- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome back to the road trip. We're taking a week-by-week look at the entire Pac-12 schedule and picking out the game we feel is the marquee game of the week. If you have the time and means this is the game you want to see.
Thursday Sept. 27
Stanford at Washington
Saturday Sept. 29
Arizona State at Cal
Oregon at Washington State
Oregon State at Arizona
UCLA at Colorado
My choice: Stanford at Washington
Why: No funny fiction today since Stanford and Washington were on bye last week. Instead, let's get right to this pivotal matchup in the Pac-12 North.
No fiction, but here's a little reality. Neither team probably needs to be reminded of last year's 65-21 thumping -- where the Cardinal ran for a school record 446 yards. Over on the Stanford blog last October, I predicted a 42-17 Stanford win -- and my, oh my, how the Washington fans came at me. Some pretty hateful stuff. I get it. No one likes to see their team called out on the naughty end of a spanking. Of course, I was writing for a Stanford-centric audience, and the Washington fans and I weren't as tight as we are now. I forgive you. We're cool now. The muffin basket won't be necessary.
It's premature, bordering on irresponsible, to offer up any sort of prediction on this game until we've 1) seen what Washington's defense looks like and 2) seen what Stanford's quarterback situation looks like. But there are a few things we can be confident about; Keith Price is going to be a better quarterback, Austin Seferian-Jenkins is going to be a better tight end and Stanford's front seven is going to be better than it was last season. This has the fixings for a pretty good football game.
Both teams take a hit in the running game -- Washington because of who it lost running the ball and Stanford because of who it lost blocking for the guy running the ball. And, of course, no Andrew Luck, who once described last year's contest as the best of his career. Both teams enter the season with questions on the offensive line, but hopefully those are sorted out by the fourth game of the season. Washington's only real offensive success in last year's game was with Chris Polk, who rushed for 143 yards in the first half. Then again, he finished with 144 yards for the game. You can do the second-half math.
Important to note that whoever gets the starting quarterback gig for Stanford, this will be his first collegiate start on the road. I don't care how seasoned of a back-up you are, how good you look against San Jose State or Duke or even USC for that matter. Playing away from home -- especially the first time -- is extremely difficult.
And anyone who thinks Washington will be looking over the horizon to next week's showdown with Oregon is insane. Following this week, the Huskies travel to Oregon and then are home to USC -- capping a ridiculous first half of the season where they may very well have faced the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the country (or even the No. 1 team twice). This game could define Washington's season. And starting with this game, Stanford plays three of its next four on the road. The new guy had better learn how to handle things away from The Farm or it could be a tough stretch.
Last season there was a clear 1-2 pecking order in the division with Oregon on top and Stanford at No. 2. This year, it's a little murkier with Oregon still the class of the North, but a three-way haze exists between Stanford, Washington and Cal. This game will go a long way toward helping establish 2012's hierarchy.
You can check out the rest of the road trip here.