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Pac-12 picks: A Week 1 win won’t do much for USC’s Clay Helton, but a loss will

Picking Week 1 of the Pac-12 football season with Spokesman-Review Washington State beat writer Theo Lawson.

UCLA at Cincinnati

Cincinnati by 2.5 – If the Bruins hope to return to the postseason, they’ll probably need a 2-1 record in nonconference play, which essentially makes Saturday’s contest a must-win. After Cincy, it’s San Diego State then Oklahoma. The pick: UCLA 27, Cincinnati 21.

Kent State at Arizona State

ASU by 25 – There are sure to be at least a few jitters for a true freshman quarterback making his first college start. Fortunately, Jayden Daniels should have a few games to settle in before ASU faces Michigan State. The pick: ASU 38, Kent State 10.

(14) Utah at BYU

Utah by 6 – Football’s “Holy War” has been a close game each of the last three years – decided by a combined 15 points. Close or not, Utah is too well-rounded not to extend its streak to nine games. The pick: Utah 30, BYU 24.

Colorado State vs. Colorado

Colorado by 13.5 – The first season opener at Colorado for new coach Mel Tucker and the last one for quarterback Steven Montez. If the Buffaloes do nothing else, they should at least defeat their in-state rivals. The pick: Colorado 41, Colorado State 27.

Oklahoma State at Oregon State

Oklahoma State by 14 – The Beavers tested themselves against another Power Five “OSU” in the 2018 opener and took a 77-31 loss to the Buckeyes. This won’t be as brutal, albeit still brutal. The pick: OSU Cowboys 45, OSU Beavers 28.

Eastern Washington at (13) Washington

UW by 21 – FCS runner-up vs. Pac-12 champion. You may not see a more intriguing FCS vs. FBS matchup across the country this season. The Eagles keep it close until halftime, but the Huskies pull away toward the end of the third. EWU and Eric Barriere still cover. The pick: UW 44, EWU 24.

Northwestern at (25) Stanford

Stanford by 6.5 – Many are curious what type of offensive identity this Stanford team will take on without Bryce Love and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. With USC and UCF up next, the Cardinal should get the experimenting out of the way this week. The pick: Stanford 28, Northwestern 17.

UC Davis at Cal

Cal by 13 – The upstart Aggies may have an FBS win in their future, but it won’t come against the Golden Bears, who again should be plenty formidable on defense. The pick: Cal 34, UC Davis 14.

(11) Oregon at (16) Auburn

Auburn by 3.5 – There’s lots at stake for the Pac-12 in this game, which will obviously go a long way in deciding if Oregon will have a shot at the College Football Playoff, and perhaps tell us a lot more about the state of the conference and how it’s changed from a year ago. Of note: Auburn is 2-7 all time in season openers against Top 25 opponents. Advantage Ducks? The pick: Oregon 37, Auburn 31.

New Mexico State at (23) Washington State

WSU by 31.5 – We know the Cougars will put up points and passing yards galore, but a shutout would be quite the statement for a defense that’s moving on from Jalen Thompson and Peyton Pelluer. The pick: Will be in Saturday’s paper.

Fresno State at USC

USC by 13.5 – Last year, Fresno State went 12-2 and beat Arizona State in its bowl game. If it indicates how tough USC’s nonconference schedule is, this game against the Bulldogs should be the most manageable. Winning it doesn’t do much for Clay Helton’s job security, but losing it does. The pick: USC 31, Fresno State 21.