UCLA celebrated over rival USC last season, can that game matter again in 2013?
(Photo: USA Today Sports)
2012 was one heck of a ride for the Pac-12 conference as they had teams like UCLA and Oregon State rise from the ashes to become relevant contenders and you also had the slow and painful demise of preseason No. 1 USC to unranked and humiliated Sun Bowl losers.
However, we're here to turn the page on all of that and one thing is for sure in 2013 - You best buckle yourselves up for a wild ride on the west coast. Part of that is because of the teams that are at the top of the conference with likely national title contenders in Oregon and Stanford leading the pack, but it's also because there are some new faces that have come to coach up some once proud, but now downtrodden programs. All in the name of helping to solidify this conference as one of the best from top to bottom in the country.
That led me to some very difficult decisions looking at the 2013 schedule for this conference. One thing we know sitting here in July is that the Pac-12 isn't afraid to take on all comers to say the least. One could make a legit Top 10 list of non-conference and conference games as stand alone lists, but what fun would that be?
So, after hours of consideration and about 20,000 different combinations considered... O.k., math major, I'm aware that considering 25 games doesn't lead to that many combinations - relax, its called hyperbole. Here is the list... Enjoy away, or hate away... just don't not care, o.k.?
10. Fresno State at Colorado (Sept. 14): This is a heck of a matchup for the new Colorado regime under Mike MacIntyre to make a statement with. Yes, this isn't a conference game and ultimately those are the games that will matter, but you don't change the culture without taking the first steps and a win over a legit Top 25 contender and Mountain West title contender like Fresno State would be a heck of a statement. Of course it helps that MacIntyre is coming to Boulder having coached against Fresno State plenty in his career at his last stop of San Jose State. For the Bulldogs a win here will validate their status as a true player on the national scale. I don't care who you are in the non-BCS world, a W on the road against any BCS foe is a good feather in the cap. That's what the Buffs need to avoid in order to begin to change things in Boulder.
9. California at Washington (Oct. 26): So, um.... Ya, remember when Cal and Washington were supposed to be contenders for the North division title? I do and so far neither one of these teams have been able to live up to expectations over the past four years. So much so that Jeff Tedford is no longer in Berkley and Steve Sarkisian is on thin ice in Seattle. So this late October matchup has a lot of meaning for these two teams. The winner is likely to vault themselves into the conversation for top half of the division. What will be really interesting to watch is supposed offensive genius (Sarkisian) going against a true offensive genius (Sonny Dykes). This game has explosive offense written all over it and it also could mean the difference between a good bowl game and mediocrity, where both of these two teams have been mired in at best over the past four years.
8. UCLA at Oregon (Oct. 16): This cross divisional game in mid-October is the perfect barometer as to where exactly these two teams will stand over the final month and half of the season. While the loser isn't completely devastated by a loss in this game, their confidence is sure to be shaken and it puts pressure on them to not lose another game the rest of the way if they want to control their own destiny in their respective divisions. It's also a massive step up in conference competition for the Bruins, who avoided the Ducks last season. This game also comes on the heels of the Bruins traveling to the other North division contender, Stanford, the week before. On the other hand this will be the first true conference test for Oregon, as they face little to no real challenge in their first four conference contests. To say this game is going to be make or break for both of them is not an exaggeration, it's reality.
7. Boise State at Washington (Aug. 31): This game is a bit crazy to me because the roles of this game should be flipped, but here in 2013 it's the Huskies that need this game to validate their status as a potential contender. Remember when Keith Price was supposed to lead the Huskies to the promised land? Well, here's his last chance to get it right and to do it right off the bat. At the end of the day there are two outcomes - Boise State wins and they move on to life as a Top 25 team or Washington wins and the W doesn't register on the scale that it should because everyone will dismiss Boise State (not saying that's right, just what the likely narrative will be Broncos fans). While there may be conference games that will matter for the Huskies as well, this game is their first shot at a team that could be a contender and a W for them is a game changer in terms of changing the thought of some Huskies fans and some in the media as that team that's so close but so far away.
6. Wisconsin at Arizona State (Sept. 14): Here's a sad fact - the Big Ten is 6-29-1 on the road against Pac-12 teams since 1990. In fact Wisconsin went into Corvallis all high and mighty and got knocked off their perch as one of three Big Ten teams to lose to Pac-12 foes on the same Saturday out west last year. As for this game - these two teams have a lot to prove in this tussle. It's the first tough game for both squads who are considered dangerous second tier contenders for the conference titles. For Wisconsin a win out west would mean a lot to setting a tone of expectations heading into a pretty manageable schedule and for the host Sun Devils it's their chance to show that what happened to end the season last year wasn't a fluke. Whoever wins this contest can safely put their respective conference on note.
5. Arizona at Arizona State (Nov. 30): How many of you know the name of this game? If you don't, it's official name is the Territorial Cup. O.k., now that you've had your history lesson let's just put the importance of this game this way. One coach is going to be looking good and another is really putting half a foot in the grave of his time at his respective schools. If it's Rich Rod that'll be two in a row at his new school and that's not how you want to go. If it's Todd Graham, well, it's likely to mean that this 2nd season has been a regression, not progression. All in all, this game has the makings of one of the more entertaining matchups as both schools have some big time talent back and have recruited pretty well too. The question of this game is will it mean anything outside of the pride of the rivalry. If so, this ranking is too low.
4. Oregon at Oregon State (Nov. 30): The Civil War - one, it's a great freaking rivalry name, and two - this one could really be one of the most important games in the rivalry history. No seriously, this game could mean the victor goes to the Pac-12 title game and the loser has some serious soul searching to do before bowl game time. On the flip side the Beavers 2012 season could've been a fluke and they'll regress back down to fringe bowl team status, but I wouldn't count on that happening at all. This game has all the makings of two big time players going at it with a lot more than rivalry bitterness to play for. These two teams will be meeting for the 117th time and with the Beavers suffering defeat for the last five years in a row you can bet they'll be hungry for victory. Overall the Ducks own the series record 61-46-10 over their rivals.
3. USC at UCLA (Nov. 30): Congrats Jim Mora, Jr. you came in like a knight in shining armor and rescued not only the UCLA program, but this rivalry from the depths of irrelevancy. However, for those of us who've been around the block we'd like to see you do it again to know it wasn't a flash in the pan. I hesitated to put this game this high in 2013 because we really don't know exactly how good or bad these two squads are going to be, but this is one of the better rivalries in the conference and when you add in the final week of the season along with expectations of both being South division contenders this game could very well be the 2nd biggest of the season. Sorry, call me crazy, but I'm sick of getting burned by thinking Lane Kiffin coached teams will put it all together and I'm not about to this time around.
2. UCLA at Nebraska (Sept. 14): How does this game rank ahead of one with the Bruins' arch-rivals? Simple, in order for that game to matter nationally the Bruins need a W over another national name. Besides, last season's matchup was one of the best games we saw in the non-conference season. It doesn't hurt that this game also is between two favorites to win their own divisions within their conferences. The only difference in this one will be the starting running backs as gone are Jonathan Franklin for UCLA and Rex Burkhead for Nebraska. Oh, and like the previous Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup mentioned, there's the whole playing in each others territories that doesn't work out so well. In fact, the Pac-12 is just 17-33-1 traveling to Big Ten country since 1990. This game will tell us a lot about both teams' abilities to compete at the highest levels - like the pundits expect them to do.
1. Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 7): As if there was any other choice for this game. The winner is highly likely to go to the Pac-12 championship game at the very minimum and if both are standing as undefeated foes against each other in early November the winner is likely to put themselves into some serious contention for the final BCS National Championship game. Both teams have young and fun to watch QB's and in this matchup it's likely that the defenses will be the key to victory, just like last season's stunner where Stanford found a way to ground the Ducks' high flying offense. Problem for Oregon this season is that that defense returns all but three starters off of the best all-around defense out west last year. Oregon won't have Chip Kelly and while that could be a factor, come November that won't matter any more. Expect this game to be a battle of top 10 foes and expect the winner to be in line for a national title shot.