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Monday, August 25, 2008
2008 Pac-10 games to watch


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Of course, you plan to watch every game. But if you had to pick 10, might we suggest...

1. Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13: It's the game of the year, period. The winner is an immediate national title contender and the loser won't be eliminated. No game this season will even approach the defensive talent on the field. Mistakes will be critical in what figures to be a defensive struggle, so whichever QB handles the pressure better figures to be the deciding factor.

2. Oregon at USC, Oct. 4: Can the Ducks win two in a row vs. the Trojans and jump to the top of the Pac-10? It won't be easy on the road. But Oregon figures to offer USC a legitimate challenge. And, as we've mentioned before, it's sort of fun how Pete Carroll and Mike Bellotti appear to have a prickly relationship.

3. Oregon at Arizona State, Oct. 25: This one could be for the Holiday Bowl berth. Or perhaps, if USC plays for the national title, a Rose Bowl. Basically, the Ducks visit to Tempe likely decides who plays second fiddle to USC. The Sun Devils will be looking for revenge after last year's 12-point loss in Eugene, their first defeat in 2007 after an 8-0 start.

4. Georgia at Arizona State, Sept. 20: This is more a test for Georgia, which is the preseason No. 1 in both polls. The Bulldogs haven't traveled outside the Southeast in decades for a non-conference game, but it's worth noting they have been an outstanding road team in the SEC under coach Mark Richt. If the Sun Devils win, it would be a landmark victory announcing the program as a team headed for the elite.

5. Oregon at California, Nov. 1: These two played one of the best games of the 2007 season, and it again figures to have significant conference implications. When Cal won 31-24 at Oregon a year ago -- having already overwhelmed Tennessee -- the Bears looked like national title contenders. Then they lost six of their next seven. This time, the game is much later in the season.

6. UCLA at Washington, Nov. 15: It's unlikely this game will have any relevance in terms of who wins the Pac-10, but when Rick Neuheisel makes his first trip to Washington as UCLA's coach, it will be national news. Neuheisel was fired at Washington before the 2003 season and later settled for a $4.5 million payout from a lawsuit he filed against the school and NCAA. Many Huskies fans still blame Neuheisel for the tailspin the program has been in ever since.

7. Arizona State at California, Oct. 4: Arizona State's biggest win of 2007 in terms of perception was over California, and that shows the lack of big wins among the Sun Devils 10 victories because the Bears were at the time riding a two-game losing streak (it turned out the biggest win was a stunning comeback victory over Oregon State in the Pac-10 opener, but that's not the point here). It's possible that the loser here will fall out of the race for second place.

8. Notre Dame at Washington, Oct. 25: This game will register more away from the West Coast and with national Notre Dame fans. Still, the symbolism is clear. Willingham was controversially fired at Notre Dame. His replacement, Charlie Weis, was hailed early as a genius, given a huge contract and then led the Fighting Irish into their worst season in ages. Both coaches are on the hot seat, and Willingham probably needs to win this game in order to return in 2009 just because it's one of the weakest team the Huskies face.

9. USC at UCLA, Dec. 6: The first meeting between new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and the man he wants to challenge for LA supremacy, Pete Carroll. It looks like a mismatch on paper, but then again it also did in 2006 when the Bruins knocked the Trojans out of the national title hunt with a shocking 13-9 win.

10. Oregon State at Penn State, Sept. 6: The Beavers, who've won the third most games among Pac-10 teams over the past six years, don't think they get enough respect. Penn State and their fans probably aren't going to give them much, either. But if the Beavers go into Happy Valley and win, well, it will be hard not to immediately register them as a Pac-10 contender.