Non-conference play is largely complete for the 2013 season, and members of the Pac-12 embark on conference play after a highly successful, 29-4 run.
Despite impressive records almost across the board, pretenders are soon to be exposed against the league's upper echelon, some starting in Week 5.
Five undefeated teams are in conference competition Saturday, and at least one is guaranteed to fall from those ranks in the marquee pairing of Arizona and Washington.
The weekend's other premier matchup pits Arizona State against USC in the slate's one true must-win game. Both the Sun Devils and Trojans opened Pac-12 play in a 0-1 hole. Another loss proves particularly difficult to climb back into Rose Bowl contention.
Record This Season: 32-3 (Against The Spread: 21-14)
Last Week: 7-0 (Against The Spread: 4-3)
All lines courtesy VegasInsider.com
Saturday, Sept. 28, 3 p.m. ET | Pac-12 Network
This one is well worth your attention if only for the fact that the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers are in action.
Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks are two of the most explosive playmakers in the Pac-12, and they promise to continue their prolific outputs against shaky defenses this week.
Saturday is the Buffs' first game in three weeks, due to the Week 3 cancellation. If Colorado shows any rust from its layoff, this one could turn into a rout.
That doesn't seem likely though given the many defensive struggles Oregon State has encountered. The Beavers gave up 30 points in last week's nail-biter win over San Diego State. The Aztecs were hardly humming along offensively in the way Colorado has its first two outings.
Sean Mannion and Cooks outgun Connor Wood and Richardson to lift the Beavers to 2-0 in the Pac-12.
My Prediction: Oregon State 42, Colorado 31
Saturday, Sept. 28, 7 p.m. ET | FOX
The road team last won in this series in 2007, when Arizona rallied with 22 fourth-quarter points to win a wild, 48-41 shootout.
Washington has impressed on both sides of the ball in its 3-0 start. Opponents have just 30 combined points against the stout Husky defense—24 of which came from Illinois.
Arizona is sporting its own 3-0 mark, but the Wildcats' non-conference schedule didn't present much challenge. Saturday's matchup will answer questions about Arizona, specifically quarterback B.J. Denker's ability to pass and the strides the defense made in the offseason.
Washington is playing at a torrid pace offensively, mastering the no-huddle system head coach Steve Sarkisian implemented in the offseason. Running back Bishop Sankey has been among the nation's best ball carriers, and quarterback Keith Price has capitalized on the run game's success with a return to his 2011 form.
"Keith Price will make plays on schedule, but he will make the unscheduled ones, too," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said in his press conference Monday per ArizonaWildcats.com. "He will extend the play, so you have to be disciplined in your coverage downfield and you have to keep it contained."
A raucous Husky Stadium and Washington's revamped offense should notch a conference-opening win and extend this series' home win streak to six games.
My Prediction: Washington 41, Arizona 28
Saturday, Sept. 28, 10 p.m. ET | ESPN
Washington State is off to its best start in seven years and matched its 2012 win total with last week's shutout against Idaho.
"Each week is kind of a work in progress," Washington State head coach Mike Leach said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "We’re more committed than last year. As a team we like football better than we did last year."
The Cougars need every bit of momentum they can muster against defending conference champion Stanford, which looked very much like a national championship contender in most of last week's win over Arizona State.
"Stanford is really physical and big up front," Leach said. "We have to stay out of their way and react to things quickly...otherwise, they'll tee off on you."
Leach's air raid spread offensive scheme is predicated on attacking via the pass as it is, and with Stanford All-America safety Ed Reynolds disqualified for the first half Saturday, that makes the process a little easier.
Reynolds was flagged for targeting in the fourth quarter of the Cardinal's Week 4 win over Arizona State.
The key to competing with the Cardinal, per Leach?
"Play better, for one," he said.
Washington State's suddenly stingy defense must keep the Cardinal for putting up points early, or risk falling into a deep hole early, similar to that of Arizona State a week ago.
My Prediction: Stanford 34, Washington State 17
Saturday, Sept. 28, 10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN 2
Both the Trojans and Sun Devils have realistic designs on the Pac-12 South title and a spot in the conference championship game. That goal becomes a whole lot less realistic for the loser though, with the prospect of a 0-2 start looming.
Saturday is another instance of the Trojan defense needing to keep USC in the game—and it will. Arizona State struggled to protect quarterback Taylor Kelly from Stanford's aggressive blitzing presence, allowing three sacks.
USC will bring similar pressure from an outstanding front seven. Getting to Kelly before he can connect with big-play target Jaelen Strong should limit Arizona State's offensive prospects.
Likewise however, the Trojan offensive line faces a cumbersome task in holding off the Sun Devil defensive front. Pass protection has vexed the Trojans thus far into 2013, and quarterback Cody Kessler sustained a minor hand injury after taking a hard hit last week against Utah State.
Arizona State's ability to exploit that could make or break USC.
My Prediction: Arizona State 21, USC 17
Saturday, Sept. 28, 10:30 p.m. ET | Pac-12 Network
Cal is surrendering over 40 points per game through its first three, and Saturday offers no relief. The Oregon offensive machine is humming along without a hitch, in some ways actually improving from a season ago.
Golden Bear head coach Sonny Dykes commended quarterback Marcus Mariota's improved decision making during Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
"They’re as good an offense as I’ve seen," Dykes said.
Cal's hope rests on the arm of true freshman quarterback Jared Goff and his ability to throw the Golden Bears into a shootout.
"The good thing about Jared is you see him get better practice to practice," Dykes said.
Goff needs to make his biggest leap yet against an underrated Duck defense. Oregon has given up a combined 27 points through three games, and last year it was the nation's leader in turnover differential.
If Oregon forces Goff into turnovers early, this game could get out of hand quickly.
My Prediction: Oregon 63, Cal 21