The inception of the College Football Playoff has placed a heavy premium on what happens in January. Because it's missed the playoff each of the past two seasons, the Pac-12 Conference has been treated as persona non grata.
A shame, really, because the Pac-12 regular season -- the same regular season that's been key to denying the conference a playoff berth -- has been arguably the most unpredictable in the sport. Upsets occur with regularity, both in the non-conference and league slates. From Cal's stunner against Washington, Oregon State rallying from down more than four touchdowns against Colorado, or Washington State's run to title contenion, the 2018 season exemplified the chaotic nature of football in the West.
With a wide-open forecast in 2019, expect more of the same in the season to come.
5. Oregon State over Arizona State, Nov. 16
In an exercise such as this, pinpointing a potential upset late in the season is tough. We can only base the roles of underdog and favorite on preseason conjecture, which can evolve and change dramatically in the space of two-and-a-half months. Nevertheless, November is the unofficial month of upsets, and one date that month jumps out as prime upset fodder: Oregon State hosting Arizona State.
The Sun Devils could very well be in Pac-12 South title contention when they make a latter-half of November trek to Corvallis. It's a scenario not unlike their visit to Reser Stadium in 2014, when an upset loss there threw things into disarray. A five-year-old result doesn't impact the forecast for 2019, but this coming season's Beavers do have a young and promising roster capable of stealing a surprise win. Given rising sophomore Jermar Jefferson carved up the Sun Devils for 254 rushing yards a season ago, this might be just that surprise.
4. Stanford over Oregon, Sept. 21
Oregon comes into the 2019 season with a bevy of expectations, the result of returning numerous starters on both sides of the ball from a nine-win season. However, the Ducks run into one of their toughest challenges of the campaign early against a familiar nemesis.
The Stanford-Oregon rivalry has been one of the best of the past decade, with plenty of landscape-altering upsets along the way. Last season's Cardinal win in Eugene is no exception, and the 2019 edition could have a similar outcome. Stanford's defense will have something to prove against a veteran Oregon offense -- but not as much as quarterback K.J. Costello, who has a prime opportunity to establish himself the No. 1 quarterback in the Pac-12.
3. USC over Stanford, Sept. 7
The Pac-12 has arguably not had a rivalry quite as exciting over the past 12 years as Stanford-USC. Beginning with the Cardinal's monumental upset win in 2007, the programs have been involved in a tussle that produced an abundance of close calls; preceded (and factored into) five Pac-12 championships; and shaped the conference landscape early in the campaign.
With USC undergoing a facelift in 2019, the Trojans will unveil a wholly new look against the Cardinal. The series' propensity for upsets, and the early portion of the calendar on which this falls, make it ripe for an upset.
2. Oregon over Auburn, Aug. 31
Would the preseason Pac-12 North favorite beating Auburn in Week 1 on a neutral field truly qualify as an upset? Well, Las Vegas seems to think so. That's good enough for us. While the prospect of a neutral-field matchup with Auburn derailing a Pac-12 team's playoff aspirations right out of the gate isn't exactly, uh, far-fetched, the circumstances of Oregon-Auburn differ from last year's Week 1 Washington-Auburn matchup.
This is a much more veteran Oregon team, most notably along the offensive line. Should the Ducks do what the Huskies failed to against the Tigers a season ago -- protect their quarterback -- then Oregon will score an important win both for its own goals, and for the conference's national perception.
1. Arizona over Washington, Oct. 12
OK, so past outcomes do not always -- or even often -- predict future results. Still, Arizona football has a well-established track record for scoring at least one massive upset at home pretty much every season. Last year, it was a Halloween week romp over Oregon. In 2016, an almost historically dreadful campaign for the Wildcats, it was the same Washington team that reached the College Football Playoff.
In general, and before that overtime escape in 2016, Washington teams have struggled in Tucson. It's the Huskies' longest trip in conference, and the climate could not be any more different than that of Seattle. And as far as applying factors more substantive to 2019, consider Washington makes this trip just one week after a body-blow matchup on the road at Stanford.