Good luck figuring out the Pac-12 this fall.
At the top, many believe this league is college football’s best. And what separates it from every other league in the nation — including the mighty SEC — isn’t just the fact that two teams will play 10 conference games but that all of the preseason powers will face each other this fall.
While other leagues play eight-game schedules and only two crossovers, the Pac-12 plays four crossovers and nine conference games. It’s made for a long list of must-see matchups out West in 2014.
1. Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
The Pac-12 South has gotten much better and has its own elite battles but the top ticket in the Pac-12 this fall is still the Ducks and Cardinal. The winner of this game has won the last four Pac-12 titles and that is likely the case again this fall. A knee injury hampered Marcus Mariota last year and a fully healthy QB for Oregon could finally give the Ducks a win over the Cardinal with No. 8 under center.
2. Oregon at UCLA (Oct. 11)
There is no better quarterback matchup in the nation than when Mariota and the Ducks fly south to battle Brett Hundley and the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. This is likely a preview of the Pac-12 title game and could have divisional, conference and national championship implications. Loosen up the scoreboard operator for this one.
3. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
It cannot be overstated what a win for Michigan State in this game would mean for the Big Ten. So Oregon cannot overlook the rebuilt Sparty defense early in the year or the Ducks could be knocked out of playoff contention by Week 2. The schematic chess match between Marcus Mariota and Mark Dantonio's defense should be fascinating to watch.
4. USC at UCLA (Nov. 22)
This crosstown rivalry is getting some extra juice, as both programs appear to be surging in the right direction. Both teams are ranked in the preseason top 20 and both have elite starting rosters. Depth could be a big issue for the Trojans come late November but if they can stay healthy, USC could find itself in a winner-take-all South Division title match against one of its biggest rivals.
5. Stanford at UCLA (Nov. 28)
The Cardinal are the two-time defending champs but have to play all of its toughest games on the road, including a trip to UCLA on the final weekend of the regular season. These two played in back-to-back weeks two years ago and the Bruins haven’t forgotten. It could happen again this fall. Whether both divisions are already locked up or not, this game should be supremely entertaining.
6. UCLA at Arizona State (Sept. 25)
These two have posted back-to-back high-scoring shootouts with the road team winning both matchups between coaches Jim Mora and Todd Graham. Arizona State won 38-33 last year in the Rose Bowl while UCLA won 45-43 in the desert two years ago. This is the first of a group of critical round-robin games in the Pac-12’s South Division.
7. Stanford at Washington (Sept. 27)
The last time Stanford visited Seattle, the Huskies pulled off a signature upset in primetime in physical and nail-biting fashion. With a new sheriff patrolling the Washington sidelines, this game figures to be a fascinating schematic chess match. The Huskies are more talented than they’ve been since 2000 and toppling Stanford early in the year could make UW the top challenger to Oregon.
8. Texas vs. UCLA (Sept. 13, Arlington)
UCLA has Pac-12 South Division title hopes and possibly more as Brett Hundley enters his third season under center. Texas will be three weeks into the Charlie Strong Era in Austin and will provide a nasty early-season test for the Bruins on a “neutral" field in Dallas. Both teams have outside chances at landing a spot in the College Football Playoff and an early-season slip up must be avoided for both programs.
9. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4)
This historic rivalry has been elevated in recent years after a memorable overtime goal-line stand for Notre Dame in 2012 and a physical 27-20 victory for Stanford a year ago. Only four times have both teams been ranked at the time of the meeting (28 total games) and three of those have come in the last three years. A fourth straight meeting of two ranked teams is likely to happen again this year and a playoff berth could be on the line this time around.
10. USC at Stanford (Sept. 6)
Ever since Jim Harbaugh upset Pete Carroll in shocking fashion back in the mid-2000s, this USC-Stanford crossover battle has been a must-see matchup. Both programs have their sights set on a Pac-12 title game in the Bay Area and there is some added juice between these two now that Steve Sarkisian — who upset David Shaw two years ago at Washington — is coaching in Los Angeles. This will be a battle.
11. UCLA at Washington (Nov. 8)
The Bruins will get upset somewhere along the way, most likely on the road. And a trip way up north to Seattle is a prime upset alert situation. Other than quarterback, these two rosters are extremely comparable and the Huskies will give Jim Mora’s team all it can handle late in the year.
12. Stanford at Arizona State (Oct. 18)
A rematch of last year’s title game will take place in mid-October. In fact, these two played twice last year with Stanford winning both games with relative ease. Todd Graham’s squad will be out for revenge in this preseason top 20 matchup.
13. Arizona State at USC (Oct. 4)
The round robin in the South features two early games for Arizona State, one of which will come in Los Angeles against the Men of Troy. This game cost Lane Kiffin his job last year when ASU blitzed the Trojans' defense. USC went on to win seven out of nine after getting smoked by the Sun Devils.
14. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 18)
The Ducks are the pick in the North but Washington could become the top challenger by the time Oct. 18 rolls around. The talent gap might be too great for UW to overcome on the road but don’t tell that to Chris Petersen and his Dawgs.
15. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29)
The battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh will take place for the 86th time in 2014 with both teams eyeing a trip to the postseason. The Irish lead the series 45-35-5 — including the vacated 2005 USC victory — and Notre Dame has won two straight and three out of four overall. Both teams enter the season ranked in the top 15 and by season’s end, each could be positioned to play for a national championship.
Best of the Rest:
16. Arizona State at Washington (Oct. 25)
17. Arizona State at Arizona (Nov. 28)
18. Oregon at Oregon State (Nov. 29)
19. Washington at Washington State (Nov. 29)
20. Notre Dame at Arizona State (Nov. 8)
21. USC at Arizona (Oct. 11)
22. Arizona at UCLA (Nov. 1)
23. Oregon at Washington State (Sept. 20)
24. Oregon State at Washington (Nov. 22)
25. Washington at Arizona (Nov. 15)