2011 College Football Preview: The 15 Best Pac-12 Matchups for Next Season

Chris Eggemeyer@@chriseggemeyerCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2011

2011 College Football Preview: The 15 Best Pac-12 Matchups for Next Season

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    Well folks, it's all said and done: the 2010 college football season is officially over after an exciting BCS National Championship.

    So let's start looking to next year.

    In all seriousness, though, unlike with professional football, there is a big area of empty space between February and July or August as far as information on college football teams go, so heck, we might as well start thinking about next season.

    As most of you know, the Pac-10 officially becomes the Pac-12 next year with the addition of Colorado and Utah.

    I know, exciting, isn't it?

    To celebrate the expansion of the Pac-10 into a conference that more people should start caring about, let's run down the list of 15 games in the 2011 season that should be on people's radar, because hey, the Pac-12 is starting to mean something.

Oregon vs. LSU

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10: LaMichael James #21 and Darron Thomas #1 of the Oregon Ducks react to the Auburn Tigers during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jona
    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    The Ducks return a good amount of their team from this past season, which should make their first game of the year one of the most interesting and exciting games for the newly formed Pac-12.

    Oregon will play host to SEC powerhouse Louisiana State.

    This is a chance for Oregon to prove that it can play with the big boys, and it is also a chance to redeem the Pac-10 pride that they lost in their embarrassing defeat to the Auburn Tigers.

    There will be offense.

    There will be defense.

    Ladies and gentlemen, it's gonna be good.

UCLA at Houston

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    PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Quarterback Case Keenum #7 of the Houston Cougars is tied up by linebacker Sean Westgate #11 of the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on September 18, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    I'm sure Houston fans remember the last time Case Keenum was out on the football field.

    It was Week 3 of the college football season. Case Keenum went down for the rest of the season in that game due to a torn ACL.

    Who was their opponent?

    UCLA.

    With Case Keenum back under center for Houston, the Bruins are going to have to travel out to meet the Cougars, who will undoubtedly be out for blood.

    Both teams have the potential to be on the same level as each other, and the addition of the vengeance factor makes this a game that cannot be missed.

Colorado at Hawaii

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    LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 26: Cody Hawkins #7 hands the ball to teammate Rodney Stewart #5 of the Colorado Buffaloes during their game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Colorado 45
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    The Buffs make their big Pac-12 debut against the Hawaii Warriors on September 3rd.

    While this may not be the most exciting matchup in the world, considering that Hawaii is losing a good number of starters and Colorado simply isn't all that good, it's still worth watching, because it may be the most exciting game Colorado is going to have all year.

    It's sad to think that way, but look at their schedule: vs. Colorado State, at Ohio State, vs. Washington State, at Stanford, vs. Oregon, at Arizona State, vs. USC, vs. Arizona, at UCLA and at Utah.

    This might be a tough season for the Buffs.

USC at Utah

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    SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 13: Sealver Siliga #98 and Star Lotulelei #92 of the Utah Utes stop Jonas Gray #25 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 13, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Utah 28-3. (Photo by Jonat
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This will be the first opportunity that Utah has to reassert its dominance as a program and to make a statement that it is going to be a big player in the Pac-12.

    The winner of this game could have an inside edge on the race to the first Pac-12 championship (well, not for USC I suppose, unless the NCAA sanction is repealed).

Missouri at Arizona State

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    TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 02:  Wide receiver Mike Willie #1 of the Arizona State Sun Devils celebrates after scoring a touchdown reception during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on December 2, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Mizzou is not going to be the same team without star quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but they will still be a Top 25 program next year, so this is going to be a great measuring stick for the progress that Arizona State has made as a football program.

    As the front-runner to win the Pac-12 South right now, the Sun Devils have something to prove. Can they overcome the inconsistency and costly errors that made their last season such a disappointment?

    The world will find out if Arizona State is for real when they match up against the Mizzou Tigers in Tempe.

Oregon State at Wisconsin

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley #85 of the TCU Horned Frogs is tackled after a catch against the Wisconsin Badgers in the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    I'm generally a fan of watching Wisconsin play at any point in the year, because I love the way they run their offense, but this should be a great showdown with the Pac-12 to highlight.

    Oregon State is going to struggle to find its groove in the beginning of the season without Jacquizz Rodgers and Stephen Paea, who were arguably the leaders of both sides of their team, but they have the chance to get on track and thrust themselves into the national spotlight with a win here, so they'll ideally be playing their best football.

    Wisconsin, on the other hand, will likely still be bitter about their loss in the Rose Bowl, and they will be pushing as hard as they can for an opportunity for redemption.

Texas at UCLA

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    AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 25:  Tailback Malcolm Jones #28 of the UCLA Bruins runs the ball against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Last season was something of an embarrassment for both of these teams.

    The Texas Longhorns saw their streak of nine 10-plus win seasons come to an end with an unfortunate 5-7 record which dropped them to the bottom of the Big 12 and kept them out of a bowl game.

    The UCLA Bruins, on the other hand, just couldn't seem to find an identity all year long, something that probably wasn't helped by the 35-0 beat-down they suffered in their season opener against Stanford.

    For one day, though, the Bruins forgot their identity crisis and played the game of their lives in Austin, bringing down the Longhorns in a very one-sided victory.

    Well, Texas gets a chance for revenge when they travel to the Rose Bowl in September.

    The whole world should be watching.

USC at Arizona State

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    TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 7:  Wide receiver Damian Williams #18 of the USC Trojans dives for the endzone with the ball on a 75 yard touchdown reception against Terell Carr #5 of the Arizona State Sun Devils in the third quarter on November 7, 2009 at Sun Devil
    Jeff Golden/Getty Images

    This may as well be deemed the Pac-12 South Championship, because these two teams are the clear front runners for the chance to represent the south in the first Pac-12 Championship.

    Arizona State is team that should enter the 2011 season at the pinnacle of its power, as it is graduating only a small amount of players, none of which are essential to team success.

    USC, on the other hand, is, well, USC. They have another monster recruiting class coming in, and another year under the belt of Lane Kiffin means that they will be more sure of what they're doing on both sides of the ball (hopefully).

    Not only will this be a big game for the Pac-12 South, but it's also going to be a big game for the draft. Big names like Matt Barkley and Vontaze Burfict will be on display for all to see.

UCLA at Stanford

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    PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 11:  Michael Thomas #3 of the Stanford knocks the ball away from Nelson Rosario #83 of UCLA during the third quarter at the Rose Bowl on September 11, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Who doesn't love a good rematch?

    The last time these two teams met, the Stanford Cardinal walked away with their first of three shutouts in their 2010 season, defeating the Bruins 35-0.

    Now, UCLA will have to travel up to the Farm to face a Jim Harbaugh-less Stanford team that still holds the rights to their dignity.

    Nothing like the desire to earn self respect back to fire up a football team, right?

Arizona State at Utah

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    SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 20:  The Utah Utes get ready to take the field for the game with the San Diego State Aztecs at Qualcomm Stadium on November 20, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    This is another one of those moments in the first season of the Pac-12 where we will be finding out who the dominant teams are.

    Arizona State and Utah are both on the upswing, so this game is really about determining who's getting there faster.

    This is going to be a showcase of a lot of young talent, so scouts will probably have their eyes on this one as well.

Arizona State at Oregon

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    EUGENE,OR - NOVEMBER 14: Quarterback Samson Szakacsy #10 of the Arizona State Sun Devils avoids the rush of defensive end Will Tukuafu #39 of the Oregon Ducks in the third quarter of the game at Autzen Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Eugene, Oregon. Orego
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Outside of Cal, the Arizona State Sun Devils were the closest to bringing down the Oregon Ducks in conference play.

    With the rematch headed to Autzen, it may be a tougher game for Arizona State, but remember, this is a team that's really on the way up.

    This will be a true measure of two things: Is Arizona State really a powerful football team? And, is Oregon still the powerhouse of the Pac-12?

Stanford at USC

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    PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Stanford Cardinal points to the referee during their game against the USC Trojans at Stanford Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Sure, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll aren't facing each other in college ball any more (Harbaugh chased Carroll to the NFC West, where they can continue their rivalry on a bigger stage), but the big games that came out of the competition between the two nonetheless spawned a rivalry between Stanford and USC.

    The series returns to USC in 2011, where new head coach David Shaw will look to continue Stanford's win streak over the Trojans.

    Meanwhile, the Trojans will be looking to blow out Stanford, which holds two impressive victories over them in recent memory: the 2007 "Greatest Upset Ever" and the 2009 "What's Your Deal?" home blowout.

    I'm predicting a long run of good games between these two teams.

Oregon at Stanford

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    EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 2: Wide receiver Chris Owusu #81 of the Stanford Cardinal looks for some running room  as he returns a kick in the second quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won
    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    This game could not only determine the Pac-12 champion, but could very well determine who represents the Pac-12 in the national championship game (yes, I am assuming that one of these two teams goes undefeated and ends up there).

    The last time the two met, the Cardinal travelled up to Autzen, where they took a 21-3 first-quarter lead, only to fall apart in the second half and lose 52-31.

    New head coach David Shaw isn't the kind of guy who is going to allow that, and neither will Chip Kelly.

    This game is going to be a battle to the death, and it would be a real shame if it wasn't nationally televised.

California at Stanford

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    BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Marvin Jones #1 of the California Golden Bears unsuccessfully dives for the ball during their game against the Stanford Cardinal at California Memorial Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Big Game is probably one of the best rivalries that no one ever talks about.

    In 2011, the Big Game will hit the 114 mark, and both teams are going to want to bring their A-game, because this is a series that can always go either way.

    In 2010, the Cardinal scored a decisive victory, whooping the Golden Bears 48-14, but that was a step from the ordinary. Cal has dominated the Big Game over the last decade.

    Cal may be losing players like Shane Vereen and Cameron Jordan, but their strong recruiting class should go a long way towards making this an interesting matchup.

    This has the potential to be the best Pac-12 rivalry game of the year.

Arizona at Arizona State

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    TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 02:  Wide receiver David Douglas #85 of the Arizona Wildcats scores a touchdown reception against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on December 2, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona.   The Sun Devi
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This is the other Pac-12 rivalry game that has the potential to be the best game of the year.

    Both Arizona and Arizona State are looking like powerful teams coming into 2011. Arizona State may be returning more players, but Arizona was lucky enough to keep quarterback Nick Foles for another year, which keeps them in the conversation.

    Both teams can pass. Both teams can run (sometimes). Both teams can play defense. No one really has the edge in this one, and that's what makes it so exciting.

    The last meeting between the two was decided by less than a field goal. Expect the same from their next match.