PULLMAN – This is the first week of Pac-12 football and it is fitting the conference’s two newest members bookend the games.
The University of Utah hosts defending Big Sky co-champion Montana State to begin the season at 5 p.m. PDT on Thursday.
Ten games and two days later, Colorado faces off with Hawaii in a Saturday game that starts at 4:15 in Hawaii or 7:15 on the West Coast.
By the end of the day, the Pac-12 will feel real.
So will Colorado’s schedule.
The Buffs have the toughest slog of any conference team and the opener plays a big role in it.
After all, it’s in the islands, as tough a place to focus as there is. Though new Colorado coach Jon Embree thought of a tougher place.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing on the moon,” he said Tuesday. “We have a tremendous task in front of us. We’re trying to end an 18-game road losing streak.”
With a game at Hawaii, Colorado also gets to play 13 games in 13 weeks, though “gets” might not be the correct word.
“The concern for me this year is just going 13 straight,” said Embree, one of four Pac-12 coaches leading their alma mater. “It would be nice to have a bye. As far as playing that number of games, I think if you asked the kids, they love it.”
The march includes a nonconference home game against California (the teams played last year in Berkeley – a 52-7 Cal win – and next week’s game is the Bears’ contractually mandated return appearance), a rivalry game with Colorado State and a trip to Columbus to play Ohio State.
The Buffaloes, who were 5-7 last season, also face both Pac-12 North favorites Stanford and Oregon, while Utah plays neither. Not a nice welcoming gift.
Around the conference
New Stanford coach David Shaw is following in the footsteps of his father, Willie Shaw, who was a college and pro assistant coach for 33 seasons, including two stints at Stanford, where David played. So it’s not surprising David is leaning on his dad. “My dad’s here a lot,” the younger Shaw said. “Sometimes he comes by to just talk, sometimes he comes by to just watch practice. I lean on him a lot, sometimes just for small things, sometimes just for his opinion and sometimes I ask him a question just to let him tell me whatever he wants to tell me.” … Arizona State plays its opener Thursday night when it hosts UC Davis. That gives coach Dennis Erickson a chance to catch up on other games Saturday. “I’ll be surfing,” he said, before catching himself. “I mean I’ll be surfing for the channels,” he added, laughing. “There’s not a lot of places to surf around here.” Erickson, who says he’ll be watching the Oregon vs. LSU game like a fan, admits he’ll be rooting for the Ducks because “of course you root for the conference in games like that, because it makes a difference as far as our league is concerned.” … UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel waited until Tuesday to name Kevin Prince as starting quarterback over Richard Brehaut for Saturday’s opener at Houston. “Both have experience and both have played very well in camp,” Neuheisel said of the delayed call. “When you get that luxury, I didn’t want to derail either one’s progress by telling them they were No. 2.” … Injuries are a part of football, but this year there have been way too many for Arizona coach Mike Stoops. “It happens to everybody at some point,” he said. “I think it just hurts your depth. I thought our greatest strength was our numbers, but we can’t afford any more injuries.” The Wildcats have lost five players to knee injuries since spring practice began.
• There has been a lot made of Norm Chow moving to Utah, where the former BYU, USC and UCLA assistant is offensive coordinator. But it is a homecoming for Chow. “It’s really like coming home for Norm,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s a Utah grad and he’s got two degrees from this university. He found his wife here at this university. I mean, he’s got a lot of roots here.” So what took him so long? “Really, when he was down at the Y (BYU), he was a Utah guy down there,” Whittingham said. … Oregon State has 10 freshmen on what would be considered its traveling squad and coach Mike Riley is interested in seeing them play. “Normally I’m begging for another week of prep, but I’m anxious to see these guys play and see where we need to go,” Riley said. … Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was asked what college quarterback his new starter, Keith Price, reminded him of. The answer: former Florida State Heisman Trophy winner and NBA guard Charlie Ward. “I hate to put too lofty of expectations on him,” Sarkisian said of Price. “Really good feel for the game, basketball player, great awareness, can make a variety of throws and has enough running ability that he can hurt you with his legs.” … If USC is going to improve this season, the second – and last – with no bowl on the horizon, the Trojans have to play better defense. “We gave up a ton of explosive plays,” coach Lane Kiffin said, “more than any of us have ever been around. It was a combination of missed assignments, where guys were running open, or missed tackles.” … California is going with a transfer at quarterback – Zach Maynard, who last played at Buffalo. “He’s matured a lot, understands the playbook, understands what we’re trying to get done,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “You can only practice so long, though, and now it’s game time. Each game, each play, he’s going to get more and more comfortable.”