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College Hotline - Pac-12 football preview: Top games of 2016

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    (Credit: Sportspress Northwest)

    *** Coming Thursday on the Hotline: Commissioner Larry Scott on the future of the Pac-12 Networks.

    Here’s the sixth installment of a series looking ahead to the 2016 season, with the list below framed in this manner:

    If I could watch just 10 games involving Pac-12 teams, these would be the 10.

    That’s not because they’re projected to be the best-played or most exciting. Rather, the selections are rooted entirely in significance: They 10 will tell us the most about the division races, the quality of the conference and the Pac-12’s position in the playoff chase.

    (Obviously, some tantalizing matchups were omitted. For example: If the list went to 11, like Spinal Tap’s volume dial, then USC-UCLA would have made the cut.)




    *** Links to previous installments in the Hotline series:

    Post-spring practice story lines.
    Quarterback comfort levels. (Written before the news that WSU’s Peyton Bender is ineligible.)
    All-conference projections.
    Kickoff times and a Comcast breakthrough.
    Ranking the schedules.

    In chronological order.

    Sept. 3: UCLA at Texas A&M. Lacks the blueblood nature of Bama-USC but will tell us much about the Bruins. That, in turn, will tell us much about the state of the South specifically and the Pac-12 generally. If UCLA plans to be a playoff contender, it had better win in College Station.

    Sept. 3: USC vs. Alabama (in Arlington). One of the most anticipated openers in league history given the tradition of both programs and the long break since their last duel (1985). Outcome will reverberate throughout the season for both the Pac-12 and the SEC. Selection committee eyeballs will be Gorilla-glued to the TV.

    Sept. 17: USC at Stanford: First major test for Stanford’s new quarterback (identity: TBA) and an early statement game for the Cardinal as the playoff race is concerned. For the Trojans, this will be a chance to avoid two early losses (if they lose to Alabama) or an opportunity to build on a victory over the Tide.

    Sept. 30: Stanford at Washington (Friday). Could determine the North champion given the hardly-outlandish likelihood that these teams will finish within a game of each other atop the North.

    Oct. 1: Oregon at Washington State. Both will have been tested (Oregon by Nebraska, WSU by Boise State). But the stakes and intensity ramp up considerably for teams with designs on the North title. The loser will have much ground to recapture, especially if it’s the Cougars (because of the added weight attached to home losses.)

    Oct. 8: Washington at Oregon. I’ll call my shot now. This is the year the Huskies break the losing streak (12 years and counting) in a rivalry that used to be hotly contested. Add up the hatred, the quality of teams and the presumed stakes, and this game would make the cut if my must-watch list only went five deep.

    Oct. 15: Stanford at Notre Dame. Last year was a thriller. (Same with the ‘12 and ’14 games in South Bend.) And like last year, this could be a playoff-elimination game for both teams. Decent chance that at least two other Pac-12 teams are in playoff position and thus need an Irish loss to help clear a path to the semifinals.

    Oct. 22: Utah at UCLA. I’ve got Utah as the team most likely to challenge USC and UCLA in the South. And if that’s indeed the case, this stands as a pivotal matchup.

    Nov. 12: USC at Washington. We’re in the crucible at this point. Good chance there are conference title or playoff implications for one team – and quite possibly both. Like Oregon-Washington, this would make my top-five cut.

    Nov. 25: Washington at Washington State. The rivalry game of greatest interest to me based on what we know at this moment. No other can match the Apple Cup for the combination of (projected) high stakes and (likely) fourth-quarter drama.

    xxxxxxxxxxxx

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    by Jon Wilner
     

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