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 Oct. 4
USC at Utah
Saturday Oct. 6
Arizona at Stanford
UCLA at California
Washington at Oregon
Washington State at Oregon State
My choice: USC at Utah
Why: Most will project these two as the top two teams in the South Division entering 2012, with the Trojans, of course, being the division favorite by a wide margin. Still, the Utes will be playing in Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday night on ESPN. They certainly will get a big opportunity to make a statement to the Pac-12 and the nation against what could be the nation's No. 1 team.
Further, let's not forget the highly competitive matchup in 2011 when these teams met on Sept. 10 in the Coliseum in the first official Pac-12 game. Utah lined up for a 41-yard field goal in the waning moments to send the game into overtime, when anything could have happened. You might recall the odd ending. Coleman Petersen's kick was blocked by Matt Kalil, and Torin Harris return the ball 68 yards for a touchdown -- a score that was only added an hour or so after the game by official decree from the Pac-12 office. That made the final count 23-14, creating much gnashing of teeth in Vegas.
The Utes would go on to stomp rival BYU a week later, but then they'd lose quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season with a shoulder injury against Washington. The loss to the Trojans would become the first of four defeats to open Pac-12 play, opening up the Utes to "Not Ready for the Big Time" talk in the conference. But they would right themselves and could have won the South Division if not for a shocking home loss to Colorado in the season finale.
The point of recalling that is the Utes were pretty darn close to getting an upset at USC in 2010, and it's fair to say that Wynn was a big part of the reason. He completed 23 of 46 passes for 238 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions against the Trojans, starting to show signs he was getting back to form. The Utes also were good enough to nearly win the South without a passing game.
Anyone remember a little Thursday night road trip for USC in 2008 that looked like a sure-thing for Mark Sanchez and company? Just saying.
So this game sets up as a critical South Division matchup. It also is a showcase game for USC quarterback Matt Barkley's Heisman Trophy campaign. You'd expect the MUSS to be rocking, trying to make life difficult for Barkley and his high-powered offense.
This, by the way, is obviously not the weekend's only major showcase. Washington's visit to Oregon is always a big one, even if the Ducks have owned the Huskies of late. If Washington is able to notch an upset win against LSU or Stanford in advance of its visit to Eugene, the stakes could be even higher. And UCLA's visit to California, and Washington State's trip to Oregon State should be revealing in terms of how the conference's muddled middle will stack up.
You can check out the rest of the road trip here.