Larry Scott's league hopes it can Pac a big opening punch

Has the Pac ever been knocked out of the national title race over Labor Day weekend?

Oh, sure, there was one instance I recall with great in-attendance clarity.

A reporter rarely forgets driving four hours from Harrisburg to Penn State just to see a wipeout.

In 1999, Arizona took a preseason No. 4 ranking into State College a year after Dick Tomey’s team finished 12-1 and would have made its first Rose Bowl had UCLA not lost to Miami.

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Well, anyway, Arizona was all hyped up in 1999 and took its Desert Swarm act to Penn State only to nipped by the score of 41-7. I swear it could have gone either way anywhere between the national anthem and kickoff.

Pac 10 Commissioner Tom Hansen, also in attendance, quietly packed up his notes that day knowing his league was up another Walnut Creek.

Arizona finished 6-6.

Well this week is kind of like 1999 times 10.

If you call Pac 12 offices next Monday and no one answers, well, that's because it's Labor Day. But if you call Tuesday and no one answers, you'll know things did not go well.

The league is putting its reputation on the line again with several marquee games that can set the tone for a great, mediocre, or awful, 2016 campaign.

1: USC vs. Alabama. At least the Trojans won’t be scared. They’re the only Pac 12 big-boy program that thrives in pressure games. In 2003, USC started its run to the AP national title with a 23-0 win at Auburn. It was Matt Leinart’s first collegiate start.

A USC win in North Texas, though, would be considered shocking to most. The Pac 12, as usual, turns its lonely eyes to the Tommy Trojans.

USC has to, at least, keep the game close to preserve conference dignity.

2: UCLA at Texas A&M. The Bruins are mystery meat to me. They’ve got talent at the right positions but can’t be trusted in a game like this. Jim Mora must be waking up with night sweats thinking about TAMU’s All-American defensive end Myles Garrett sweeping around left tackle toward the blind side of Josh Rosen.

UCLA could win, or lose, 58-43, but I think that’s the final score.

3: Kansas State at Stanford. Bill Snyder may be old but he’s also wily—and good. For years I ripped him for playing cream puffs, only to watch his Wildcats beat Pete Carroll’s Trojans in 2001 AND 2002. Stanford lost a playoff spot last year because it took on a tough opener, at Northwestern, and lost.

Stanford had better be prepared this year, too, or Christian McCaffrey can kiss away the Heisman he should have won last year.

4: Rutgers at Washington. Seems as easy as a meet-and-greet, right? But sound the BS detector if Chris Petersen’s team doesn’t win by 20. Washington is considered a playoff dark horse by some, yet lost last year’s opener to Boise State and, two years ago, narrowly escaped Hawaii by a point.

5: Arizona vs. Brigham Young. One team is trying out for the Big 12 while the other, Arizona, is still trying out for the Pac 12. BYU would love to embarrass the league the way it did UCLA, 59-0, a few years ago under Rick Neuheisel.

Not much is expected out of Arizona this year as Rich Rodriguez gutted his defensive staff in search of answers.

The Pac 12 could burn a lot of equity if it performs well in other games but stinks in this one. Cougar Nation is always out to prove it deserves to be a member of the Pac 12, even if it never will. [/membership]