Set those reminders, make those reservations and let the countdown to the 2014 college football season begin, because the Pac-12 released its slate for the next year Wednesday.
The 2014 schedule mirrors the 2013 version in a few key ways, thus the divisional races could again be decided before the regular season's final week. Several marquee matchups with possible conference championship implications occur between the first week of September and mid-October:
USC at Stanford, Sept. 6: Pac-12 play begins in especially combustible fashion. Not only has USC-Stanford grown to be one of the conference's more competitive rivalries, but new Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford's David Shaw had a heated dispute that played out in the media last October, following the Cardinal's narrow defeat of the Sarkisian-led Washington Huskies.
It will be interesting to see how the Sark/Shaw opener plays out, given the fireworks when Sark was at UW & the "faking injuries" situation.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) January 8, 2014
Each side will also have its own brand of payback in mind for the other. The Trojans effectively ended Stanford's BCS Championship hopes in Los Angeles last November, but haven't won on The Farm since 2008.
As Lindsey Thiry of Fox Sports notes, this is likely the most significant cross-divisional test USC faces.
Once again in 2014, #USC will not play Oregon and Washington from the Pac-12 North. They'll finish the season Nov. 29 hosting Notre Dame.— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) January 8, 2014
UCLA at Arizona State, Sept. 25 (Thurs.): The Pac-12 South's last three title game participants meet in Tempe, Ariz. Their last two meetings were decided by two and five points. UCLA won its last time at Sun Devil Stadium with a field goal in the waning seconds.
Stanford at Washington, Sept. 27: This is the first in a series of brutal road games for Stanford, which lost its last time in Seattle. Washington played the Cardinal within a field goal last season. This game should provide some insight into the Huskies' conference championship credentials.
Oregon at UCLA: Oct. 11: Each is a very early favorite in its division, thanks in no small part to the decisions of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley to return for their redshirt junior seasons. The inside track for hosting the 2014 Pac-12 Championship and the Heisman Trophy race will be at stake.
Stanford at Arizona State, Oct. 18: A rematch at the site of the 2013 Pac-12 Championship game, the Sun Devils are seeking their first victory over Stanford since 2008.
Washington at Oregon, Oct. 18: Chris Petersen, winner of his last two games as a head coach against Oregon, takes a crack at ending Washington's decade-long losing streak in the border rivalry.
Two-time defending conference champion Stanford will obviously have its mettle tested almost immediately. In addition to its three big Pac-12 games in the season's first eight weeks, the Cardinal travel to Notre Dame in Week 6 for their annual regional rivalry tilt.
Stanford-Notre Dame is one of the top non-conference dates on the schedule, but fans will have to wait through Week 1 before getting to the good stuff.
Opening week is rather pedestrian compared to this season, which featured Washington State's trip to Auburn and the Washington-Boise State bowl rematch. USC hosts Fresno State in another bowl redux, but the Bulldogs visit the Coliseum in Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian's debut, but do so without Derek Carr.
Nevertheless, that may be the most intriguing pairing of the first week. Week 2 rewards fans' patience with perhaps the best non-conference game of the season.
Michigan State visits Oregon in a clash worthy of the Granddaddy of 'Em All. The programs won two of the last three Rose Bowls, and a number of Spartans from this year's Michigan State team return to test Oregon's high-tempo offense with precisely the same kind of physical defense and smash-mouth offensive style that denied the Ducks the Pac-12 title the last two seasons.
Between the Michigan State showdown and visit to UCLA, Oregon's College Football Playoff resume will either be rock-solid or scrapped by the time Stanford visits Autzen Stadium on Nov. 1.
Of course, the Ducks will need to avoid a November letdown, something that has plagued their championship aspirations throughout the last three seasons. The 2013 campaign brought losses at Stanford and Arizona. A Nov. 8 trip to the elevation and cold of Salt Lake City to face Utah looms as a potential upset date. Just ask Stanford.