Just like a year ago, the Pac-12's reputation is at stake early as the 2019 college football season begins in a real way this week. Last year at this time, Washington lost a close game to Auburn on a neutral field basically making it OK to dismiss the Pac-12 for the season.
If No. 11 Oregon (a 3.5-point underdog) comes through in arguably the Pac-12's biggest nonconference contest against No. 16 Auburn, the Left Coasters can at least stay relevant through September.
That, folks, would be progress for a conference that has produced exactly one team with fewer than three losses the last two seasons (Washington State, 11-2 in 2018).
Meanwhile, feel free to feel sorry for Gus Malzahn. In the offseason, he lost a huge supporter at Auburn as president Steve Leath and the school "mutually decided" to part ways in June. Leath stayed barely two years, during which he approved Malzahn's seven-year, $49 million contract.
Malzahn is reportedly under pressure (again) to win at Auburn -- to the point there was speculation some detractors were willing to pay a $20-million-plus million buyout after last season.
When will those detractors realize there are only a handful of humans walking the earth who have beaten Nick Saban twice? Auburn is lucky to have Gus.
Will Malzahn give the Tigers a reason to feel that way after Saturday's game? We'll soon find out about that and the rest of the top storylines in Week 1.
2. RP-Oh no! In the believe-it-when-I-see-it category, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Michigan and USC have all committed to some form of the full-on spread-option RPO offense. We'll see if the three programs stay committed as they open up at home against Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee and Fresno State, respectively.
The news is that all three have offensive traditions are rooted between the tackles. USC: Say no more than Student Body Right. Jim Harbaugh has channeled his (conservative) hero Bo Schembechler in his first four seasons at Michigan. LSU? Les Miles was run out in part because he could never find a difference-making quarterback.
That may change with the irony that is Joe Burrow. Irony in that he is now playing in an offense he was recruited to Ohio State to run. "What we're doing now is similar to what I did in high school and Ohio State," Burrow said. "… The spread offense is meant to get your playmakers in space with timing and accuracy. That's what we did at Ohio State. That's what we're doing now."
3. Conference of little resistance: How to put this delicately … The ACC, aside from No. 1 Clemson, has seldom been as mediocre as it is this season. Clemson being defending national champions and favored to win every game has something to do with it. But so does little intransigence from the rest of the conference.
Florida State is down. North Carolina (2-9 in 2018) is rebuilding under Mack Brown. Pittsburgh (7-7) was the sixth team in the last six years to win the ACC Coastal. Eleven of the league's 14 teams lost at least five games in 2018.
Not surprisingly, then, Georgia Tech is a 36-point underdog in Thursday's opener at Death Valley. To put that in perspective: The Yellow Jackets haven't scored at least 36 points in a regular-season meeting with the Tigers since 2001.
Nothing against Clemson, but if it doesn't run the table again this year, it might open itself up to College Football Playoff scrutiny at 12-1 because the ACC has been lagging.
4. Openers under the radar: We're dying to see which Jalen Hurts is the one No. 4 Oklahoma bought into when we get to Sunday night's opener against Houston. Is it the run-first quarterback whose accuracy was eventually questioned early at Alabama or the seemingly rehabbed thrower who saved the season in relief of Tua Tagovailoa against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game?
For the first time, the BYU-Utah "Holy War" will kick off in August. The No. 14 Utes could become the first team in the rivalry to win nine in a row. Draw your own conclusions: It's been 3,561 days since Utah's eight-game streak started in 2010. BYU has been independent since 2011.
There's a tasty Big 12-Pac 12 matchup Friday night in Corvallis, Oregon, with Oklahoma State traveling to Oregon State. Mike Gundy won't announce a quarterback starter until then. Graduate transfer Dru Brown is in the running. As the Hawaii starter, he was 0-3 against Power Five competition.
5. Ripe for upsets: No. 22 Syracuse is traveling to Liberty for the Flames' first game as a full FBS member. The Flames already have an FBS scalp, winning at Baylor to start the 2017 season. Boise State's trip to Florida State seems to be an early referendum on the Seminoles. Win and FSU is supposed to; lose and the continue to grow. Boise is considered a Group of Five New Year's Six bowl contender. Fresno State has lost a lot from a 12-2 team in 2018. But USC goes into the season -- and the game -- in tenuous position. In Clay Helton's first game as USC interim coach, he led the Trojans to 45-20 win as in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl.
6. Quick kicks: It seems that Ohio State football alone isn't enough to sustain the masses. Attendance last year was down 5,548 per game, one of the biggest decreases in the country. The Shoe this season will feature an on-field DJ playing "everyone's favorites to enhance the game-day environment" before and during games. Wonder what The Best Damn Band In The Land thinks about that (hosting FAU)? And who's going to dot the "I," Lil' Wayne? … By the way, what's the over/under on Justin Fields throwing more passes in the opener for No. 5 OSU than he has in his career (39 in 2018 with Georgia)? … Memphis is favored by Las Vegas in every game this season. Its toughest game might be Saturday's opener hosting Ole Miss … Liberty's Hugh Freeze makes his return to the field after fighting a nasty infection and waiting more than 1,000 days since last coaching at Ole Miss … The Mountain West has won five in a row vs the Pac -12. This week Colorado State is at Colorado and Fresno State visits USC … Fifteen of the 27 new FBS coaches are favored to win their openers