The framing for 2021 has been in place for months, if not years.
Combine the Pac-12’s prolonged absence from the playoff stage with the fast-approaching media rights negotiations, and this season stands as perhaps the most significant in conference history.
Within this fateful fall, Sept. 11 looms as the most important day, with three crucial non-conference affairs that will make-or-break the Pac-12’s reputation for the ensuing months.
All three matchups are included below in our look at the top-10 games of 2021.
No offense to the other 71, but these matter most.
Also considered: Oregon vs. Utah, USC vs. Arizona State, Stanford vs. Washington, Cal vs. TCU and USC vs. Notre Dame
1. Oregon at Ohio State (Sept. 11): The most important game of the Pac-12 season will have zero impact on the Pac-12 title race, but there’s no denying the ramifications of this ‘Big Noon Kickoff’ for the conference’s collective reputation — and therefore its playoff chances. Of the early showdowns, this stands alone because of Ohio State’s current place on the sport’s pantheon. An Oregon win in Columbus would widen the playoff path for the eventual conference champion and instantly alter the fan and media perception of the conference.
2. Arizona State at Utah (Oct. 16): Our high regard for this duel is based on one assumption and two possibilities. The assumption: That the Utes and Sun Devils are the two best teams in the South, making this critical to the division race. The possibilities: That both teams are undefeated, and ranked in the top-10/12, at the time of kickoff. (More likely for ASU than Utah based on the schedules.)
3. Oregon at Washington (Nov. 6): One of the top games in the conference in any season, the heated rivalry could carry outsized significance in 2021. Not only are the Ducks and Huskies our clear favorites in the North, placing a berth in the title game on the line, but their momentous early dates with Big Ten opponents could lend rocket fuel for the winner to make a serious playoff push.
4. LSU at UCLA (Sept. 4): We slotted this ahead of the Washington-Michigan matchup because it comes earlier on the calendar and thus could serve as the first words of the Pac-12’s eulogy — or the first indication of its rebirth In fact, the logistics set up nicely for the home team: It’s LSU’s season opener, but the Bruins will have played the week before, against Hawaii, giving them a competitive advantage.
5. Washington at Michigan (Sept. 11): The Ann Arbor Affair doesn’t pack quite the punch as Oregon-Ohio State because of Michigan’s second-tier status compared to the kingmakers in Columbus. (The Wolverines haven’t finished in the top-10 of the final AP poll since the 2016 season.) But let’s make no mistake: Victory would do wonders for Jimmy Lake’s tenure, for UW’s postseason trajectory and for the perception of the Pac-12.
6. Utah at USC (Oct. 9): If the past two collisions in the Coliseum are any indication, this should be one of the most riveting games of the Pac-12 season. Whether it’s one of the most important depends on the overall performance of the participants. The Week Six placement creates the potential for both teams to be undefeated, with the outcome determining the stakes for Utah’s duel with ASU the following week. Yep, Utah has the Trojans and Sun Devils back-to-back in the first half of October.
7. UCLA at USC (Nov. 20): Sure, the crosstown showdown could matter to the division race — UCLA should not be discounted as a South contender. But the 89th meeting is likely to carry significant employment implications for one or both head coaches. This is judgment season for both Chip Kelly and Clay Helton as patience runs low and contract buyouts become more manageable. The only hot seats in the conference this fall are in Los Angeles.
CU Buffs notes: Chancellor DiStefano hoping for full Folsom
Ready, set, mayhem: Pac-12 removes key restriction on intraconference transfers
Fixing football on agenda for new Pac-12 commissioner
Kliavkoff’s to-do list: Eight tasks the new Pac-12 commissioner should take up now
Is George Kliavkoff the right commissioner for the Pac-12? If he gets the people part right, it just might work
8. Arizona State at Washington (Nov. 13): Should have division implications for at least and likely both participants, with placement on the calendar elevates the stakes: Not only does it fall late in the regular season; it also comes the week after huge games for both teams. The Huskies will be coming off their Oregon duel, while the Sun Devils will have just played USC. We considered slotting this in the top five and could very well regret not doing so.
9. Texas A&M vs. Colorado (Sept. 11): Tough to assign the same weight to this duel as the other Sept. 11 showdowns, largely because facing Texas A&M on a semi-neutral field in Denver doesn’t pack as much narrative-shaping power as meeting a Big Ten blue blood on its home turf. (Also, our expectations for CU aren’t as high as they are for the Ducks and Huskies.) But there’s no denying the outcome — either way — will impact the national view of the Pac-12.
10. Cal at Oregon (Oct. 15): Were we convinced the Bears had what it takes to compete in the North, this Friday night affair would demand a loftier placement. But we’re fully convinced of Cal’s ability to beat the Ducks — and thus potentially derail the Pac-12’s top playoff hopeful. The Bears won a close game last season and have held Oregon to 17 points in each of the past two meetings.
Support the Hotline: Receive three months of unlimited access for just 99 cents. Yep, that’s 99 cents for 90 days, with the option to cancel anytime. Details are here, and thanks for your support.
*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716
*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline
*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.
Source: Read Full Article