Top Three Pac-12 Non-Conference Games to Watch
Exactly 19 days from today is the first college football game of the 2014 season when Abilene Christian plays Georgia State on August 27th. The wait for football season is almost over and with that our appetite for news about important or exciting games is only increasing.
These three games are by far not the only good non-conference matches in the Pac-12 but also were chosen based on the potential pre-season rankings for both teams, schedule strength and potential records.
3. Texas vs. UCLA (Sept 13, 5 PM, FOX, Arlington, Texas)
Heading into the third week of the season, Texas plays UCLA in Arlington, Texas, in what could essentially be called a home game for the Longhorns as they are exactly 198.9 miles or roughly three hours away from their home in Austin. Regardless of Texas’s “in-state” field advantage, UCLA will likely be ranked in the Top 10 with Pac-12 title hopes and much higher, if things go to plan.
If you can’t tell by the location, this game is taking place at Cowboys’ Stadium and a win will be huge for either team. UCLA’s schedule is brutal in 2014 and this game against Texas is just the start of a long, tough road ahead. For the Longhorns, this game will be the third game of the Charlie Strong era and will show how the Longhorns handle a win or loss in an equally big game as Week 2 opponent BYU.
Bruins QB Brett Hundley is widely considered one the best quarterbacks in the conference, which is saying something in this ‘Conference of Quarterbacks.’ In 2013, Hundley was 248-of-369 for 3071 yards and 24 touchdowns. On Texas’ side of the ledger, QB David Ash was 53-of-87, 760 yards and seven touchdowns before an injury in the fourth game forced him out for the remainder of the season. If Hundley is as good as he was last year and Ash can return to his pre-injury numbers of early 2013 and the 2012 season, we will have a quarterback showcase on our hands.
2. Stanford @ Notre Dame (October 4, 3:30 PM ET, NBC)
There are few things better to see as a football fan than a historic rivalry being revitalized. This couldn’t apply any better than to the Stanford – Notre Dame rivalry, which has been played 28 times on and off since 1925. Heading into this game in the fifth week of the season, both teams will likely be ranked, as they are both projected in the Top 25 before the season even starts.
Stanford has won the last four of five meetings (would have been five of five if not for a memorable goal line stand by Notre Dame in 2012). David Shaw has been there for four of those years and is 34-7 as a head coach. The Cardinal’s quarterback, Kevin Hogan, is an experienced starter and was 180-of-295 for 2630 yards with 20 touchdowns in 2013. Though Stanford loses a lot of starters on the offensive line, the team is deep and will have figured out whatever glitches and problems that arise by the time they head to Notre Dame.
The Irish defense has been well known and often talked about during Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame. This year the Irish will be without defensive coordinator Bob Diaco who was enticed away by UConn to become their head coach. The offense, which has had its struggles but has fought to stay consistent, also lost its coordinator when Miami (Ohio) hired Chuck Martin as their new head coach. On top of these changes, Notre Dame is also in the middle of a quarterback competition as 2012 starter Everett Golson battles Malik Zaire for the starting spot.
If, by the time this game comes around, Notre Dame can have a good quarterback in place, the two teams will truly give us a show to watch.
On a side note, Notre Dame plays a quarter of the teams from the Pac-12, playing USC (Nov. 29) and Arizona (Nov. 8), as well as the Cardinal.
1. Michigan State @ Oregon (Sept 6, 6:30 PM, Fox)
The Spartans vs. the Ducks isn’t just the biggest non-conference game in the Pac-12 but could easily be considered the biggest in college football, as well. This game has been talked about and anticipated since the moment time ran out in the Rose Bowl between Michigan State and Stanford last season. Both teams will likely be ranked in the top five but will come at the game of football in very different ways. The Ducks are known for their offense and the Spartans for their defense. Both teams are very good at what they do and the team that comes out on top will truly be the better team and will have worked hard for that victory.
You can’t understate how important this game is to the success of the seasons for both teams. Michigan State and Oregon are both considered to be challengers for the College Football Playoffs and a loss here will derail those plans for one team. The winning team, on the other hand, will get a boost not just in the standings but also in morale.
As I stated earlier, the Ducks are very good on offense and the Spartans are known for their defense. This game will have the dazzle and the concrete as both teams try to outplay each other. Oregon and its offense is led by arguably the best quarterback in the country in Marcus Mariota. Michigan State has DEs Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush to even things out.
This isn’t to say that the Duck’s defense and Spartan offense are anything to sneeze at. Both teams feature starters that have experience and will be looking to prove to everybody that the other line isn’t the only thing to be excited about on their respective teams.
Nineteen days until the magical time of the year that is known as football season arrives!
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck