Pac-12 Preview Week: USC-Utah tops list of ‘Danger Games’

Could another Thursday night road game by USC’s undoing?

In a year in which the Pac-12 is thought to have two major powers and a bunch of rebuilding teams, finding true “Danger Games” in the conference isn’t easy. With that in mind, here are five games that look a little more upset-likely than expected.

5. Sacramento St. at Colorado (Sept. 2)

I have no idea what division Sacramento St. plays in. I know nothing about its conference affiliation. The team mascot? No clue.

But remember a couple years back when Virginia Tech got caught napping by James Madison a week after its Labor Day showdown with Boise St.? Same dynamic at play here.

The Buffaloes open the season with a Sunday game with Colorado St. It’s an in-state rivalry that doesn’t get a lot of hype nationally, but it’s an ugly one.

That means the Buffs will have a short week preparing for a matchup with an upstart that would love to knock off a Pac-12 team. Given that CU, well, just isn’t all that good… Yikes.

You raise me up!”

4. Washington at Arizona (Oct. 20)

Expectations are starting to mount for the Huskies in coach Steve Sarkisian’s fourth year. Unfortunately for Sark, a step back record-wise could be in the cards this season as his team tries to manage a rough schedule. In a six-week stretch from Sept. 8 to Oct. 13, the Huskies face LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC. That, my friends, is rough.

Waiting at the end of that murderer’s row will be a trip to Tucson to face the new-look Wildcats. Arizona, meanwhile, will have a week off to prepare for the visit from their friends from the Pacific Northwest.

Rich Rodriguez’s spread option scheme has been known to give better defenses than the one that the Huskies will field fits.

3. Washington St. at Stanford (Oct. 27)

Mike Leach’s return to coaching at Washington St. will be one of the more closely watched stories this year in not just the Pac-12, but nationally as well. Although expectations don’t appear high for the Cougars in year one of Dread Pirate Leach’s regime, would an Air Raid-fueled upset or two be out of the question?

The Cardinal will enter this game coming off of a trip to Notre Dame and a road game against hated rival California in Berkeley. How much focus will Stanford bring to practice that week in preparation for Leach’s tricky offensive scheme?

2. Oregon at California (Nov. 10)

The Pac-12’s game of the year will take place on Nov. 3 when the Ducks travel to Tinseltown to square off against USC in a game that should pit two top five teams. Put that game in the SEC, and it would be getting the same hype seen for LSU-Alabama a year ago.

The next week, UO has to travel again, this time for a road game at California. The Cal contest is bookended by Stanford, giving the flavor of a classic sandwich game. If the Ducks aren’t in the right frame of mind – and with how Eugene rolls, you couldn’t blame them – The Golden Bears could sneak up and bite them.

1. USC at Utah (Oct. 4)

Aside from being supremely talented, one of the big factors behind Southern Cal’s status as one of the chief contenders for the national championship is the schedule. USC may have to play Oregon twice, but, otherwise, the Trojans should be solid favorites versus all opponents this season.

Watch out the Utes lying in the weeds here, though. Thursday night road games in conference have been known to trip up powerhouses before. USC probably remembers all too well from 2008, when the No. 1 Trojans fell to Oregon St. in Corvallis in a flat Thursday night performance.