To preview the 2021 season, let's take a look at some of the biggest games in the conference.
Photo by The Arizona Republic via Google Images
The 2020 college football season was a good way for Pac-12 fans to get a taste of football, but it didn't have the same kick. Without a fully formed schedule, it just didn't feel like the stakes were that high. Oregon State finished with a 2-5 record, while Cal finished 1-3. Washington won the Pac-12 north, but Oregon won the Pac-12. Some of the games were fun, but it almost seemed like they were being played without consequence.
So here comes 2021, and with it a fully-formed schedule for each Pac-12 team. However, that means that every game counts. To celebrate this, we will look at each teams most important game for the 2021 season.
Arizona: 10/16 @ Colorado
The Wildcats are projected to have the lowest win total in the conference, with an over/under of 2.5 wins. One of their best chances to win and avoid going 1-11 comes during a trip to Boulder. The Buffs played well last season, but lost their potential starting quarterback to Oregon State. You never want to go winless in the Pac-12, so this will be a big game for the Wildcats to avoid that.
Arizona State: 10/2 @ UCLA
The Sun Devils are already having an interesting 2021 season, getting investigated for recruiting violations during the pandemic. We will see whether they get hit with any sanctions, but they still have a competitive football team with aspirations of winning the South. So do the Bruins, who happen to be the first, big conference matchup on Arizona State's schedule. If you are trying to win the South, you have to get those big wins, and this one could prove to be massive in the final seeding.
California: 9/25 @ Washington
Some could argue that Cal underperformed during the 2020 season. Others would say they never got a fair chance, having four of their eight games cancelled. Regardless, Cal has the talent to sneakily compete in the North. A big measuring stick comes early with a trip to Seattle. If they keep it close, or even happen to win, it would give them a major confidence boost for the rest of the season. A bad loss could have them questioning if they have improved at all from their lackluster 2020 campaign.
Colorado: 9/25 @ Arizona State
Who are the Buffaloes going to be? Will they continue on their recent 2nd place finish from 2020, or will they slide back into the bottom third of the conference? They play one of the harder non-conference schedules in the Pac, with games against Texas A&M and Minnesota, but Arizona State feels like a realistic game to see how they stack up in the Pac-12. A win here could give them some confidence, and make the possibility of a bowl game more realistic.
Oregon: 11/6 @ Washington
It seems like you have to circle this game every year, but for good reason. Either the Huskies and Ducks have won the Pac-12 in four of the past five years. The winner of this game gets a massive leg up in the North race. Oregon has as big of aspirations as anyone to win the Pac-12, and possibly represent the conference in the playoffs. You could argue that the Ohio State game is bigger, but this one feels absolutely necessary if you want to win the Pac-12.
Oregon State: 11/13 vs. Stanford
Earning a bowl berth feels very reasonable for the Beavers this year, and it could come down to later in the season. Imagine this scenario, the Beavs are 5-4 heading into a matchup against Stanford, with wins against Purdue, Hawaii, Idaho, Washington State, and Colorado. Their opponents after that are Arizona State and Oregon. It almost feels like a must win if you want to go bowling. From a pride standpoint, it wouldn't hurt to end the Cardinals 11(!) game win streak against the Beavers.
Stanford: 11/20 vs. Cal
Stanford will miss out on playing Arizona and Colorado, making bowl eligibility that much harder. Just like the Beavs, the Cardinal may come into the final weeks desperately trying to get to six wins. Not only is it a rivalry game, beating Cal would give Stanford a good resume boost and potentially send them into bowl season with a positive record.
UCLA: 11/20 @ USC
This will absolutely be a revenge game for the Bruins, but potentially with much higher stakes. Chip Kelly may be turning a corner in Pasadena, and if he wants to prove himself in a critical fourth season he will need to finish in the top two teams in the South. That leads to this rivalry game, where both teams could have quality records heading into the match. If everything goes well for UCLA, a win here could complete their underdog run to the Pac-12 championship.
USC: 10/23 @ Notre Dame
A matchup between USC and Notre Dame commonly features top 25 teams, and this one will be no different. USC would very much like to win the South and potentially reach the CFB playoffs. This would be a massive resume booster for the Trojans, winning on the road against possibly a top 10 team. There are key Pac-12 matchups that loom for USC, but this one will show what the Trojans are really about.
Utah: 10/9 @ USC
The home game against Oregon in November seems like it will have massive implications, but the game at the Coliseum is sneakily important. If Kyle Whittingham continues to do what he does, the Utes will be undefeated leading up to this game. After a bye week, the Utes will want to come out hot against the Trojans, who may be looking ahead to Notre Dame. A win here not only secures momentum for the season, but it would be hard to argue against Utah winning the South.
Washington: 9/11 @ Michigan
Let's mix it up a bit, since we already said Oregon at Washington was going to be one of the biggest Pac-12 games of the season. Early season match ups against solid programs are not only exciting, but can provide a look into a programs success for the rest of the season. Michigan is reeling from a disappointing 2020 campaign, and Harbaugh hit a coaching staff reset. If Washington falls flat here, it would not be a good sign for the rest of the season. However, if they waltz out of Ann Arbor with a convincing win, the Ducks should be on high alert.
Washington State: 10/9 vs. Oregon State
Nick Rolovich has proven he can turn teams around, but this time around feels a bit different. Every Pac-12 team, aside from Arizona, looks like they will be fielding a competitive team in 2021. A good measuring stick for a new coach is always reaching bowl eligibility, and to do that in his second year would be impressive. The Beavers coming to the Pullman presents an excellent chance to get an early Pac-12 win and inch closer to bowl eligibility. These teams always seem to put up points against one another, so it should be a fun one.
What do you think of this list? Did I miss some important games? Which games are you most excited for?