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Stanford-Notre Dame is just one of many stellar west coast match-ups in the Pac-12 this year.
The start of the 2011 college football season is two weeks away. With kickoff right around the corner, Athlon takes a look at the top 10 must-see games in the Pac-12 for 2011.
1. Oregon vs. Stanford (Week 11)
Nov. 12, All-Time Series: Stanford leads 44-29-1
The Pac-12 conference title will likely be on the line when Oregon flies south to Palo Alto during November. Stanford has owned the all-time series, but over the last decade the Ducks have dominated the meetings. Oregon dropped 52 points on the Cardinal last fall and has won eight of the last nine meetings. The Ducks have struggled against power teams (Ohio State, Auburn) over the last two years and the Cardinal will have as close to a power rushing attack as there is in the league. Will the Ducks’ front seven jell in time to slow the Andrew Luck-led attack by Week 11? And can the Cardinal keep the Ducks from scoring 52 points again?
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 4
2. Oregon vs. LSU (Week 1, Arlington)
Sept. 3, All-Time Series: LSU leads 2-1
A berth in the BCS national championship game could be on the line in the palace in Arlington on the first Saturday of the season. One of the nation’s best offenses will square off against what should be one of the nation’s top defenses. The deciding factor should be whether the Ducks’ reworked front seven can slow the power rushing attack of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford – or if Jordan Jefferson can complete key third-and-longs in the fourth quarter against one of the nation’s top secondaries. Should the game be close, and each team runs the table following the meeting, a rematch in the BCS title game isn’t out of the question.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Tigers by 10
3. USC vs. Oregon (Week 12)
Nov. 19, All-Time Series: USC leads 37-18-2
This game should have been one of two potential Pac-12 championship game previews. USC is the best team in the South but will not be allowed to play in the inaugural conference title bout. That doesn’t really affect the players on the field, however, as these are arguably the most talent-laden rosters in the conference. Despite being dominated for the better part of the century, Oregon has reestablished its home field advantage in this budding rivalry, winning five of the last seven meetings in Eugene. The Ducks have also won three of the last four overall reunions, including a 53–32 shellacking in 2010.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Ducks by 7
4. USC vs. Arizona State (Week 4)
Sept. 24, All-Time Series: USC leads 17-9
This game should have been a de facto Pac-12 South championship game. However, the luster was slightly removed when the NCAA ruled that USC could not play in the title game. Arizona State has been dealing with a preseason injury plague as well. That said, these should still be the best two teams in the South, and an early season trip to the desert is never an easy thing. With a win, ASU could establish itself as the team to beat in the division and will set itself up for the inaugural Pac-12 conference championship game.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Trojans by 1
5. Notre Dame vs. Stanford (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 17-8
This game has a chance to dramatically impact the overall national title landscape in the penultimate week of the regular season. This could be the only contest in which Notre Dame is not favored, and both teams could enter this arena unblemished. Even if both have dropped a game or two elsewhere, an at-large BCS bowl bid will likely be on the line. The Irish front seven showed massive improvement in the final month of 2010 and will be tested by one of the most physical running games in the nation. On the flip side, it could be an absolute treat to watch Dayne Crist (or whoever is running the Brian Kelly attack) square off with Andrew Luck, the best player in the nation.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 6
6. USC vs. Notre Dame (Week 8)
Oct. 22, All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads 43-33-5
One the nation’s most prestigious rivalries will be renewed for the 82nd time when USC heads to South Bend at the end of October. The Irish got off the schneid last season when they outlasted the Trojans 20-16 in Los Angeles. It was the first victory for Notre Dame over USC since 2001 (0-8). In a series that has featured second halves like Anthony Davis' and fourth quarter “heroics” like the Bush Push, this reunion is a must-see each and every season. Both teams should be much improved from a year ago and an at-large BCS bowl bid for the Irish could be on the line — as well as customary year-long bragging rights.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Irish by 3
7. Oregon State vs. Oregon (Week 13)
Nov. 26, All-Time Series: Oregon leads 58-46-10
There are some great rivalry games in the Pac-12, but recently few have matched the intensity and import of the Civil War. It’s not just in-state bragging rights that are on the line when these two square off, but the conference title has hung in the balance as well. This could be the case again as Oregon enters the season as the favorite to win the league for the third straight season. The Beavers would love nothing more than to knock the Ducks out of the Pac-12 — or BCS — championship game. From 1998 to 2006, these two alternated wins, but the Ducks have won three straight in the series, scoring 139 points in the process. Oregon State will have to slow down the Oregon attack if it expects to break the Civil War winning streak. The SEC-type atmosphere will be electric when the Beavers enter Autzen Stadium in the final week of play.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Ducks by 13
8. Stanford vs. USC (Week 9)
Oct. 29, All-Time Series: USC leads 58-27-3
If Oregon is the most talented roster in the Pac-12, then these two teams are the clear challengers when it comes to ability. Unfortunately the budding disdain between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh has come to an end. But Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are still around and are still two of the most talented passers in the country. The Cardinal power rushing attack will test the uncharacteristically porous Trojan front seven from 2010, while Barkley and super-soph Robert Woods will offer a formidable test for the veteran Stanford secondary. Stanford has won three of the last four meetings, including the last two trips to the Coliseum.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Cardinal by 1
9. Arizona State vs. Utah (Week 6)
Oct. 8, All-Time Series: Arizona State leads 16-6
While Utah and Arizona State are not two of the elite teams in the Pac-12 on paper, these two teams could be playing for a spot in the Pac-12 title game on October 8. Quarterback play could be the key for both programs as the Sun Devils’ Brock Osweiler and the Utes' Jordan Wynn both need to take the next step in the development process. Whichever player can progress the most, and stay healthy, by the time October rolls around could lead his team into Championship Saturday. Arizona State has won seven straight games in this series (the last six coming in Tempe), but the two southwest programs have not faced each other since 1993.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Utes by 3
10. Oregon vs. Washington (Week 10)
Nov. 5, All-Time Series: Washington leads 58-40-5
Two of the best uniforms in the nation will take the field in what should be a visual show in the richly colored Pacific Northwest. The scoreboard shouldn’t be short on color either as the winner of this game has averaged 43 points per game over the last nine meetings. In fact, the winner of this game has scored less than 42 points only twice (31 in 2004, 34 in 2006). The Ducks have won seven straight meetings and will likely post another crooked number. However, Steve Sarkisian has plenty of talent to work with on offense as the Huskies should be the primary challenger to Oregon and Stanford in the North.
Athlon’s Very Early Prediction: Ducks by 14
Other Top Games To Watch:
Arizona State vs. Oregon (Oct. 15)
Utah vs. USC (Sept. 10)
Washington vs. Stanford (Oct. 22)
Washington vs. Oregon State (Nov. 19)
Stanford vs. Arizona (Sept. 17)
Oregon vs. Arizona (Sept. 24)
Utah vs. BYU (Sept. 17)
Stanford vs. Oregon State (Nov. 5)
Arizona vs. USC (Oct. 1)
Arizona vs. Arizona State (Nov. 19)
Arizona vs. Washington (Oct. 29)
Missouri vs. Arizona State (Sept. 9)
Cal vs. Stanford (Nov. 19)
Washington vs. Nebraska (Sept. 17)
Oregon State vs. Wisconsin (Sept. 10)
Oregon State vs. BYU (Oct. 15)
Texas vs. UCLA (Sept. 17)
UCLA vs. Oregon State (Sept. 24)
Utah vs. Pitt (Oct. 15)
Arizona State vs. Illinois (Sept. 17)
UCLA vs. USC (Nov. 26)
Washington vs. Washington State (Nov. 26)
Colorado vs. Utah (Nov. 26)
Other Pac-12 Content:
Athlon's Pac-12 Unit Rankings
Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2011
Athlon's 2011 Pac-12 Predictions
Athlon's 2011 All-Pac-12 Team
Is Washington the Surprise Pac-12 Team?