Pac-12 Football: The 10 Most Underrated Conference Matchups of 2013

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013

Pac-12 Football: The 10 Most Underrated Conference Matchups of 2013

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    The Oregon-Stanford matchup in early November is the marquee Pac-12 game. But plenty others will be just as impactful to the conference standings.
    The Oregon-Stanford matchup in early November is the marquee Pac-12 game. But plenty others will be just as impactful to the conference standings.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    ESPN hit the jackpot by managing to get the Pac-12 Conference to move its spotlight game, between Oregon and Stanford, to a Thursday night in early November.

    But while the clash between the Ducks and Cardinal in Palo Alto on Nov. 7 will go a long way toward determining at least one of the conference's BCS entrants—and possibly its nominee for the national championship game—there are many other games on the slate that will have just as much impact on the league standings.

    They just don't have the same kind of hype or sizzle as Oregon-Stanford. At least right now, they don't.

    Remember, when the 2012 season began no one could have predicted an innocuous November game between Kansas State and Baylor would factor so heavily into the national championship picture.

    Click through the slides to see some of the more intriguing (yet to this point underrated) Pac-12 matchups set to occur over the next 10 weeks.

     

     

Arizona at Washington (Saturday)

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    Washington's Keith Price (17) is a far tougher foe than anyone Arizona has faced yet this season.
    Washington's Keith Price (17) is a far tougher foe than anyone Arizona has faced yet this season.Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    The Pac-12 has gone a collective 26-4 in nonconference play, with several signature wins. None of those were recorded by Arizona, though, as the Wildcats had by far the easiest non-league slate.

    Washington, on the other hand, notched a milestone blowout win over Boise State at home and then looked impressive in downing Illinois in Chicago.

    The divergent paths of the Wildcats and Huskies gives the Pac-12 its only matchup of unbeaten teams this week, and will result in having the victor emerge as a legitimate contender to challenge the league's expected powers.

UCLA at Utah (Oct. 3)

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    Utah could play spoiler to UCLA's hopes of being a top-10 team for later matchups against Oregon and Stanford.
    Utah could play spoiler to UCLA's hopes of being a top-10 team for later matchups against Oregon and Stanford.Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

    Utah is the king of the Beehive State, having dispatched in-state foes Utah State, Weber State and archrival BYU. But the Utes fell short in their only league contest to this point, losing a back-and-forth shootout to an Oregon State team that always seems to pull off a miracle or two each season.

    UCLA has been the most dominant Pac-12 team not wearing neon yellow, but what at first seemed like the Bruins' best showing (a 41-21 blowout win at Nebraska) has lost some luster considering Nebraska is looking like a pretender instead of a contender.

    Winning in Salt Lake City is no easy task, and UCLA could be looking ahead to perceived tougher road games later in October against Oregon and Stanford. Throw in the national Thursday night audience, and an upset is very probable.

Oregon at Washington (Oct. 12)

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    Could Oregon be ripe for an upset if it thinks it can just march into Seattle and win easily?
    Could Oregon be ripe for an upset if it thinks it can just march into Seattle and win easily?Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Seattle's pro football team lays claim to the loudest fanbase in all of sports. But the college fans in the Emerald City can also make some noise, especially with the hated Ducks coming to newly renovated Husky Stadium for a game Oregon might be overlooking.

    It's hard to imagine Oregon could let a game that's considered so big for its opponent to become a trap-game, but if there's any way in which this could happen, the visit to Washington could be it.

Washington at Arizona State (Oct. 19)

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    Taylor Kelly and Arizona State traditionally play much better at Sun Devil Stadium.
    Taylor Kelly and Arizona State traditionally play much better at Sun Devil Stadium.Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    Last weekend showed the vast difference between how Arizona State plays depending on the locale, as the Sun Devils were run out of the stadium in the first half of their loss at Stanford. A week earlier, though, they knocked off a ranked Wisconsin team in Tempe (albeit with a controversial referee-aided ending).

    And while Washington has showed its mettle so far at home and on the road, it hasn't won at Sun Devil Stadium since 2000. Depending on what happened for the Huskies in the weeks leading up to this one, they could be a top-10 team just ripe for an upset.

Stanford at Oregon State (Oct. 26)

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    Oregon State head coach Mike Riley seems to be able to pull out one major upset every season.
    Oregon State head coach Mike Riley seems to be able to pull out one major upset every season.Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    There's been nothing dull about Oregon State's season, which isn't unusual for a program that seems to always pull out a win or two it didn't deserve. The Beavers needed to put together massive comebacks to win at Utah and San Diego State, while at home it lost to an FCS team and struggled with woeful Hawaii.

    But Reser Stadium in Corvallis has been a place where great teams have gone to fall, and this year it could be Stanford, which could very well be looking ahead to the following week's showdown with Oregon. If the Cardinal don't give the Beavers their total attention, we could see a major upset.

USC at Oregon State (Nov. 1)

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    Considering how USC has struggled this season, losing at Oregon State is very likely.
    Considering how USC has struggled this season, losing at Oregon State is very likely.USA TODAY Sports

    If there's any upper-tier Pac-12 school that understands the difficulty of playing in Corvallis, it's USC. The Trojans have lost their last three there, including a 36-7 thumping the last time the teams played in 2010.

    The scrutiny on the USC program and head coach Lane Kiffin has reached burn-at-the-stake level, and another loss to OSU could provide just the right amount of kindling to set fire to Kiffin's coaching hot seat.

UCLA at Arizona (Nov. 9)

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    Arizona will be looking for revenge for last year's 66-10 beatdown it took in Westwood.
    Arizona will be looking for revenge for last year's 66-10 beatdown it took in Westwood.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    How much does Arizona want to atone for by its worst performance of 2012 (a 66-10 blowout loss at UCLA)? The Wildcats scheduled their Homecoming festivities for this weekend, passing over a game the following week against lower-tier Washington State.

    UCLA has lost the last four times it's played in Tucson, including a pathetic 48-12 setback in 2011 after Arizona head coach Mike Stoops was fired and part of the reason UCLA's Rick Neuheisel was furloughed.

Washington at UCLA (Nov. 15)

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    Instead of its traditional baby blue-and-gold motif, UCLA will break out all-black unis in its quest to beat Washington yet again.
    Instead of its traditional baby blue-and-gold motif, UCLA will break out all-black unis in its quest to beat Washington yet again.Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    Many of Washington's players were in diapers the last time the Huskies won a regular season game in the Rose Bowl. The last victory there was in 1995, and since then it's been an every-other-year trip full of sadness and disappointment.

    UCLA has designated this the "LA Midnight" game, which means breaking out another set of special uniforms, these ones all black to signify the desolation of being stuck in Los Angeles at midnight or something.

Stanford at USC (Nov. 16)

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    Stanford head coach David Shaw hopes to continue the Cardinal's recent dominance of USC.
    Stanford head coach David Shaw hopes to continue the Cardinal's recent dominance of USC.Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2007 Stanford-USC game in Los Angeles didn't have any special significance attached to it going into the early October contest. Looking back, though, Stanford's 24-23 upset win could be considered the point at which USC's program began to falter and Stanford's ascended to national prominence.

    Now, with four straight wins over the Trojans—including an epic 56-48 overtime victory at the LA Coliseum in 2011—this is turning into just another very winnable game for Stanford. Or could it be one of the last-gasp efforts for USC to save Lane Kiffin's job?

Oregon at Arizona (Nov. 23)

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    Most of Oregon's trips to Tucson have been cause for giggling, but an upset could be in the works this time.
    Most of Oregon's trips to Tucson have been cause for giggling, but an upset could be in the works this time.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Oregon's trips to Arizona Stadium are never dull, even if the Ducks usually come out on top.

    The 2009 game is probably best known—other than for Oregon's late comeback to force overtime, then win it in the extra session—for Arizona's student section jumping from the bleachers in preparation to rush the field, only to see the Ducks score in the final moments. The students then had to embarrassingly hop back over the wall to their seats, where they watched Oregon score in OT to pull out the victory.

    The 2007 game, one of only two Arizona has won in the series since 1999, did result in a successful rushing of the field, one that ESPN's cameras caught so well it looked like an invasion as soon as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

    Oregon is probably hoping things go more like in 2011, when it controlled the game from the outset en route to a 63-28 victory.

Washington at Oregon State (Nov. 23)

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    Most of Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian's road games this season are at places the Huskies haven't won in quite some time.
    Most of Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian's road games this season are at places the Huskies haven't won in quite some time.Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Washington might not have the toughest conference schedule among its Pac-12 brethren, but it certainly has the one with the most demons to vanquish.

    Each of its four league road games are to locales where the Huskies have won very little—if at all—over the past decade. And Corvallis is no different, as Washington's last win in Reser Stadium was in 2003.