Long before this became the Pac-12’s final season as we know it, the conference crafted a weekly schedule designed to attract attention for a different reason. The goal: To create maximum visibility for the ranked teams, high-profile coaches and Heisman Trophy candidates.
The result is a riveting three-month schedule littered with matchups worthy of primetime windows on ABC and FOX. The second half of the season, in particular, is loaded with first-rate affairs.
We identified the top weekly matchups with an admitted lean to the five teams ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll (No. 6 USC, No. 10 Washington, No. 14 Utah, No. 15 Oregon and No. 18 Oregon State).
And please take note: Once conference play ramps up in Week 4, kickoff times for the Saturday games will be announced either 12 or six days in advance.
(All times Pacific.)
Top matchup: Florida at Utah (Aug. 31)
Kickoff: 5 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: A must-win game for the Utes if they plan to compete for the College Football Playoff and a vital game for the conference to establish a positive narrative. (Lose to a second-tier SEC team, and heavy criticism will follow.) With so much attention on quarterback Cameron Rising, don’t forget to check the trenches. If Utah’s linemen spend more time on their heels than their toes, trouble is sure to follow.
Top matchup: Nebraska at Colorado (Sept. 9)
Kickoff: 9 a.m. on FOX
Comment: The home opener for Deion Sanders so happens to feature Colorado’s longtime rival and occupies a prime slot in the FOX broadcast lineup. Coming one week after the Buffaloes visit TCU, it stands as a pivotal game — a chance for CU to either build on its Week 1 momentum or avoid a deflating 0-2 start.
Top matchup: Washington at Michigan State (Sept. 16)
Kickoff: 2 p.m. on Peacock
Comment: The visitors drew a poor platform for visibility but an excellent start time for performance, avoiding the dreaded 9 a.m. (Pacific) kickoff in Big Ten country. The Spartans will be dead set on avenging last season’s decisive loss in Seattle. This matchup of future conference foes will be crucial for UW’s playoff prospects and for Michael Penix Jr.’s expected Heisman campaign.
Top matchup: Colorado at Oregon (Sept. 23)
Comment: The conference opener for both teams will bring the Deion Sanders Show to Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks should be fresh after a Week 3 home date with Hawaii. We considered selecting UCLA-Utah and Washington State-Oregon State but cannot ignore the potential for immense hype in Eugene if the Buffaloes are ranked at the time of kickoff.
Top matchup: Utah at Oregon State (Sept. 29)
Kickoff: 6 p.m. on FS1
Comment: This Friday night affair was an easy choice despite several intriguing Saturday games across the conference. Are the Beavers a title contender? Has their quarterback play improved to the necessary level? OSU handled the Utes at the line of scrimmage two years ago and will need to dominate again. As always, the edge goes to the home team on a short week.
Top matchup: Washington State at UCLA (Oct. 7)
Comment: If you have to miss one Saturday this fall, make it Week 6. Oregon, Washington and Utah are idle while USC hosts Arizona and Oregon State visits Cal. Put another way: This is the final Saturday without a heavyweight matchup of title contenders. That said, the first meeting between the Cougars and Bruins since 2019 will be crucial for each, with the victor taking a major step toward bowl eligibility.
Top matchup: Oregon at Washington (Oct. 14)
Comment: We could let the 115th matchup in this glorious series speak for itself and move on to the top matchup of Week 8. But the last Oregon-Washington collision under the Pac-12 banner could carry immense stakes, even for this rivalry. Our forecast: Memorable with a chance of epic.
Top matchup: Utah at USC (Oct. 21)
Comment: The game on the field will be secondary to the game in their heads — specifically, the game in USC’s head. Will the Trojans end their three-game losing streak against Utah? Or will it be more of the same, with the Utes making all the plays that matter and the Trojans left searching for answers? Of note: The Trojans play in South Bend the previous week.
Top matchup: Oregon at Utah (Oct. 28)
Comment: Another premier matchup that should carry conference title and playoff implications — and a possible primetime broadcast window. The Utes won twice in 2021, only to have the Ducks respond with a narrow victory late last season. Given their conference affiliations starting in 2024, this could be the final collision in this young but terrific series for a long, long time.
Top matchup: Washington at USC (Nov. 4)
Comment: Washington’s first trip to the L.A. Coliseum since 2015 — the last game of the Steve Sarkisian era — very well could feature two playoff contenders and Heisman frontrunners in Penix and Caleb Williams. (Also, it marks the start of a brutal stretch run for UW.) This was an easy call as the only Week 10 duel between preseason favorites.
Top matchups: USC at Oregon and Utah at Washington (Nov. 11)
Comment: Meanwhile, Week 11 had no easy calls, so we chose to highlight two games. This much is clear, however: The Pacific Northwest will be the center of the Pac-12 universe, and perhaps the college football world, on Nov. 11. Look for ESPN/Fox to exercise a six-day option, meaning the kickoff time for both games probably won’t be set until the previous weekend.
Top matchup: Washington at Oregon State (Nov. 18)
Comment: If the Beavers are still in the race, this could be one of the most anticipated games of the year and feature a huge advantage for the home team: The Huskies will be coming off back-to-back duels with USC and Utah, while the Beavers will have faced Colorado and Stanford in previous weeks. Also on the Week 12 schedule: The final crosstown showdown in Los Angeles under the Pac-12 banner.
Top matchups: OSU at Oregon (Nov. 24) and WSU at Washington (Nov. 25)
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. on FOX/TBA
Comment: The animosity that typically accompanies these rivalries should be off the charts as a century of tradition ends with the ‘state’ schools abandoned by their Big Ten-bound neighbors. And if the Beavers and Cougars happen to play the spoiler role — one of the two games assuredly will have title implications — what a story that would be.
*** Previous installments in our season preview series:
My AP preseason top-25 ballot
*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to email@example.com or call 408-920-5716
*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline
*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.