The Pac-12 started its season later than the rest of the Power 5 conferences, played fewer games, and arguably packed more excitement into its brief window than any other league.
To wit, Stanford's thrilling, come-from-behind win over Oregon State did not make the following countdown; nor did the standout defensive effort Oregon put together in winning the oddest Pac-12 Championship Game since 2011. Indeed, while the conference's schedule may have been truncated, plenty of the #Pac12AfterDark ethos shaped 2020.
10 Best Pac-12 Games of 2020
10. Colorado 35, Stanford 32 – Nov. 14
A monster effort from Colorado quarterback Sam Noyer — touchdown passes of 34 and 55 yards, and two rushing touchdowns — was enough to hold off a frantic Stanford rally. Barely.
The Buffaloes went up on the Cardinal 28-9 when Noyer hooked up with Brenden Rice, but Stanford responded with the first in a run of three touchdowns in just 17 minutes of game time. Jaren Mangham's touchdown run in the early fourth quarter gave Colorado just enough cushion, as the Cardinal scored two touchdowns with two-point conversions. Stanford got the ball back but could not traverse the 92 yards needed in 10 seconds for a game-winner.
9. USC 34, Arizona 30 – Nov. 14
Not more than a few inches separated USC from derailing its season early and perhaps completely changing the trajectory of a disastrous 2020 campaign for Arizona. Wildcats defensive back Christian Roland-Wallace very nearly intercepted Kedon Slovis' game-winning touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown.
The final score capped an exciting, back-and-forth affair that was the decided high-point of Arizona's season, and part of a season-long run of heart-stopping finishes for the Trojans.
8. UCLA 25, Arizona State 18 – Dec. 5
After coughing up a 17-0 first-half lead, UCLA responded to falling behind in the final five minutes with an impressive drive of 75 yards in 3:17. Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Demetric Felton were electric on the game-winning possession, which was capped by Felton punching it from the goal line on the drive he helped lengthen with a 13-yard gain and facemask penalty.
7. Stanford 24, Cal 23 – Nov. 27
It wasn't quite a redux of The Band Is Out On The Field...
But one could make a strong case for the 2020 installment of The Game being the oddest in the almost 40 years since that iconic finale. This time around, Austin Jones scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown late in the third quarter, but the Golden Bears scored in the final minute with what looked like a ticket to overtime. Instead, Thomas Booker leapt for a jaw-dropping PAT block to seal the Stanford win.
6. Stanford 31, Washington 26 – Dec. 5
Jet Toner's field goal as time expired before halftime sent Stanford into the locker room up 24-3, and the rout was apparently on. Washington just didn't get the memo.
The Huskies scored right out of intermission, but a long Cardinal drive in response pushed the lead back to 21 points. The Huskies chipped away, however — not with quick strikes, but with methodical drives and stout defense. Washington finished drives of 75 and 92 yards with touchdowns, and seemingly had the table set for the tie on a shortened field. Stanford's defense responded, limiting the Huskies to a field goal and then close out an intense game with a muscular, 7:47 drive.
5. Washington 24, Utah 21 – Nov. 28
Washington's furious rally falling just short against Stanford would have made for one of the most impressive back-to-back rallies seen since... well, earlier in the 2020 Pac-12 season with USC. Nevertheless, the Huskies went into that one fresh off rallying from down 21-0 to beat Utah.
Cade Otton made a resounding statement for 2020 being the Year of the Tight End. His two touchdown catches served as the decisive scores as the Huskies rode a remarkable, 24-0 run to close out an exciting win.
4. USC 28, Arizona State 27 – Nov. 7
Bru McCoy delivered one of the most heroic stretches of any Pac-12 player during USC's madcap rally to knock off Arizona State in the season opener. His fourth-down touchdown grab and onside kick recovery spurred on the Trojans, who roared back from down 13 points with just 2:52 remaining.
3. USC 43, UCLA 38 – Dec. 12
USC made a habit of playing nail-biters in 2020, culminating in a thrilling defeat of rival UCLA to retain possession of the Victory Bell. The Bruins surged ahead by three touchdowns at halftime thanks to a combination of opportunistic defense and Dorian Thompson-Robinson's play at quarterback. Thompson-Robinson passed for four touchdowns and posted more than 400 total yards of offense.
After surrendering the lead in a wild fourth quarter, UCLA regained it in the final minute only for Kedon Slovis and his outstanding receiving corps to go to work.
2. Stanford 48, UCLA 47 (2OT) – Dec. 19
Leads between in-state counterparts fluctuated as wildly as stocks have traded in the initial weeks of 2021, with Stanford surging ahead 20-3, only to allow 31 unanswered UCLA points. The Bruins' two-touchdown advantage in the final five minutes was erased with a pair of Davis Mills touchdown passes to Simi Fehoko.
Fehoko was ridiculous in Stanford's double-overtime win, scoring all three of his touchdowns in the final 2:30 of regulation and overtime. Chip Kelly played for the win, going for a two-point conversion in the second overtime rather than pushing it to a third extra frame. The gamble fell short when the Cardinal defensive line stacked up Brittain Brown at the line of scrimmage.
1. Oregon State 41, Oregon 38 – Nov. 27
The in-state rivalry no longer has an official name, but for 2020, it can simply be called The Jermar Jefferson Game. Oregon State's outstanding running back put an unforgettable stamp on the rivalry with 226 yards and two touchdowns (one of which went 82 yards), but it was back-up quarterback Chance Nolan who sealed the deal with a goal-line touchdown run in the closing seconds.
Oregon had opportunities to close the door on the Beavers, but Oregon State battled throughout. With the rivalry stakes, Jonathan Smith getting his first signature win as head coach at his alma mater, and the mist that lingered over Reser Stadium, this one had a recipe for an instant classic that will be remembered for years to come.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of @BeaverFootball)