Here are five(ish) Pac-12 games to keep an eye on in the second half of the season.
1. Washington vs. everybody
OK, so this is six games. But as long as the Huskies stay undefeated they are going to be league’s favorite for a spot in the College Football Playoff. That means every contest through the Nov. 25 Apple Cup in Pullman has national significance. ESPN’s FPI predicts the Huskies to win every game the rest of the way. By percentage: home versus Oregon State (98 percent chance to win), at Utah (83.9), at California (83.9) vs. USC (79.5), vs. Arizona State (93.7) and at Washington State (70.8). What FPI doesn’t take into account is the Pac-12 is sadistic and masochistic and toys with the emotions of those who follow it. So every game is worth keeping an eye on.
2. Utah at Colorado, Nov. 26
“You can’t manufacture a rivalry,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham ... pretty much every year since 2011 during the week of the Colorado game. No, coach, no you can’t. But when division titles start becoming a factor, the rivalry meter bumps up a couple of notches. Right now these two teams are tied atop the Pac-12 South standings. If each can hold serve through the next five weeks, it’s a guarantee this is the game that determines the division title, ensuring the South will see its fifth champ in five seasons. (There are other scenarios we’ll address shortly should one or both teams have multiple losses going into this game.) Keep in mind that this matchup has come down to one possession every year since the Buffs and Utes joined the Pac-12.
3. Utah at Arizona State, Nov. 10
Before the Utes can circle a championship date with the Buffs, they have to negotiate a second-half schedule most would consider tougher than Colorado’s. We already pointed out the aforementioned showdown with Washington in Week 9. Even if Utah loses to Washington but wins the rest of its games to go into Colorado with two losses, it can still win the division. If they win in Boulder and both teams have two conference losses, Utah will hold the head-to-head. But the Utes have to win in the desert first ... something they haven’t done since becoming a Pac-12 member. ASU, which is 2-2 in conference play right now, pretty much needs to win out to stay in the hunt for the South.
4. USC at UCLA, Nov. 19
The Bruins and Trojans will crank up rivalry week in Week 12. UCLA finishes the regular season with Cal while USC hosts Notre Dame. After the Bruins rolled off three in a row under Jim Mora, the Trojans bounced back last season with a 40-21 victory that locked up the South, eliminated the Bruins and endeared the USC brass so much with Clay Helton that they promoted him almost on the spot to head coach. With three conference losses, the Bruins aren’t officially out of the hunt for the division. But they are close. USC, which has won three of four since making the switch from Max Browne to Sam Darnold at quarterback, is still in the conversation to repeat as division champs with a 2-2 conference mark. Is this the game that could determine the South champ for the second year in a row?
5. Washington State at Colorado, Nov. 19
For those eyeballing the Apple Cup or the Rumble in the Rockies a week later, stop. Not only is this a sneaky-good game matching two teams that have fought their way up from the bottom of the power rankings in recent years, it potentially could have a major impact on the division standings. Depending on what happens in the Washington-Utah game, the Huskies could be perfect heading into the Apple Cup. That means the Cougars can’t have more than one conference loss going into that game. If they do, the Huskies will have already clinched the North. Colorado will likewise need to keep pace or stay ahead of Utah. Given the style and tempo of both teams, this might turn out to be one of the most entertaining games of the season, not just the second half.