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The Top 5 Conference Pac-12 Football Games for 2019

By Nicholas Bartlett, SportsPac12

There will be no "small games" once Conference play begins this Pac-12 football season. But as August approaches, certain 2019 contests loom bigger than others. The annual interstate rivalry between Oregon and Washington, for example, all but circles itself on the schedule in red. 

The importance of other games on this list may not seem so obvious at first. But all five seem likely to play a role in what figures to be close and competitive divisional races.

The Oregon-Washington game will likely shape the season for both teams. | Getty Images

1. Oregon at Washington

Date: October 19, 2019
Location: Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA

Heading into the Pac-12 season, this looks like the biggest conference matchup of the year. Many see Oregon as the favorite to recapture the Pac-12 title, and perhaps even make a return appearance in the College Football Playoff. The Ducks, led by senior quarterback Justin Herbert, are hoping to extend their winning streak over the Dawgs—which previously had reached 12 straight in 2015—to two before sending their likely First-Rounder off to the NFL.

Washington, by contrast, has won two of the last three conference titles and is looking to continue its dominance. The Huskies lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but are led by new quarterback Jacob Eason, a highly touted transfer from Georgia. And the Dawgs are sure to remember last season's loss to the Ducks, an epic 30-27 overtime battle that hinged on a missed field goal in Eugene. This year's game has the potential to become an instant classic.

 Utah's early matchup with USC could ultimately determine the outcome of the South. | Getty Image

2. Utah at USC

Date: September 20, 2019
Location: LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA

This could be Utah's best team since joining the Pac-12, but the returning South Division champs will need to get off to a hot start to emulate their success of last season. That shouldn't be a problem if the Utes' offense improves as expected, complementing their always-killer defense. The key may be finding consistent players on the offensive line, having lost three members from last year's squad. If the Utes can handle the Trojans, they should be off and running in their quest for a repeat divisional title. But winning in the Coliseum is never easy. 

Conversely, this could be the year USC re-emerges as a Pac-12 power. From a purely athletic standpoint, there is no reason why the Trojans shouldn’t be able to match the Utes on the field. They always have elite talent, and if they find their stride, they could be a dangerous matchup for any team. Just like the Utes, USC is looking to replace three players on the offensive line. And they will need a good group up-front to neutralize Utah's solid pass rush. This early Pac-12 South contest could come down to a battle of the Bigs in the trenches. 

If Stanford and WSU are still in the North race come November, this contest could decide things. | Getty Images

3. Stanford at Washington State

Date: November 16, 2019
Location: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA

If Stanford can find a way to sweep the gauntlet of Washington and Oregon early in the season, they could have a chance to win the North. Of course, that's assuming they can escape Pullman with what figures to be a tough road challenge. The Cardinal are returning second-team All-Pac-12 Quarterback K.J. Costello who appears poised to become an elite player in the Pac-12. Under head coach David Shaw, Stanford has been stellar in both running the ball and stopping the run. But the Cardinal will need to limit WSU's Air Raid passing attack, and put up plenty of points of their own, to pull off a win in the Palouse. 

For Wazzu, one central question needs to be answered: Can the Cougs field a signal caller capable of replacing Gardner Minshew? If Mike Leach lives up to his reputation as a Quarterback Whisperer yet again, it will be difficult to win on the Palouse. Under coordinator Tracy Claeys, WSU’s defense has been solid enough to prevail in big games. The Cougars will need to win this game to head into the Apple Cup with the North title on the line. And as is so often the case in Pullman's tedious winter weather, turnovers could be the deciding factor. 

A trip to USC looms as a potential landmine in Oregon's quest for the North title. | Getty Images 

4. Oregon at USC

Date: November 2, 2019
Location: LA Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA

If Oregon can sweep the trifecta of Stanford, Washington, and Washington State early in the season, this game could be its final test en route to a North title. The Ducks may well be flying high by then, and would need to be careful not to overlook the Trojans, regardless of their record. If Herbert manages to stay healthy, there's no reason why Oregon won't be able dispatch USC with a solid performance in the newly renovated Coliseum. 

USC has a brutal early schedule, but if they can win just one of their three games against Utah, Washington, and Stanford, the Trojans could still find themselves in the thick of the South race. However, USC must get the most out of their skill position players to overwhelm the Ducks. Specifically, JT Daniels, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyler Vaughns will have to bring their 'A' game to keep pace with explosive Oregon. Ultimately, this contest could come down to which team's speedy athletes make more big plays. 

This year's Territorial Cup in Tempe could prove more consequential than many believe. | Getty Images

5. Arizona at Arizona State

Date: November 30, 2019
Location: Sun Devil Football Stadium, Tempe, AZ

This is the wildcard game of the bunch, one that could have no effect on the Conference standings, or determine the South Division title outright. For Arizona, it’s really simple: The Wildcats should go as far as Khalil Tate takes them. Tate, a dominant dual-threat quarterback, can take over any game when he is healthy and hot. If he plays as well as he is capable of playing all year, he could lead Arizona to the top of the South. That's assuming the rest of the team improves as well. 

For Arizona State, this season should be especially telling. Herm Edwards inherited a veteran quarterback and star receiver in Manny Wilkins and N'Keal Harry. He directed them well, but the former NFL coach would establish himself as a proven winner at the college level by improving the Sun Devils with new players of his own choosing. If Edwards does that, he could have ASU headed for a South title with a win in this game.

Nicholas Bartlett (@WordsByBartlett) covers a variety of topics for as our Senior Pac-12 Writer, in addition to covering Washington football and basketball.

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