Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Pac-12's best nonconference games
By Ted Miller
The Pac-12 typically plays a rugged nonconference schedule, but the 2014 slate is, well, only fair to middling.
There's a true marque national game -- Michigan State at Oregon -- and there are three matchups with Notre Dame. But there aren't a whole lot of ranked foes from other areas of the country on the slate.
Here's how we'd rank the Pac-12's best nonconference games in 2014.
1. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6): It's a top-10 -- perhaps even top-five -- matchup that looks like a Rose Bowl. Or a College Football Playoff semifinal. The Spartans shut down Stanford in the Rose Bowl in January and are eyeballing even bigger things this fall. Like the Ducks.
2. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4): This has become a strong, national rivalry. The last time the Cardinal was in South Bend, the ending was highly controversial -- the Fighting Irish wouldn't have played for the 2012 national title without a boost from the officials. This game likely reveals if one or the other is a CFP candidate.
3. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29): It remains the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports. It would be a good idea for first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian to win this one. A good way to win over his fan base.
4. Notre Dame at Arizona State (Nov. 8): The Fighting Irish tried to get out of this game. They also beat the Sun Devils last year. Arizona State should be plenty motivated in front of what is certain to be a packed house.
5. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas): Texas is breaking in new coach Charlie Strong in what is really a glorified home game. UCLA is only trying to announce itself as a national title contender. While the Longhorns are down, they won't lack talent.
6. Utah at Michigan (Sept. 20): Here's a good way for the Utes to announce their return to relevance -- a trip to the Big House. Utah certainly won't be intimidated. It won in Ann Arbor 25-23 in 2008 on its way to an undefeated season. It also lost 10-7 in 2002.
7. California at Northwestern (Aug. 30): Sonny Dykes wants to get his second season off with a bang. This is a good -- and winnable -- opportunity to do just that.
8. Rutgers vs. Washington State (Aug. 28, CenturyLink Field, Seattle): The Cougars are eyeballing a breakthrough season. It will be hard to do that with an opening loss to a Big Ten team. Yes, Rutgers is now a Big Ten team.
9. Illinois at Washington (Sept. 13): The Illini don't seem too scary, but they are a Big Ten team. They didn't make things too easy on the Huskies last year, either.
10. BYU at California (Nov. 29): We've already noted how nice it would be for Dykes to get his second season off to a fast start. What about a strong finish?