Pac-12: Thursday winners: Utah, USC
For the third year in a row, Utah will become the first Pac-12 football to kick off the season. USC also is in action Thursday night, with Arizona playing Friday. The picks for those games, with Saturday's schedule to come later:
Utah State at Utah, 6 p.m. MDT, Fox Sports 1
The Utes have a lot to prove, coming off a 5-7 season. More than anything, they just need a victory over Utah State, which formerly was not an issue. Utah routinely handled USU for 12 games in a row, before losing 27-20 in overtime on the road last September. This game will be a good gauge of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson's impact, quarterback Travis Wilson's growth and the offensive line's improvement. Utah's defense did a respectable job against USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton last year, allowing only two offensive touchdowns in regulation. Utah 24, USU 17.
USC at Hawaii, 9 p.m. MDT, CBS Sports Network
When the Trojans blasted Hawaii 49-10 in a 2012 opener, everybody figured USC was just that good. Turns out, Hawaii was just that bad. In any case, the Trojans should win by a similar score, with some combination of Cody Kessler and Max Wittek passing to Marquise Lee, who posted 197 receiving yards against the Warriors in Los Angeles. The trip to Honolulu creates some variables, but USC should be motivated enough to overwhelm Hawaii again. USC 49, Hawaii 14.
Northern Arizona at Arizona, 8 p.m. MDT Friday, Pac-12 Network
This is a good break-in game for Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker. Northern Arizona is an upper-half program in the Big Sky Conference, but not good enough to challenge a Pac-12 school. Above all, Arizona needs to show defensive improvement in this opener. Arizona 45, NAU 10.
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