Pac-12: 072011 impact games

Pac-12 South impact game

July, 8, 2011
The question: What is the biggest impact game in the Pac-12 South?

The answer: Arizona at Arizona State on Nov. 19.

Picking an "impact game" in the South Division is nowhere near as easy as in the North Division, which features a pair of preseason top-10 teams in Oregon and Stanford.

So what are the criteria? First, you have to pick a South Division front-runner. For us, that's Arizona State. So then, who might be the Sun Devils' biggest potential foil?

Our first choice would be USC. The Trojans seem like a team that if things fall into place, they could win the division. But USC isn't eligible for the postseason, so a head-to-head defeat to the Trojans won't carry as much weight as a head-to-head loss to ... whom?

That falls to our No. 3 team in the South: Arizona. While the Wildcats are rebuilding their offensive line, have suffered a number of key offseason injuries -- notably knee injuries to safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer -- and are still waiting on the status of receiver Juron Criner, who is dealing with a non-injury medical condition that brings into question his availability this fall, they still seem like a slightly better option than Utah as potential division winner.

Why? Mostly because we don't know what we'll get with the Utes in their first year of Pac-12 play.

And the Wildcats, whatever their issues, still have a potentially high-powered offense with quarterback Nick Foles and a deep crew of receivers that could handle the loss of Criner and still be elite.

Further, there's something to be said for this being a bitter rivalry. Imagine if the division is at stake in Tempe. Or if the Wildcats have a chance to ruin the Sun Devils' special season.

That certainly would be high impact in the state, as well as the South Division.

Pac-12 North impact game

July, 7, 2011
The question: What is the biggest impact game in the Pac-12 North?

The answer is obvious: Oregon at Stanford on Nov. 12.

In 2010, Stanford's visit to Oregon was the Pac-10 game of the year. The then-fourth-ranked Ducks fell behind the No. 9 Cardinal 21-3 in the first quarter, but erupted offensively and rolled to a 52-31 victory.

It would become the undefeated Ducks' marquee victory on their way to the national title game because it ended up as the only blemish on Stanford's ledger. The Cardinal would go on to dominate Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, while the Ducks were nipped by Auburn on a last-second field goal for the national title.

Further, the game featured a pair of eventual Heisman Trophy finalists: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James.

So as the offseason churns toward the 2011 campaign, it's impossible not to see the rematch in Palo Alto as not only the impact game of the year in the first iteration of the Pac-12 North Division, but also the game of the year in the entire conference. And it might even become the game of the year nationally.

Both teams are almost certainly preseason top-10 teams. Both, in fact, could become national title contenders. The Ducks, in particular, could be riding high if they open with a victory against LSU. At the very least, the winner will be well-positioned to win the division.

Further, both Luck and James are back. They will be consensus preseason All-Americans and leaders on just about any short list of Heisman Trophy candidates. Luck would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft if he had not decided to return to the Farm.

So the game has it all in terms of impact: Stars on a big stage playing for big stakes.