Southeast @ Oregon
Justin Herbert’s final season in Eugene gets off to an easy start as the Ducks should roll easy in Week 1. If we see Herbert past the second quarter, we’d be surprised as we fully expect Oregon to lay it on Southeast.
The Ducks offensive line is the best in the country so if you’re into big, physical maulers up front, this is the game to watch their dominance. Just be sure to watch the first quarter as it may not last long before they’re on the bench awaiting Week 2.
Northwestern @ Cal
Squaring off in one of the conference’s Power-5 vs Power-5 matchups is Cal as they host Northwestern and their smashmouth, blue-collar offense. The Golden Bears better be ready with their run defense as the Wildcats will likely be a run-first team in 2019. Still, Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson is a highly-rated recruit and makes his way to Northwestern as a pro-style quarterback with a ton of tools in his arsenal.
Cal’s stingiest defensive unit comes in the secondary so they should lock down any attempts passes against Northwestern but this will be an interesting stylistic matchup between the two. Head coach Justin Wilcox returns quarterback Chase Garbers who showed great promise a year ago.
Colorado @ Colorado State
The Rocky Mountain Showdown kicks off the season for the Buffaloes and Rams as Colorado QB Steven Montez will begin his final year in Boulder hoping to get off on the right foot. Montez has been hot and cold his entire career but should have a healthy Laviska Shenault at his disposal on the outside.
Shenault was every bit of a Heisman Trophy candidate a year ago before injury sidelined him and it will be interesting to see if head coach Mel Tucker utilizes him heavily in the offense or leaves him outside.
Washington State @ Auburn
The Cougars and their Air Raid offense led by head coach Mike Leach will jump right into the thick of things against an Auburn defense that is among the best in the country. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown is largely considered one of the best players in the country but he’ll be tested against an extremely tough Cougar offensive line.
Unlike a season ago, we do know who the starter is for Washington State as Anthony Gordon will trot out to lead the Cougars in 2019. He has several talented weapons at his disposal but finding Easop Winston Jr. early outside and Max Borghi on short dump off passes will be pivotal as they’ll look to get their playmakers in the game early and often.
True freshman QB Bo Nix will get the start as the first true freshman starting quarterback for Auburn since World War II. If the Cougars can rattle the young quarterback early, look for some errant decisions and some mistakes to exploit.
Boise State @ Washington
A classic matchup here as Washington head coach Chris Peterson gets to open his 2019 season against his former team in Boise State. The Broncos are breaking in a true freshman quarterback themselves in Hank Bachmeier so that Huskies pass-rush will look to pin their ears back and get after him early and often.
Washington has one of the nation’s most polarizing options at quarterback getting his first start in a few years as Jacob Eason, formerly a Georgia Bulldog will start the year behind center after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. Aaron Fuller returns as the top target for Eason to find against the Broncos.
Nevada @ UCLA
The Bruins kick off the late game for the conference by hosting the Wolfpack. It is unclear where Nevada will go with their starting quarterback after Last Chance U star Malik Henry famously transferred there during the Netflix show that aired this past summer. UCLA returns starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson who, at times a season ago, really flashed glimpses of what could be for the Bruins.
UCLA will be without star offensive weapon Theo Howard, however, after it was announced he aggravated an injury and will be out at least until Week 3.
BYE: Stanford, Arizona State
Herbstreit Pick Tracker
We’ll keep track of all of Kirk Herbstreit’s picks for the Pac-12 games weekly in a running counter on each preview and recap. To ensure accuracy, we’ll list his picks below:
USC @ Hawaii — USC
Utah State @ Utah — Utah
FCS West @ Arizona — Arizona
FCS West @ Oregon State — Oregon State
FCS Southeast @ Oregon — Oregon
Northwestern @ Cal — Northwestern
Colorado @ Colorado State — Colorado
Washington State @ Auburn — Washington State
Boise State @ Washington — Washington
Nevada @ UCLA — UCLA
That’s all Pac-12 except for Cal as it seems Herbstreit has no faith in the Golden Bears to overcome the potential of Hunter Johnson at the helm of the Wildcats.