- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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I wanted to follow up on the Most Important Game series Ted and I have been doing in the Pac-12 blog. Yesterday Ted gave you his thoughts on Stanford's most important game -- and he understandably picked The Big Game against Cal on Oct. 20.
Hard to argue with that. But for kicks and giggles, I'd like to offer a contrarian perspective. I wholeheartedly agree Cal is the biggest game of the year for Stanford. It is every year. No debating that. But is it the most important? I think a strong argument can be made that Sept. 27 at Washington is more important for the trajectory of the season.
I don't think anyone anticipates the Cardinal dropping the first two games to San Jose State or Duke. Those will essentially be learning-curve games for the new quarterback, his new offensive linemen and it will basically be live 11-on-11 work for the new-look secondary. Because we all know what awaits them in Week 3.
I'll have plenty to say about the Stanford-USC game in tomorrow's Take 2 in the Pac-12 blog. But win or lose against the Trojans, what happens the following week is crucial for the remainder of the season.
If Stanford tops USC at home, the team will have a ton of confidence heading to Seattle. But if the Cardinal fall to USC -- and you have to figure they'll be considerable home dogs -- it will be the first dent in the new quarterback's confidence. Then he's got a bye week to get his head on straight before starting his first college football game on the road -- against another Heisman hopeful quarterback in Keith Price and a completely revamped Huskies defense.
The first goal for the Cardinal is to win the Pac-12 North. Winning your division should be the top goal for every team -- because a lot of doors close without that division title. And we all know the road to the North crown goes through Oregon. But Washington and Stanford are both jockeying to be the team to challenge Oregon. The winner takes a huge step forward.
And don't think Washington has forgotten about last year's tushy-whooping on The Farm. Make no mistake about it -- Washington wants revenge and wants it in grand fashion.
With the majority of Stanford's marquee games on the road this year -- at Notre Dame, at Cal, at Oregon -- getting that first road victory is going to be extremely important. Because the next road game is in South Bend, Ind., and the one after that is across the Bay at Cal.
A victory over Washington puts Stanford at 3-1, a far more advantageous psychological position than 2-2. Stanford and its new quarterback will have to learn to win on the road. And winning the first one against a quality opponent -- or losing a revenge game -- could alter the entire landscape of the 2012 season.