Justin Herbert and Oregon will have a chance to make an opening statement when the Ducks take on Auburn in AT&T Stadium
Pac-12 football has faced its share of questions (and more) in the last few years. One thing about the conference that's undeniable is its willingness to schedule up in the non-conference. A majority of Pac-12 teams face 10 Power 5 opponents; some, like USC and Stanford, often face 11.
That makes for some competitive and entertaining football. In 2019, the conference collectively draws matchups with teams from all five power conferences, as well as some of the best the Group of 5 has to offer.
Most Intriguing Non-Conference Games of 2019 for each Power 5 Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC
10. Arizona vs. Texas Tech, Sept. 14
Turbulent best describes Arizona's 2018 season, the first under head coach Kevin Sumlin. The Wildcats return a veteran lineup for Sumlin's second season. They need to avoid the slow start that plagued them a year ago. That includes a matchup in Week 3 with a Texas Tech program undergoing a facelift.
The Red Raiders welcome Matt Wells from Utah State, who coached the Aggies to a top-20 finish in 2018. Utah State's offensive firepower was undeniable, which should play well in the longtime breeding ground of air-raid offenses, but the Aggies' smash-mouth defensive approach is a much-needed change of pace for Texas Tech.
9. UCLA vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 14
UCLA faces uncertainty ahead of Chip Kelly's second season at the helm, with little time to adjust. Like 2018, the Bruins run a non-conference gauntlet that includes a road trip to Cincinnati; a home game against always-tough San Diego State; and concluding with Oklahoma's visit to the Rose Bowl.
UCLA may be overmatched against the perennial Big 12 contenders, but the occasion of the Sooners coming to Pasadena is worthy of attention. An upset here would certainly be a milestone moment in the new era of UCLA football.
8. Stanford vs. Northwestern, Aug. 31
Arguably the best Stanford team of David Shaw's head-coaching tenure had its College Football Playoff chances put immediately in jeopardy when it lost Week 1 at Northwestern to open the 2015 season. The return match from that series kicks off the upcoming campaign, as Northwestern travels to The Farm.
The Wildcats were the surprise Big Ten West champions a season ago, capping a memorable campaign with a come-from-behind win over Utah in the Holiday Bowl. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald returns a veteran lineup to take on a talented, albeit somewhat new-look Stanford side.
7. Arizona State at Michigan State, Sept. 14
A masterful bit of late-game coaching cemented Herm Edwards' first signature win at Arizona State when the Sun Devils beat Michigan State last September in Tempe. The decision vaulted Arizona State into the Top 25 (albeit briefly), but more importantly, set the tone for a much-better-than-expected defense.
The Sun Devils return the Spartans' visit to the desert with a Week 3 trip to East Lansing. With Arizona State returning much of its young defense and undergoing significant changes on offense, and Michigan State is... well, Michigan State. Expect another grinding slugfest in this Big Ten vs. Pac-12 showdown.
6. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 12
One of college football's most historic rivalries has gone Notre Dame's way the last two times out. The Fighting Irish aim to build their first three-game winning streak in the series since rolling off 11 straight from 1983-93 (Notre Dame was unbeaten in the rivalry from 1983-95, with a tie in '94 the only blemish).
Notre Dame looks to reload after its run to the College Football Playoff, which came via the kind of turnaround USC would like to see in this pivotal season. The Trojans' identity with a new offense should be clear by this juncture in the campaign, and this could be a crucial contest for Clay Helton's tenure.
5. USC vs. Fresno State, Aug. 31
A low-key gem on the 2019 non-conference docket, Fresno State is coming off the best season in program history. USC, on the other hand, is trying to rebound from its worst campaign in almost two decades.
Clay Helton made some changes in the offseason to prevent a redux of last year's 5-7 finish, most notably the addition of Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator. Harrell's high-octane attack gets a test right out of the gate; Fresno State's defense has been among the nation's best in each of Jeff Tedford's two seasons as head coach in the Valley.
4. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 30
Although the less celebrated of the two Notre Dame West Coast rivalries, Notre Dame-Stanford has had a massive impact on the college football landscape in recent years. The Fighting Irish have struggled to win on The Farm in that time, last leaving there victorious in 2007 — the first year of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era.
Both teams enter 2019 with question marks, so the significance of this matchup could be much greater than this column gives credit almost nine months out. Don't be surprised if this has implications on the playoff race.
3. Washington State at Houston, Sept. 13
Senpai meets kohai when Washington State head coach Mike Leach leads his Cougars to face Dana Holgorsen's Cougars. Holgorsen's unexpected return to Houston promises to reignite the explosive offense that long defined UH — particularly with D'Eriq King returning at quarterback.
Washington State replaces its quarterback (Gardner Minshew, the surprise, breakout star of the 2018 Pac-12 season), but these Cougars will still find ways to score. More intriguing is the loaded defense coordinator Tracy Claeys oversees.
2.Stanford at UCF, Sept. 14
Certain pundits downplay UCF's Herculeanregular-season winning streak and claim to the 2017 national championship based on the Knights' non-conference schedule. Attracting matchups with Power 5 opponents is exceedingly difficult for Group of 5 programs, but Stanford — one of the most consistent Power 5 programs of the last decade — hasn't shied from such contests.
The Cardinal travel across the continent for this intriguing showdown. One big question mark is who will the Knights have at quarterback. McKenzie Milton, who sustained a heinous leg injury late in the 2018 campaign, is expected to redshirt this season leaving the job to either backup Darriel Mack Jr. or Notre Dame graduate transfer Brandon Wimbush unless another younger player on the roster stakes his claim.
1. Oregon vs. Auburn, Aug. 31 (Arlington, Texas)
A veteran-laden roster with a senior quarterback fuels College Football Playoff buzz for a team from the Pacific Northwest. To reach that goal, it must first beat Auburn on a neutral field. Sound familiar?
Oregon's highly anticipated 2019 campaign kicks off in spectacular fashion, with the likely Pac-12 favorites facing an Auburn squad that should be improved from a disappointing '18. The matchup shares similarities to last season's opener between the Tigers and Washington; the Ducks would prefer a different outcome.