The Pac-12's seven most important games of 2022
The upcoming season is a pretty important one for the Pac-12 and its various teams. The league is looking to end a College Football Playoff drought. Its individual teams are looking to either re-establish themselves as contenders, prove themselves contenders, or build themselves into contenders.
To that end, some games will be more important than others.
Here are the seven most important ones.
No. 7 Utah at Florida, Sept. 3, 4 p.m. PT
Why it’s important: Utah is the Pac-12’s best immediate shot at the CFP. It’s probably asking too much of Lincoln Riley or Dan Lanning to compete for one of those four spots in their first year — regardless of how talented. Utah might not have the most talent in the league, but it probably has the best coaching, top to bottom. Don’t let anyone tell you this team doesn’t have a run in them. But if Utah opens its season with a loss to a Florida team playing its first game under a new coaching staff — no matter how close — the message will immediately shift from the league’s potential to the league’s irrelevance on the national scale. Particularly after this summer of conference realignment chaos. No pressure.
No. 11 Oregon vs. No. 24 BYU, Sept. 17, 12:30 p.m. PT
Why it’s important: This is an interesting spot for the Ducks. Few expect Oregon, an 18-point underdog in its opener, to beat the Georgia Bulldogs. Even fewer should think Oregon could possibly lose the following week to Eastern Washington at home. So, a mid-September showdown with a strong BYU squad could shape the Ducks’ season. Let’s just say Oregon manages to pull off a wild upset in Week 1. A win over BYU puts the Ducks at 3-0 with a pair of Top 25 wins before conference play begins. Utah comes to Autzen. USC isn’t on the schedule. That’s the beginning of a dream first year for Dan Lanning. Now, let’s say that Oregon loses to the Bulldogs. A date with BYU puts the Ducks in danger of a 1-2 start. That hasn’t happened since 2004 — and that squad finished 5-6. It’ll be a revelatory first month of the season for Oregon. A 2-1 start feels like the more likely outcome here, but it’s not a given. The result will set the stage for the rest of the year for the league’s top contenders.
No. 7 Utah at UCLA, Oct. 8
Why it’s important: A big test for the Utes because of where it falls on the schedule. By the time they land in Los Angeles, Utah will have faced Florida in Florida, a San Diego State team with a stout defense, an Arizona State team in Tempe that figures to pound the ball and play hard-nosed defense up front, and an Oregon State team that is going to try and impose its will in the trenches… Utah could be a little beat up when it gets to UCLA. The Bruins’ offense isn’t what you’d want to see at that point. This will be UCLA’s first real “prove it” moment of the season. There’s a ton of “Rose Bowl or bust” talk coming out of Westwood, and the team should be 5-0 at this point.
No. 14 USC at No. 7 Utah, Oct. 15
Why it’s important: Do I need to write anything here? I mean, come on. Continuity vs. new everything. Defending champ vs. challenger. Power vs. speed. This game is expected to have Pac-12 title and CFP implications.
Washington at No. 11 Oregon, Nov. 12
Why it’s important: A week before Oregon tries to exact revenge for last year’s embarrassment against Utah, it faces a Washington team it has dominated. Oregon is 15-2 against its rivals to the north in the last 17 meetings. Kalen DeBoer is trying to re-capture the Huskies’ national respect. Turning around this one-sided rivalry will help. Oregon better not get caught looking ahead.
No. 7 Utah at No. 11 Oregon, Nov. 19
Why it’s important: The two best teams in the Pac-12 of late. Utah took both meetings last season in dominant fashion. Oregon hosts the defending league winners this time around. The atmosphere should be incredible. The stakes could be enormous. If Utah is still in the hunt for a Playoff spot at this point, a win over Oregon on the road will be the crown jewel of the résumé. If Oregon is sitting with only the Georgia loss on its ledger, a win over Utah could catapult it into CFP contention.
No. 14 USC at UCLA, Nov. 19
Why it’s important: The battle for L.A. carries major implications. UCLA wants to prove last year’s result wasn’t just a product of USC’s lost season. This season is about proving it belongs for Kelly and Co. USC needs to make amends for the face-plant in this game last year. The result of this one feels like it could decide the No. 2 team heading to Las Vegas for the conference title game.