High-risk, high-reward matchups

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
1:10
PM ET
Most folks believe that rivalry games are the best thing in college football. I don't disagree, but marquee nonconference games may be more fun.

Oregon-Oregon State, USC-UCLA or Auburn-Alabama are great, but as a neutral observer -- which you mostly are when you don't have a dog in the rivalry game -- I am more looking forward to Oregon-LSU than any game on the Pac-12 schedule -- at least at present -- other than the Ducks visit to Stanford on Nov. 12, which could be epic.

Of course, big nonconference games involve a high degree of risk, which many schools and conferences seek to avoid. So teams that schedule aggressively (bravely) deserve a tip of the cap from all of us. Playing a Top 25 nonconference foe instead of a Sun Belt team takes guts. So, respect.

ESPN.com's Ryan McGee took a look at some of the best risk-reward nonconference games, and three involve Pac-12 teams.

Here's what he's got to say.

Oregon Ducks vs. LSU Tigers (Arlington, Texas), Sept. 3
Unlike Boise-Georgia, both teams in this game, not just one, start the season with legit national title hopes (and both could be ranked in the preseason top 5). And unlike Boise, life gets no easier for either team once this game is over. On the positive side, a close loss might not sting so bad if both teams spend the remainder of the season battling for conference titles and for spots in the top 10, which they should. Still, the loser of this game could end up regretting having scheduled it by season's end.

Arizona Wildcats at Oklahoma State Cowboys, Sept. 8
Many believe the Cowboys are a fringe BCS contender. A loss to the Wildcats, who will be better but still likely third in their division, at best, would do damage to the reputation of not only Oklahoma State, but the entire Big 12 if a one-loss OSU goes on to knock off A&M or Oklahoma.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Cardinal, Nov. 26
This one comes at the end of a brutal stretch for the Cardinal -- at USC, at Oregon State, Oregon, Cal -- and the end of a potentially breezy ACC run for the Irish -- at Wake, Maryland (at Landover) and Boston College. All Stanford might have on the line is a potential BCS title game berth and Andrew Luck's Heisman Trophy candidacy.

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