Backing the PAC: The Pac-12’s Must-Win Games

David Marsh Editorials

The 2021 football season starts tomorrow! Yes, some teams have already played, but that is a sideshow to the main event. The early season is when most teams play their out-of-conference schedules and this is the time that these games become vital to a conference’s image.

In the past five years or so, the Pac-12 has not fared well. It’s one of the major contributing factors as to why the conference is seen as a weak one. However, that perception can start to change if Pac-12 teams can manage to win some of these games.

Must-Win Games

Stanford vs. Kansas State – Kansas State tends to be a middling Big-12 team. Though it has been a while since they sat atop the Big-12, they are typically a solid team. Furthermore, Texas and Oklahoma’s departure should propel Kansas State toward the top of the conference in the coming years. Stanford has a Week 1 opportunity to prove that the Pac-12 is better than a middling Big-12 team, especially if that team might become a top team in the Big-12 after the departure of the two biggest brands. In a microcosm, this game will pin the two conferences against each other where a Stanford loss makes the whole Pac-12 look weak.

Jim Harbaugh is no stranger to Pac-12 football.

Washington vs. Michigan – This is a tough one, my fellow Duck fans. So maybe this is an optional game to root for the PAC. Michigan is a struggling program and Jim Harbaugh has his back against the wall in a do-or-die season. A Michigan loss to Washington would certainly put Harbaugh on even thinner ice. However, the Huskies beating Michigan at Michigan would be a win over a B1G blue blood and with that alone it would help the Pac-12’s image. Washington has many potential problems, the least of which is that this will be the first away game Washington will play under Jimmy Lake. That does not bode well for Washington.

Oregon State vs. Purdue – Putting our reputation in the hands of an Oregon State team that hasn’t been to a bowl game since the Mike Riley era seems bad. However, Purdue is not a powerhouse B1G team and is a team that in many ways resembles a similar skill level as Oregon State. Under the leadership of Jonathan Smith, Oregon State is playing well above their talent level and could very well make a bowl game this year. This is a winnable game for Oregon State, and would be a boost to their program and to the conference.

Arizona, Utah and Arizona State vs. BYU – This is really three games. In the first three weeks BYU plays three Pac-12 teams. For the sake of the Pac-12’s reputation BYU cannot be allowed to go 3-0 against the PAC. Ideally these three teams go 2-1 against BYU, with the most likely loss coming from Arizona as they have the weakest roster. Later in the year BYU plays Washington State and USC, and it is likely that BYU will split those games. BYU is a strange measuring stick for the conference due to their independent status, and how they will end up playing schools from all over the country including other Power Five schools. It is vital the Pac-12 makes a strong showing early against BYU.

Utah and BYU play annually and Utah has come out on the winning side in recent history. That must continue.

Winnable Games

Colorado vs. Minnesota – Colorado is probably out-matched in this game. Minnesota has some massive offensive linemen and will probably push the Colorado defense around at will. However, Karl Dorrell did manage to over-achieve last year and with a full year under his belt there is the chance he can score an upset for the Pac-12.

UCLA vs. LSU – UCLA did a good job dealing with Hawaii last week, but Hawaii doesn’t have anything near LSU’s talent and the sad truth of it is that neither does UCLA. LSU had a disastrous year last season and the Tigers are looking to rebound. This game will be played in LA, which is a surprisingly favorable site for a Pac-12 team as SEC teams rarely leave their geographical footprint. It is unlikely that UCLA ends up winning this game, but they can’t get embarrassed in losing. This does all hinge on LSU actually rebounding from their dreadful 2020 season.

Oregon vs Ohio State – This would be an incredible win for the Pac-12 if Oregon can pull it off. Oregon is probably the only team in the Pac-12 that could challenge Ohio State. This game isn’t just important to the Pac-12, but also for Mario Cristobal because he needs to prove he is building a program that can make a legitimate run at the playoff. Making the playoff this year is only truly possible if Oregon looks like they belong on the same field as Ohio State. Outside of a win, keeping it a one score game will prove Oregon belongs in the national conversation — and so does the Pac-12 by proxy.

The Pac-12 has a golden opportunity to prove they belong among the Power Five conferences once again this year. The only question is: will the scoreboard reflect it?

David Marsh 
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By John Sperry

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