Key stretch: Oregon State

Without a doubt, every game matters.

With few exceptions, a single game doesn't define a season. A great victory can be deflated by an upset the next weekend, while a crushing defeat can be redeemed by an inspired effort later in the season.

While the Pac-12's national title contenders -- we won't name names -- need to win every game (or just about every game), you can point to a stretch of games on the schedule that appears to be defining. In terms of a team's goals, that stretch is most critical.

We've defined a "key stretch" as three games, though we will allow for those three games to come among four.


Key stretch: Nov. 15 vs. Arizona State, Nov. 22 at Washington, Nov. 29 vs. Oregon

Why it’s critical: This is a rough way to close out the Pac-12 season for the Beavers.

As Oregon State enters this stretch, it’s quite possible to think that the Beavers will have six or seven wins, so bowl eligibility wouldn’t be on the line. That takes some of the pressure off. However, closing out a regular season 0-3 (which is definitely possible given this schedule) is no way to head into a bowl game.

The Beavers have the two more difficult matchups at home, which is certainly better than facing the Ducks and the Sun Devils on the road. But how much of a difference will that truly make? And then they travel to Seattle to face a talented team under first-year coach Chris Petersen. The Huskies could likely be in a similar win-total spot as the Beavers so both teams will be fighting to get better bowl bids, which makes the Seattle road trip more difficult.

Going 3-0 during this stretch seems highly unlikely. Going 2-1 would exceed expectations. Going 1-2 would be OK. Going 0-3 would be understandable for not only the Beavers, but several teams in the Pac-12. But that really puts the Beavers and coach Mike Riley in a tough, tough spot heading into a bowl game.

Yes, it’s a rough stretch, but it’s also an excellent chance to make a statement and exceed expectations. With that opportunity in front of them, it’ll be interesting to see if Sean Mannion and the Beavers can do it.

Other key stretches: