The Pac-12 Conference looks stronger than it has in a long time. There may be upwards of eight teams capable of being ranked in the Top 25 nationally. You could argue they may have as many as half a dozen who could be ranked in the Top 10 at some time during the season.
As far as the media is concerned (source: L.A. Times), there are five teams that will most likely contend for the Pac-12 championship. The media believe Oregon will squeeze by Stanford for the North Division title while they think UCLA will nip Arizona State and USC for the top spot in the South Division.
Stanford and UCLA won the divisional titles last year with the oddity of both teams playing each other twice in just a six day stretch – Stanford beat UCLA both times to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Looking at 2013, which games look pivotal and exciting at the same time? Here’s a look at six contests that should be crucial, decisive and fun to watch. These games will probably lead to who could be winners in the Pac-12. Listed by date played first.
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USC at Arizona State
September 28th: This game might not jump out at you; plus, it’s in the first half of the season, but this perhaps may be the battle for the South Division crown, especially if UCLA falters. This game is in Tempe and will likely be a typical sultry late September night in the desert. It will probably be a sellout as the Arizona State fans love to cheer their Sun Devils on when they play USC.
If the Trojans have figured out who will be quarterback by this time, they have the talent to win – but they don’t always play well in Tempe and Arizona State has an impressive team capable of winning almost all their games this year.
USC at Oregon State
November 1st: Oregon State has a relatively easy schedule in the first half of their season. However, this Friday night national televised affair in Corvallis will be only six days after they play Top 10 power Stanford. If the Beavers want to keep their program near the top, these are the games they must win.
On the flipside of that thinking is the fact that if USC wants to return to national prominence, they need to win gridiron road battles in the conference like this. It should be a close game with the winner still in the hunt for a title.
Oregon at Stanford
November 7th: This is a nationally televised game in Palo Alto on Thursday night and up to this point, will be the biggest contest played in the country. It almost assuredly will decide the North Division crown.
This a classic defense versus offense game. Can Oregon’s offense breakthrough against what is arguably one of the best defenses in the country? And will Stanford’s methodical offense be able to score enough to stay ahead of the explosive Ducks? The Cardinal won last year’s overtime game in Eugene, knocking Oregon out of the BCS title match. Figure it to be as close again this year.
Oregon State at Arizona State
November 16th: If Oregon State and Arizona State are still in the title chase, this game in Tempe will keep one team in it and knock the other out. Considering that both teams will have a couple contests after this that will be equally important, this game sneaks into our list as perhaps the most stealth big game of the season.
The tenth game of the grueling year will test both schools. If Sun Devil Stadium is full, it can be a madhouse to play in if you’re the opposing team. The Beavers can be contenders with a win here and it might be more of a must-win situation for them than for the Sun Devils.
Stanford at USC
November 16th: These two teams play wild games against each other and this one in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum could be another. Stanford will be trying to keep their place in the hierarchy while USC will be trying to knock them off and take their rightful place as the top private school in the nation.
Oddly, the Cardinal in all probability will have more to lose than the Trojans at this point, especially if they have beaten Oregon. A Trojan win and their season-ending contest against crosstown rival UCLA becomes huge.
UCLA at USC
November 30th: Just like it used to be back in the glory years for both teams, this contest played at the Coliseum may well decide who wins the South Division title. If USC plays to their potential in 2013 and UCLA plays like most in the media believe, this may become another classic.
The Bruins schedule is tougher and they come into this final game of the year after having played Arizona State – the other team capable of winning the division. The Trojans will have just played Colorado and unless the Buffaloes pulled off a miracle, USC will have the easier of the two contests leading up to this big game. Two good clubs trying to be great will make for an interesting end of season UCLA-USC battle.