- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Pick up your cellphone right now and go to the calendar. Set reminders for the following games, because there are some matchups in the Pac-12 this year that you don't want to miss.
We've broken down what we consider the five marquee matchups of the 2012 season (as of right now) that should be DVR'd and watched over and over again and analyzed down to the final play. OK, so there are no guarantees that these five will become instant classics. But the potential is there for a few of them.
This is obviously subject to change. Washington State could blow out of the gate to a 6-0 start and then every Cougar game will be a must-see. Colorado could have five wins after eight weeks and be on the verge of bowl eligibility. But as it stands right now, here are the five your Pac-12 bloggers agreed upon.
Oregon at USC, Nov. 3: If this game lives up to half the hype it's already received, it's going to be a great one. The two most complete teams in the conference -- both with Heisman hopefuls -- square off in a classic North-South battle with staggering national-championship implications. Both teams have high hopes for a national title, and this game will be extremely telling. And while we're predicting these two to meet again in the conference championship, it's worth noting that the winner gets home-field advantage. How important is that? Maybe not as much as you'd think. The road team has won the past two meetings.
USC at Utah, Oct. 4: Before the Trojans can conquer the conference, they first have to conquer their division. And most are in agreement that Utah poses the biggest threat to USC winning the South. With the best defensive front in the conference, headlined by the best defensive lineman in the nation, Utah figures to give the Trojans a headache on national TV at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Both teams will be coming off a bye week, so with ample time to prepare and all nicks and bruises healed, this one could be a thriller. If USC blows through this defense, it will be confirmation that the Trojans offense deserves all the hype it's getting.
Stanford at Washington, Sept. 27: I think we can all agree Oregon is the team to beat in the North. But after the Ducks, Stanford, Washington and Cal are all similar and fighting for that No. 2 spot. All three have holes. But it's the Stanford-Washington matchup that might be the most interesting. The Cardinal have physically dominated the Huskies of late, but this is Stanford's first road game of the year and will be the first collegiate road start for new quarterback Josh Nunes. This game likely keeps the dream of a North title alive for the winner.
Stanford at Oregon, Nov. 17: As of right now, these teams are Nos. 2 and 3 on our power rankings -- with the Ducks ever-so-slightly behind USC. We'll say this: Oregon is closer to USC than Stanford is to Oregon. But Stanford might pose the biggest threat to the Ducks this year because of the Cardinal's front seven on defense and ball-control offense. Of course, neither was a factor last year at Stanford Stadium. But the Ducks will be coming off what we predict to be a hard-fought game at Cal the week before. Which leads us to ...
Oregon at Cal, Nov. 10: ... Maybe the Bears are the team in the North we should be thinking about to challenge the Ducks. They too have an outstanding defensive front, a solid multiple-back attack and one of the best wide receivers in the country. Plus, the game is being played at the new and improved Memorial Stadium and recent history suggests Cal might have the edge. The Ducks squeaked out a 15-13 win in 2010, but Cal had won the previous three in Berkeley. If there is a true trap game on Oregon's schedule, this could be it.
Just missed the cut
A few other games we're excited about, in no particular order:
Stanford at Cal, Oct. 20: Another Pac-12 North pecking-order game. Going to be weird, though, to see the Big Game played in October.
Washington at LSU, Sept. 8: All Pac-12 fans should be Washington fans this week.
Cal at Ohio State, Sept. 15: Ohio State's weaknesses play to Cal's strengths. This could be a big win for the Bears and the conference.
Washington at Washington State, Nov. 23: Mike Leach could breathe new life into this great rivalry.
Arizona State at Arizona, Nov. 23: Arizona is a recruiting hotbed for the conference. The winning coach gets a leg up in the in-state recruiting battle and likely appeases some fans, regardless of records.
Washington at Oregon, Sept. 29: Won't pull the Ferris Bueller joke out again. But nine times? Really?
USC at UCLA: Nov. 17: Will be fun to see what Jim Mora & Co. bring to the rivalry.
Wisconsin at Oregon State, Sept. 8: Mike Riley has been preaching a stronger rushing attack. No better place to test it than in Week 2 at home against last year's Rose Bowl runner-up.