- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.
We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.
And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.
We're going in reverse alphabetical order.
Most important game: Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame
Why it's important: Now wait a minute before your heads explode.
Yes, Stanford's Nov. 7 visit from Oregon is the Cardinal's most important game. Without question.
It very likely will determine the Pac-12 North Division crown. It also seems possible the winner will thereafter become a participant in the BCS title game.
So, yeah, Stanford-Oregon on Thursday night will be about as big as it gets among all 2013 college football games. That unassailable idea is the very reason I am typing this and not Kevin, who I could feel smirking through the phone at me while I made the case for Notre Dame.
Then why the heck am I typing this? Well, a big reason is that on Wednesday we'll do the "Most Important game: Oregon," and then we'll hyperventilate about the potential Ducks-Cardinal Game of the Century.
About 60 percent of this is an avoidance of redundancy.
But blogging expediency is not the only reason. There is concrete grounds for this. Really!
Here's the logic: 1. Stanford has played in three consecutive BCS bowl games, so getting to another will not represent a significant step forward; 2. Last year, Stanford beat Oregon, won the Pac-12 outright and won the Rose Bowl, so doing that again will not represent a significant step forward; 3. There is only one significant step forward the program can take.
Stanford, which could begin the 2013 season ranked in the top three, almost certainly will need to beat Oregon to play for the national title. The same, of course, could be said for the Ducks.
But if you compare Oregon's and Stanford's schedule, you might notice something. While the Ducks have a nice home game with Tennessee the first month of the season, they do not play a marquee nonconference game against a potential top-10 team.
And so we have Stanford.
Not only does the Cardinal have a marquee nonconference game against a potential top-10 team, it has the game ON THE LAST DAY OF THE REGULAR SEASON.
And, well, it's Notre Dame, which makes it bigger, at least in terms of aesthetics, than if it were, say, against a top-10 West Virginia squad. Yes, aesthetics matter. If Stanford ends up in a beauty contest with another FBS team with the same record for a spot in the title game, beating Notre Dame, which played for the national title last year, to end the regular season probably would hold significant sway with voters.
And what if the Fighting Irish are in the national title mix, too?
Wait... there's more!
I seem to remember Notre Dame and Stanford playing last year. How did that end? Lookie here: Revenge angle. That's fun.
Further, let's just say Stanford goes unbeaten until losing to Notre Dame the final weekend of the season. Then the Cardinal win the Pac-12 title game -- yeah, that game also would stand between Stanford and a national title game berth -- and the Rose Bowl over a Big Ten team.
What would folks across the country say and write? Notre Dame > Stanford. Stanford > Pac-12. Ergo, Notre Dame > Pac-12.
So the Pac-12's self-respect also could be on the line (unless, of course, USC beats Notre Dame).
The way to look at this is 1A (vs. Oregon) and 1B (vs Notre Dame).
For a magical season to happen, Stanford needs to win both. Losing either will feel horrible. And losing to Notre Dame after beating Oregon might actually feel worst of all.
We can consider that bridge if we get there.
1dChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell