The Pac-12 might not rank with the SEC or Big Ten as one the top conferences in the nation, but there are plenty of intriguing storylines in the league in 2018.
Washington, on paper, appears to be the team to beat, but are the Huskies good enough to return to the College Football Playoff? Can USC repeat in the Pac-12 South without Sam Darnold running the show? What will the UCLA offense look like with Chip Kelly calling the shots? Can Arizona contend in the South under first-year coach Kevin Sumlin? And what the heck is going to happen at Arizona State under Herm Edwards.
Here are 10 Pac-12 games you won’t want to miss in 2018.
1. Washington vs. Auburn (Sept. 1 in Atlanta)
You can make a strong case that this is the most impactful non-conference game of the season. And it means more to Washington, which likely would need to run the table in the Pac-12 to make the CFB Playoff if it lost this game.
Fun fact: This is the first meeting between the two schools. Washington last played an SEC school in the regular season in 2012; the Huskies were held to 26 rushing yards in a 41–3 loss at LSU.
2. Stanford at Washington (Nov. 3)
Two years ago, Washington announced its return to national relevance with a surprisingly dominant 44–6 win over Stanford in Seattle. Last season, the Cardinal returned the favor with a 30–22 win in Palo Alto. The winner of this early-November clash likely will win the North Division title.
Fun fact: Washington has scored more than 28 points only once in the last 14 meetings with Stanford.
3. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 13)
There aren’t too many potential losses on the Washington schedule. This trip to Eugene, however, could be trouble. The Ducks are eager to re-emerge as a Pac-12 power, and a win over the preseason league favorite would be a huge boost for first-year coach Mario Cristobal.
Fun fact: In 1973, Oregon blanked Washington 58–0 in Eugene. The following season, Washington shut out the Ducks 66–0 in Seattle. That seems strange.
4. USC at Utah (Oct. 20)
It’s safe to say that we will know a lot about Utah’s chances of winning its first-ever Pac-12 South title after this key game with USC. The Utes open league play with Washington at home, Washington State and Stanford on the road and then Arizona and USC at home. Good luck!
Fun fact: Utah is 2–5 vs. USC since joining the Pac-12 but has won two straight over the Trojans in Salt Lake City.
5. Washington at Utah (Sept. 15)
You can make a strong case this will be Washington’s toughest Pac-12 game of the season. The Utes are one of the most physical teams in the league and are very difficult to beat at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Fun fact: Washington scored 10 points in the final minute to rally past Utah last season, 33–30 in Seattle. The Huskies tied the game on a Myles Gaskin 2-yard run with 0:58 to play and won it on a Tristan Vizcaino 38-yard field goal at the buzzer.
6. USC at Stanford (Sept. 8)
USC doesn’t play Washington — everyone’s pick to the win the league — but does have to play its three toughest Pac-12 games on the road, starting with this trip to the Farm in Week 2.
Fun fact: This will be the sixth matchup between the two programs since the beginning of the 2015 season. Stanford has won two of the three regular-season matchups, and the schools have split the two Pac-12 Championship Games.
7. Arizona at Utah (Oct. 23)
Arizona could emerge as a surprise contender in the South Division. The Wildcats boast one of the nation’s most exciting players in QB Khalil Tate, and they feature a schedule that does not include the two top teams from the North, Washington and Stanford.
Fun fact: New Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin is 4–1 all-time against Pac-12 schools — 3–0 at Texas A&M and 1–1 at Houston. Four of the five games have come against UCLA.
8. USC at UCLA (Nov. 17)
College football is more fun when this rivalry is relevant on the national scene. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in quite a while. The arrival of Chip Kelly to UCLA at least has added some intrigue to the 2018 matchup.
Fun fact: Chip Kelly went 3–1 against USC in his four seasons as the head coach at Oregon (2009-12), and the Ducks averaged 599.8 yards in those four games.
9. Arizona State at Arizona (Nov. 24)
This game doesn’t figure to have much impact in the Pac-12 South race — unless Arizona emerges as a contender — but it’s a very important game for two first-year coaches who would love to cap off their first regular season with a win over their in-state rival.
Fun fact: The Territorial Cup is tied at 40–40–1, and no team has won more than three straight in the series since Arizona won five straight from 1982-86.
10. UCLA at Oregon (Nov. 3)
Chip Kelly returns to Oregon, where he won 46 games in four seasons as the head coach. His first UCLA team figures to struggle, but this will no doubt be one of the more intriguing games in the Pac-12 this fall.
Fun fact: Kelly is one of two Pac-12 coaches who will be playing against one of his former schools in 2018. Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, who faces Houston in Week 2, is the other.