Ranking the Pac 12's top non-conference games

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The good\bad news is we should know early whether the Pac 12 will be playing meaningful football beyond Sept.15. The league's typically brutal slate of non-conference games could put Larry's League out of contention before the quarter-semester kids have checked into their dorms. The Pac 12 should be applauded for its take-on-all-comers philosophy. The exceptions this year are the uninspired non-con efforts of Oregon (Bowling Green, Portland State, San Jose State) and Washington State (Wyoming, San Jose State, Eastern Washington). Listed below is my rating of the top 12 games. And no, New Hampshire at Colorado on Sept. 15 did NOT make the list despite SID David Plati dutifully noting it will mark "the furthest east location of any opponent in CU history." Plati also adds the schools have only met previously in one sport: skiing.

1: Washington vs. Auburn, Atlanta, Sept. 1

Last year ESPN announcers brought out cupcakes to ridicule Washington’s non-conference schedule. This year’s offering is the appetizer from hell, an all-important moment for U-Dub, the Pac 12 and Western Civilization. Or, as coach Chris Petersen bluntly puts it: “I don’t think one game determines anything.”

2: UCLA at Oklahoma, Sept. 8

Not a good September road choice for first-year UCLA coaches. In 2003, Karl (deer-in-headlights) Dorrell led his Bruins straight into the front bumper of the Sooner Schooner in a 59-24 rout in Norman. Chip Kelly has one advantage: this isn’t his first run around the park.

3: USC at Texas, Sept. 15

A win for USC would finally avenge that heart-breaking 2005 title-game loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl. Oh, wait, that was last year’s hogwash story line. We can only hope this year’s game in Austin can match last year’s double OT thriller at the Coliseum.

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UCLA Coach Chip Kelly takes questions at Pac 12 Media Day. Photo by Rankman

4: Cincinnati at UCLA, Sept. 1

UCLA fans shouldn’t expect too much too early. Chip Kelly’s first game as Oregon head coach in 2009 ended in a Thursday night loss at Boise that featured running back LeGarrette Blount punching a Boise player named Byron Hout. The good news is everyone survived: Kelly rebounded to a 10-3 rookie season, Blount later won a Super Bowl ring with New England and Hout may have landed the best gig of all: defensive line coach at Montana State.

5: San Diego State at Stanford, Aug. 31

Imagine the nervous-tick horror at Pac 12 headquarters if, the night before the huge Washington-Auburn game, San Diego State drops Stanford in Palo Alto. Don’t worry, though, San Diego State hasn’t beaten Stanford since way back in 2017.

6: Michigan State at Arizona State, Sept. 8

Herm Edwards, who hasn’t coached anyone outside the makeup room in a decade, will have one collegiate game under his belt (the UTSA opener) before hosting this Big Ten beast from the East. What could possibly go wrong?

7: Arizona at Houston, Sept. 8

Some people think the American Athletic Conference has already pulled even with the Pac 12 as the nation’s fifth Power Conference. Pick your favorite story line: Kevin Sumlin returns to Houston or Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate vs. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver.

8: Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 24

The danger in the late, every-other-year matchup in Los Angeles is neither school being in national contention. The Irish will have already played Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Florida State while the Trojans will have played Texas, Stanford and Utah. The flip side is USC and Notre Dame both being in the top 10 come Thanksgiving week. Then it becomes epic.

9: Colorado at Nebraska, Sept. 8

Some of us are old enough to remember when first-year Nebraska coach Scott Frost played in this game when both schools were members of the Big 12 North Division. Frost and Nebraska, in November of 1997, pulled out a 27-24 thriller in Boulder. Frost passed for 92 yards and ran for 76, which today would get you benched at halftime by Nick Saban.

10: Fresno State at UCLA, Sept. 15.

We hate bringing up Karl Dorrell, but he also lost to Fresno State his first season at UCLA in 2003. It wasn’t as bad as Oklahoma but, for UCLA fans, the Silicon Valley Bowl loss to the Bulldogs may have actually been more embarrassing.

11: North Carolina at California, Sept. 1

Cal’s win last year at North Carolina was one of the early-season stunners. Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora, who recently raged that football was “under attack” to the point where it could lead to America’s downfall, should have all his delusional, talking-point fears confirmed on the streets of Berkeley.

12: Oregon State at Ohio State, Sept. 1

Oh, sweet Jesus. First-year coach Jonathan Smith makes his debut against a coach who just inked an endorsement deal to become “Head Breakfast Coach” for the Bob Evans restaurant chain. Ohio State will have Oregon State for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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