The Pac-12 college football season will be a sprint, not a marathon. Starting later than every Bowl Subdivision conference means the Pac-12 will be trying to shoehorn seven games into a seven-week schedule during a time where COVID-19 cases have forced cancellations and postponements in other parts of the country.
There's little wiggle room should an outbreak occur with one team. Cal-Washington and Utah-Arizona were both called off. That means Saturday brings five divisional matchups that should give an early indication of who are the contenders in the North and South, especially with one loss potentially costing teams with both College Football Playoff and conference title hopes.
Ranking the best games from best to worst:
1. Arizona State at Southern California
This could be one of the best games of the weekend anywhere and will be notable for its 9 a.m. PT start in Los Angeles that will have both teams rising early. It's also a matchup of the two teams expected to be at the top of the South division.
Jayden Daniels and Kedon Slovis were two of the best true freshmen quarterbacks in the country last season and are poised to have big seasons. Daniels is a dual-threat who showed in last year's upset against Oregon that he is going to a fixture for the Sun Devils as they try to take the next step and reach the Pac-12 title game. Slovis wasn't expected to play for the Trojans in 2019 but stepped in for JT Daniels and thrived.
Ultimately, this could come down to the defense that slows one of them down enough to keep points off the board.
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2. Stanford at Oregon
It will be the first opportunity to look at the Ducks in the post-Justin Herbert era. They're hoping to contend for the playoff with a host of talent brought in by coach Mario Cristobal. How well Oregon gets started against the Cardinal will be revealing, especially at quarterback where the team is being tight-lipped about who will succeed Herbert.
Stanford has its own challenges. The Cardinal slumped to a 4-8 record and saw their run of 10 consecutive bowls end. There are reasons for optimism as the offense should be much improved and could be able to score enough to keep this game close.
Oregon running back CJ Verdell (7) runs for a first down against the Stanford during their 2019 game at Stanford Stadium. (Photo: Neville E. Guard, USA TODAY Sports)
3. UCLA at Colorado
It might not be a make-or-break season for Chip Kelly, however there is an expectation of significant improvement in his third season. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a great building block for the offense and he should cause problems for all Pac-12 defenses.
Karl Dorrell is the third coach for the Buffaloes in three seasons, which presents a unique challenge in the COVID-19 era. They've got questions on offense. One positive is that the Bruins' defense hasn't been great slowing people down.
4. Washington State at Oregon State
The Beavers have made significant strides during the first two seasons with coach Jonathan Smith. After two wins in 2018, they finished 5-7 last year with wins against California and Arizona State. The Cougars present an early opportunity as Oregon State pushes for its first bowl game since 2013.
This will be Nick Rolovich's debut season for Washington State after Mike Leach's departure. The Cougars will still throw often. But asking him to put all the pieces in place in a shortened offseason and irregular schedule is going to be a challenge.
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