Chip Kelly will be watching. When UCLA's boss isn't coaching, he's like the rest of us: glued to live or replayed college football.
"I watched the whole Penn State-Wisconsin game," said Kelly, describing his routine before Saturday's upset of then-ranked LSU. "Iowa-Indiana was a really good game. We're all just sitting around our submarine waiting for the game to start. We're not watching 'Family Feud'."
Kelly is not the type to wring his hands over the latest prove-it weekend for the Pac-12, but he will definitely be paying attention. The Bruins -- possibly the league's best team to this point -- are off after opening with two straight wins. That sort of adds to intrigue surrounding the league Saturday.
The Pac-12 faces three high-profile challenges. No. 3 Ohio State hosts No. 12 Oregon, No. 5 Texas A&M plays Colorado in Denver, and suddenly unranked Washington goes to Michigan trying regain some dignity after losing to FCS Montana.
The three Pac-12 programs, combined, are 38-point underdogs in those games, according to Caesars Sportsbook
Ohio State-Oregon is obviously the showcase, a cross-country, intersectional nonconference mega-matchup that will help define the season beyond the Big Ten and Pac-12.
"I don't have any slogans," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. "I don't have any cool T-shirt to come up with. We're just completely hunkered in, developing our guys, bringing in great talent. You don't have many of these in your lifetime."
Welcome to the latest boom or bust weekend for a conference everyone loves to bust because there is lack of a football boom.
"The league thing never comes up," Kelly said. "As I told our players the other day, people will want to make this into a Pac-12-SEC thing. They're not [playing us] with Mississippi, Mississippi State and Alabama, thank goodness. We had our hands full with LSU."
These days, it's more like a Pac-12-against-the-world thing. New commissioner George Kliavkoff gets that he was hired to fix football, a counter to the marketing-obsessed Larry Scott. Kliavkoff knows playing basketball games in China doesn't help the league's biggest brand, USC, get to the College Football Playoff.
Only wins do.
Maybe things have changed this time around. The Pac-12 has three teams ranked in the top 16, five in the top 25, most behind only the SEC. With a new TV contract due in 2024, the television value of the league can fluctuate following weekends like this.
Normally, nothing is settled in the second week of September. But this is the Pac-12, which is used to being out of the national picture out by the end of the first month. The league has missed the CFP in five straight seasons.
Word of that history has reached Eugene, Oregon.
"All summer, we had to sort of block out questions that revolve around the game," Cristobal said. "Now, it's game week and this game is finally here. You acknowledge this is a primetime game on this big stage."
That stage will be packed. Ohio State fans have waited 21 months for this day to wallow in a full post-COVID-19 Ohio Stadium (capacity: 105,000).
"Probably top three in the places I've coached," Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said. Moorhead previously led Penn State's offense. "You're down there, it seems like the stands go up there forever."
There is a loop that must be closed, someday. Saturday's win was arguably UCLA's biggest since 2006. That December day, Karl Dorrell's Bruins, who would finish 7-6, inexplicably upset No. 2 USC, 13-9. The result allowed Florida to get into –-- and win -- the BCS Championship Game.
The Gators' championship that year kicked off the SEC's dominance of the sport that exists to this day. The SEC won seven straight national titles (2006-12) and has captured 11 of the last 15 since that season.
A Pac-12 comeback would be nice to close the circle. The conference hasn't won a national title itself since USC in 2004, and that championship was later vacated.
Washington must pick itself up and at least show well at Michigan. UCLA must continue to assert itself. No. 21 Utah is a dark horse in the Pac-12 South. For now, all eyes are on the Ducks, who were less than impressive in a season-opening 31-24 win over Fresno State.
That reflected an uneven start by the Pac-12 (7-6) in nonconference games.
"I think it's a reflection of football," Cristobal said this week. "On any Saturday, if you're not playing your best, you can and will get beat. After a pandemic where super seniors are in play and the transfer portal is active, teams don't look quite the same one year and the beginning of next year."
The Ducks may be without their best player. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux's is day-to-day after spraining an ankle against Fresno State. If the All-American can't go, freshmen Jake Shipley, Treven Ma'ae and Bradyn Swinson are among his replacements on the depth chart. They have combined for 12 career tackles.
None of them are the iconic Thibodeaux, a projected top-five NFL Draft choice who is already letting opponents know they'd better double-team him.
"I understand how football works," Thibodeaux said before the season. "If I was a coach on any other team, there would be no chance I would have any stats. I wouldn't allow it. … If you want to let me go one-on-one, so be it. … If you look at the rate of destruction, why would you think that's a smart idea?"
We already know Oregon has the physicality to match up with Ohio State. Kelly reinvented offense with his spread scheme at Oregon. Now he's reinventing himself.
The Bruins are playing a lot of 13 personnel -- two tight ends in front of Pac-12 leading rusher Zach Charbonnet. One of those tight ends, Greg Dulcich, walked on after growing up 3 miles from the Rose Bowl. Last season, he was second nationally among tight ends with 19.88 yards per catch. Dulcich's 75-yard catch and run for a touchdown against LSU is UCLA's longest play from scrimmage early in this season.
"We are such good evaluators, we actually let him walk on here," Kelly said sarcastically. Dulcich earned a scholarship two years ago.
The Bruins are third nationally in total rushing yards. Only two teams have more rushing touchdowns.
"If you can run the ball, you've got a shot." That's a statement you'd never thought you'd read from Kelly.
Makes one want to look ahead to the Oct. 23 Oregon-UCLA meeting at the Rose Bowl. First, let's get out of Week 2.
The win over LSU might have been the conference's biggest since Oregon blew out Florida State in the first CFP semifinal seven years ago. That should be a significant signpost for the league. The last time Ohio State and Oregon met, the Ducks were defeated by the Buckeyes in that first CFP National Championship. Things haven't been the same since on the West Coast.
"If you're a real competitor, you always want to test yourself against the very best," Cristobal said. "Ohio State is a storied program, top to bottom. You come to a place like Oregon to have an opportunity like this understanding the tremendous challenge it is. I don't think anyone who has played football would want anything less."
Nine months ago, when schedules started to be rolled out, this weekend looked more substantive. Now, it just might be as a case of recovery.
Washington needs a complete overhaul of its psyche going into Week 2. The Huskies are coming off what has been called one of the most embarrassing losses in program history -- 13-7 to the FCS Grizzlies.
Elsewhere, if Colorado (+17) can defeat visiting Texas A&M, Cal (+11.5) can win at TCU and/or No. 21 Utah (-7) can beat BYU in Provo, Utah, that strengthens the league's argument for a playoff berth down the line.
But only if the league keeps winning the big ones.
"If you spend too much time thinking about that, you're not doing what you need to rise up," Kelly said.
There already exists the growing normalization of West Coast players leaving the region for top-tier programs in other Power Five conferences. Alabama running back Najee Harris (from Alameda, California) was a first-round draft choice of the Steelers. Current Heisman Trophy favorite Bryce Young, Alabama's starting quarterback, comes from the same high school -- Santa Ana Mater Dei -- that boasts two Heisman winners and USC's career passing leader (Matt Barkley).
Young played against Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei in high school. Georgia QB JT Daniels is a USC transfer from powerhouse St. John Bosco in Bellflower. Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud, a five-star prospect, chose the Big Ten despite overtures from Pac-12 schools including Oregon and USC.
The balance of power Saturday could literally be defined at quarterback. Oregon's Anthony Brown is a Boston College transfer from New Jersey. If Stroud had stayed "home" on the West Coast, columns questioning the Pac-12's credentials might not need to be written. In his first start for the Buckeyes last week, Stroud threw for 294 yards, averaging 13.4 per pass against Minnesota.
Stroud said Pac-12 schools "came late" in the recruiting process. He grew up down the street from Uiagalelei.
"I told my mom I didn't want to go to campus to go see USC or UCLA," he said in May during a quarterback camp. "I felt disrespected. I'm a backyard kid. I didn't have an offer until two weeks before signing day. I thought that was insane … I understand.
"I just think California quarterbacks are the best."
There is a much larger narrative at stake Saturday when Pac-12 teams once again seek to be -- maybe not the best but -- at least relevant.
Chip Kelly won't be the only one watching.