Across the blog network and in conjunction with Blue Ribbon's previews today, we're taking a look at the impact game in each conference. We'll start with the South Division and hit the North a little later this morning.
Impact game: USC at Utah, Oct. 4
Significance: This is a game we've written about a few times already and will continue to write about until it's played because the Utes represent the biggest roadblock to USC sweeping through the Pac-12 South. And much of that roadblock has to do with the Utes' average starting weight of 284 pounds across the defensive line.
The Pac-12 blog believes that Week 3 at Stanford will be a statement game for USC, considering the quality of Stanford's defense and its recent success over the Trojans. But even if USC wins, the rest of the nation probably won't give it much credence because it's an Andrew Luck-less Cardinal squad -- even though it would be a win over a top-20 team on the road. Those who follow the conference closely know what kind of defense Cal will throw at the Trojans in Week 4 -- a formidable one -- but Cal lacks the national reputation, so only people in the know will understand that beating Cal is also a quality win.
Utah, however, is catching some national buzz as a team on the rise because of standout defensive tackle Star Lotulelei -- a potential top-five pick in next year's draft.
From the Utah perspective, this is all about making a splash. It's a Thursday night game on national TV, and if the folks in Park City can't hear the noise from Rice-Eccles, then something is wrong. The Utes can't do much to help their national credibility with wins over Northern Colorado, Utah State, BYU or Arizona State. But I expect them to be 4-0 and a Top 25 team by the time USC comes to town. A victory for the Utes doesn't completely derail USC's national title hopes, but it puts a healthy dent in them. It's a chance for the Utes to not only say they've arrived in the conference, but that they are ready to be a national player.
Or the Trojans can just tear them apart with their passing game, and all of this hype would have been for nothing. But I don't see that happening, and I don't think Lane Kiffin or Kyle Whittingham see that happening either.
The Trojans certainly have it tougher the first four weeks than Utah. So either they'll be beaten up or battle-hardened. If it's the latter, expect this to be one of the best games on the Pac-12 docket this season.