If you caught it here and here, you'll notice that I made a stink about the weakness of the Pac-12's non conference play this coming football season. That being said, there are still going to be some good games to watch, and the national perception will definitely be helped a little, or hurt tremendously, by some key wins, or losses, by Pac-12 teams.
1. Oregon vs. Michigan State - Saturday, September 6 @ 3:30 p.m. PST: Eugene, Oregon. This game gets the nod at number this year because it could be two potential Top-10 teams squaring off. Michigan State won the Rose Bowl last year against Stanford, and they appear to be, along with Ohio State, the class of the Big 10. The winner of this game will, as long as the remainder of the season goes their way, have a huge win on their resume when it comes to selection time. Even if the winner of this game doesn't win its respective conference, there is still the at-large bid to consider, and a single loss, second place Oregon or Michigan State team will look very attractive to the selection committee.
2. UCLA vs. Texas - Saturday, September 13 @ 5:00 p.m. PST: Arlington, Texas. This game has the potential to be huge as well. If Texas comes into this game with a solid win over a strong BYU team, and UCLA doesn't lay an egg in either of it's first two games, this is at least a game between two top 20 teams, but potentially between two top 15 teams. Texas is coming off a down year, but they still ended up 8-5.
3. Stanford vs. Notre Dame - Saturday, October 4 @ 12:30 p.m. PST: South Bend, Indiana. This is the first of 3 games the Pac-12 has against Notre Dame this year. Stanford should be a Top 15 team at this point in the season, and who knows where the Golden Domers will be. That being said, they should be a Top 25 team at this point as well. This is a huge away game for Stanford, and if they pull it off, things will be looking nicely for them come selection time, assuming they do what they're supposed to do the rest of the season.
4. USC vs. Notre Dame - Saturday, November 29: Los Angeles, California. This is the final game of the year for the Trojans. If they beat UCLA the week before, they will be in a good position for, possibly, a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. However, a one-loss USC, not going to the Rose Bowl, will still have a good shot at getting the at-large bid to the playoff with a convincing win over Notre Dame. This should also be a game between two Top-25 teams.
5. Arizona State vs. Notre Dame - Satruday, November 8: Tempe, Arizona. A matchup between a favorite to win the Pac-12 South division and the Fighting Irish should make for some good, quality television. The weather won't be the same factor as it would have been back in September/October, this game could also feature 2 Top 25 teams. A win by Arizona State would definitely be a statement game for the Sun Devils. *** I put this one as the last of the three Notre Dame games simply because I think Stanford and USC will be better than ASU this year.
6. Utah vs. Michigan - Saturday, September 20: Ann Arbor Michigan. If Michigan can somehow beat Notre Dame two weeks before this game, and they don't blow it again against Appalachian State, they will be coming in this game probably ranked in the top 20. Utah will have a tall order in front of them, but, since they are picked to finish in the lower half of the South Division, a win here would give them some much needed confidence going into conference play.
7. California vs. BYU - Saturday, September 29: Berkley, California. I hesitated to even put this one on the list, but then I hesitated to put the last 4 games on this list. The reason this game gets a top 10 bid is because of Cal's opponent. BYU will have a solid team this year, and if all goes well for the Bears, this game could be very relevant for them. It's is possible, though the chance is pretty small, that the Bears could get bowl eligibility with a win against the Cougars. If they beat Northwestern, Sacramento State and Colorado, and then take 2 out of three against Arizona, Washington State and Oregon State, this game will mean a lot.
8. Oregon State vs. San Diego State - Saturday, September 20: Corvallis, Oregon. This game is one that the Beavers should win. It's a good game, against a solid Aztec squad, that will give loads of confidence to Mike Riley's team, and put them in a nice position come conference play. However, if Oregon State loses this game, the Pac-12's reputation will definitely go down in the eyes of the selection committee.
9. Washington State vs. Rutgers - Thursday, August 28 @ 7:00 p.m. PST: Seattle, Washington. These last two games made this list simply because I ran out of other options. I put this game above the UW game simply because Rutgers is an East Coast team, and this game will give the Pac-12 some good exposure ... granted the game starts at 10:00 p.m. for the visiting Scarlet Letters ... I mean Knights. If the Cougs can pull off a convincing win I can imagine that our perception will be helped out quite a bit.
10. Washington vs. Illinois - Saturday, September 13 @ 1:00 p.m. PST: Seattle, Washington. This game made the list for two reasons. The first reason is that I didn't want to put USC on this list twice ... the second reason is that if I didn't put this game in, I would have put in Colorado vs. Colorado State. This is a game the Huskies should win handily. Don't expect the playbook to be opened up too much, and pray that this game isn't close.