With a tough schedule facing the California Bears in 2011, there will be many key games en route to a Pac-12 title.
While Cal's schedule is not the toughest in the nation, there are more than a few games where the Bears will be challenged.
These five games will have major implications as to how the Bears' 2011 season goes.
One could argue that the first game of the season is the most important, but the Bears have a great opportunity at home to start out 1-0.
Fresno State is no pushover as they finished 8-5 last season, fourth overall in the WAC.
This game will be played at Candlestick Park, and the Bears should expect a big turnout.
Cal will need to start out the season with an instant statement against the Bulldogs. A win to start out the year would be huge for the Bears this season.
In the final game of the year, the Bears will have to travel to Arizona State to face off against the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils finished with a record of 6-6 in 2010, but got stomped at Cal, 50-17. The Sun Devils seem much improved for this season though, and they were 4-2 at home last year.
If the Bears still have a chance at winning the Pac-12 in week 12, that is a big if, then they will have to do it on the road.
Cal's biggest home game of the year comes against in-state rival USC. The game will be played at AT&T, and the crowd will surely be large.
USC finished 8-5 in 2010 and stomped the Bears 48-14 on the road. USC brings another solid team this season and a win against the Trojans will not come easy.
The Bears will have their hands full under the spotlight in week six as Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley could be in for a big year after throwing for 2,791 yards, 26 TDs and 12 INTs in 2010.
Everyone in the nation is anxious to see how Stanford star quarterback Andrew Luck will perform in 2011. Luck obviously leads all preseason Heisman talks, but comes into the season with a new head coach.
The Bears will get to see how good Luck is on the road in week 11. The Bears traveled to Stanford last season and got stomped, 48-14.
Stanford finished 12-1 last year, but finished second in the Pac-10 behind the Oregon Ducks. It will be interesting to see the transition that Stanford goes through with the loss of head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Luck threw for 3,338 yards, 32 TDs and only eight interceptions in 2010 under Harbaugh.
Either way, the Bears will have a very tough challenge against their rival on the road this year.
There is no doubt that the Oregon Ducks are the favorites to win the Pac-12 in 2011. They took the Pac-10 down in 2010, and return most of their weapons on offense.
The Ducks return Heisman Trophy hopefuls Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, and anything short of a national title would be seen as a failure for the Ducks.
James finished last season with 1,731 yards on the ground and 21 TDs. He also added 17 receptions for 208 yards, three for touchdowns.
Thomas threw for 2,881 yards, 30 TDs and only nine INTs. Thomas also rushed for 486 yards and five touchdowns.
The Bears actually were the closest team in the Pac-10 to defeating the Ducks. In week 10, the Bears nearly beat the Ducks, 15-13, while at home.
With the Bears having four easier games to start off 2011, they could have a golden opportunity to make a mark on the Pac-12 in 2011.