Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every game matters in the Pac-10. Almost.
There are only a smattering of Idaho States, Portland States and Northern Arizonas on the conference slate. So it's not easy to pick the best -- or most interesting -- 10. But here's a shot at it.
- Oregon at Boise State, Thursday: Does this one really need any explanation? For one, it's the first good game of the season. No. 2, it matches the No. 14 Broncos vs. the No. 16 Ducks on the blue turf, where the Broncos never lose. No.3, these teams played a barnburner last year, with Boise prevailing at Autzen Stadium. No. 4, a number of Ducks were victims of late hits in that game. There is a revenge angle here and just a smattering bad feelings, despite the many cordial connections between the programs.
- USC at Ohio State, Sept. 12: The winner becomes a national title contender. The winning quarterback figures to become a national figure. For USC, a victory would quickly end any talk of a rebuilding year. For Ohio State, it would redeem the image of the Big Ten. And if you look at the Buckeyes schedule, there aren't too many other big hurdles after the Trojans.
- UCLA at Tennessee, Sept. 12: UCLA won improbably last year when quarterback Kevin Craft overcame four first-half interceptions to lead the Bruins to victory. Now redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince will lead the Bruins in front of 105,000-plus at Neyland Stadium. On the Vols side of things, it's the debut of Lane Kiffin, which will leave SEC fans stumped: Root for Kiffin, who has tweaked just about every other SEC coach/program since he was hired, or the Bruins, who could continue the Pac-10's pattern of head-to-head success vs. the SEC.
- California at Oregon, Sept. 26: Might this matchup equal the 2007 thriller in national ramifications (at least before both programs slogged through bad finishes)? The winner here would establish itself as the top rival to USC for the conference title.
- Arizona at Oregon State, Sept. 26: There are a bunch of these "separation games" on the schedule between teams mostly in the middle of the conference pecking order, but this one stands out. For one, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that both teams could enter undefeated, though obviously both have plenty of work beforehand. This one, the Pac-10 opener for both, seems like it could send the winner off to a good season.
- USC at California, Oct. 3: If things go according to how most folks have ordered it, this will match the conference's top two teams, and both could be ranked in the upper half of the top-10 if they arrive undefeated. Might this one equal the drama of the thrilling 2004 duel that paved the way for the Trojans second consecutive national championship? Or will in be the critical piece in the Bears run to their first Rose Bowl since 1959?
- USC at Oregon, Oct. 31: And if the above game doesn't live up to its potential hype, this one could. Beyond what could be a top-10 matchup, this is a night game. On Halloween. Buckle up. The freaks will be out in Eugene, and Autzen Stadium might rock like never before, which is saying something.
- Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 28: Some are touting Notre Dame as a contender for a BCS bowl game. Or more. Really? That idea should come crashing to the ground on Oct. 17. This one more likely will represent where the Fighting Irish are as a program. If Notre Dame underestimates the Cardinal, it will have a long afternoon. Stanford lost 28-21 at Notre Dame in 2008, and that result might have been different if not for a 4-0 Irish turnover advantage. This is a key game for the Cardinal's intended drive toward bowl eligibility.
- Oregon State at Oregon, Dec. 3: Hard to imagine this game won't play a big role in finalizing the pecking order in the top-third of the conference. Last year, the Ducks broke the Beavers hearts -- ending their Rose Bowl run -- and then stomped on them in a stunning 65-38 blowout. Might revenge be an issue this go-around?
- Arizona at USC, Dec. 5: Is USC going to win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 crown? Are the Trojans going to play for the national championship? It's possible that this game could be relevant in national ways, just like the SEC and Big 12 championships that are played on the same day.