The Pac-12 needs a win. It has been more than half a decade since any team from the conference has made the CFB Playoff and it is going on a whopping seven seasons since Oregon got the conference its only playoff win. Last year, no team was even in the discussion for the playoff.
That brings us to 2021: one of the most important years in west coast football history. The Pac-12 is on the verge of being relegated to a Group of Five conference due to consistently underperforming. Four games in September 2021 will dictate how the conference is viewed moving forward.
Texas A&M vs. Colorado
Colorado has been the worst team in the conference since entering the Pac-12. With a combined record of 43-75 since joining, the Buffaloes have been nothing short of a travesty on the football field. They have two winning seasons, zero conference championships, and no bowl wins since 2011.
They have had four head coaches over the last three seasons, and one coach left for a better job after just one season in Boulder. If the Pac-12 is going to be successful, the conference needs Colorado to start pulling its weight. The Buffs get their first shot at making a statement on September 11 against Texas A&M.
The Aggies are predicted to be one of the three best teams in the SEC in 2021, and beating them would go a long way toward legitimizing the Pac-12 in a pivotal year. Colorado should be a decent team this year, and the team’s non-conference resume could be a huge sticking point toward the legitimacy of the Pac-12 if they can beat Texas A&M. Even if they don’t win, if the Buffs can play a good game, avoid getting blown out in Denver, and look good on a big stage, the conference will be better off for it.
Washington vs. Michigan
As much as Duck fans don’t want to admit it, Washington HAS to win this football game. There are no moral victories for a talented Husky team, and the Wolverines are vulnerable. Washington should challenge for the Pac-12 North in 2021, and if one of the best teams in the Pac can’t beat a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, there is little hope for the Pac-12 to get recognition.
LSU vs. UCLA
September 4 is the first chance Pac-12 teams will have to show what they are made of in 2021. Chip Kelly and his UCLA Bruins will have a week of football under their belts against Hawaii, and the pressure is officially on for Kelly in Southern California. After generally disappointing over his first several years at UCLA, the Bruins look to have a decent squad this season. If they continue to underperform, everyone is going to look directly at the head coach.
With two four-star defensive lineman now on the roster, the Bruins should be able to field a very good defense. Kelly will have to utilize them, along with all of his other assets to stop another highly-overrated LSU team.
The Tiger defense was flat-out bad in 2020. Kelly should be able to take advantage of that with Dorian Thompson-Robinson under center for what seems like the 8th straight season. The inconsistent QB should have an easy enough game if he avoids the one talented defensive back on the LSU roster.
While UCLA may not be a conference powerhouse, these mid-level interconference games are absolutely vital in showing that this isn’t the same -old conference.
Oregon vs. Ohio State
We all knew this one would be on the list. It is being tabbed as arguably the most important non-conference game in the country heading into the season. Both teams are the odds-on favorite to win their conference championships. This could be a Top-10 matchup come September 11, and there is a strong possibility that ESPN College GameDay will be in Columbus to preview the day.
This is a massive game with massive implications. Both coaches have the unenviable task of getting their teams focused on a game the previous week, but it might be even more dangerous for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes face off against a tough Minnesota team on the road to open the season.
The last time the Ducks made the playoff, they had to beat a Top-10-ranked Big Ten opponent in their second game of the season. It kicked off a Heisman Trophy run for Marcus Mariota and sent the fanbase in to a frenzy, and this year looks to start in much the same way.
USC has a chance to contend for a playoff spot this year — and so does Washington, and so do the Ducks. There aren’t really any other teams with a legitimate shot to win the conference. Whoever the Pac crowns champion needs to be heading for the playoff, one way or another. The only way they’ll be respectable enough to make the playoff is if they go 10-0 in conference play, which has never happened, or have such an incredible resume that they cannot be ignored. Oregon is the team that can either have that resume or give another team an incredible resume booster.
If the Pac-12 wants to have any legitimacy at all, Oregon is going to have to beat Ohio State.
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline
Ryan Robertson is a defense contractor for the United States Marine Corps. A lifelong Duck fan from Grants Pass, he joined the Army out of high school. After four years as an Intelligence Analyst he decided it was time to further his education and pay more attention to his Ducks. One of Ryan’s first memories is of watching the Ducks, led by Joey Harrington, beating up on the Utah Utes in 2001. His grandfather ran track at Oregon in the ‘50s. He loves the Ducks, and has a passionate interest in reading every scrap of analysis centered around the football team.
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