Ranking the Pac-12 Non-Conference Games for 2021

The Pac-12 has a loaded slate of non-conference foes. Here are the games you should be the most excited for.

Photo: Maggie Still, Colorado Athletics

Article by Christopher Caravello

1. Oregon at Ohio State

The 2020 Pac 12 champion takes on the national championship game runner-up. While the Buckeyes lost QB Justin Fields to the NFL, Ohio State has been stacking talent through recruiting at a ridiculous clip. The Ducks should have a great crop of incoming talent of their own, including the highest rated quarterback to ever sign in Eugene, Ty Thompson. Being competitive in this game would go a long way in earning respect nationally for Oregon and the Pac-12 and a win would give the Ducks a strong chance of reaching the College Football Playoffs.

2. Washington at Michigan

Part of a monster weekend for the Pac-12 on September 11th, the Huskies have most of their starters back from a 2020 season that had the feeling of unfinished business. While Michigan was disappointing this past season, winning in Ann Arbor would give a jolt to the Huskies and give them prominence on the national scene. The Wolverines are a team loaded with talent but this is a winnable game for the Huskies and their dominant defense.

3. USC at Notre Dame

The pandemic caused one of college football’s most historic rivalries to be canceled in 2020, and the Irish and Trojans both went undefeated in the regular season before falling in their respective conference title games. With the rivalry set to resume in 2021, the Trojans and head coach Clay Helton desperately need to start winning this game, a matchup they dominated during the glory years under former coach Pete Carroll.

4. UCLA vs LSU

The Bruins were much improved in Chip Kelly’s 3rd season in Westwood. Even the games they lost were usually in epic fashion, a far cry from the dysfunctional program that took the field the prior 2 seasons. With the 2019 National Champions traveling to the Rose Bowl, a prime opportunity presents itself for UCLA to take a massive step forward as a program. The Tigers were a shell of themselves in 2020, and look to regain respectability in a game that everyone would expect to see them win.

5. Colorado vs. Texas A&M (Denver, CO)

While 2020 was a pleasant surprise considering where the Buffaloes had been prior to coach Karl Dorrell arriving in Boulder, the ending was soured by a lopsided loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Another team from the Lone Star State will be facing Colorado, with the game being held in Denver. Texas A&M will be trying to prove its surprising one-loss season a year ago wasn’t a fluke in a matchup of old Big 12 opponents.

6. Stanford vs Kansas State (Arlington, TX)

The Cardinal open their season in Texas against the always tough Wildcats. Stanford ended their 2020 campaign with 4 straight wins and will look to give the Pac-12 national respect by taking down a Kansas State squad that beat Oklahoma last season.

7. Utah at BYU

In what had to be agonizing for Cougar fans, the Holy War wasn’t played in 2020 costing BYU its best chance at a rivalry game win in recent memory. Utah closed 2020 strong after being the last team to take the field due to COVID delays, while BYU put together a one-loss dream season. The Utes have reloaded at key positions through the transfer portal and solid recruiting and will attempt to remind their hated rivals that it is they who dominate the state when it comes to football.

8. Cal at TCU

After what had to have been an incredibly frustrating season for Coach Wilcox and the Golden Bears, 2021 will provide an opportunity for the program to resume its promising trajectory. TCU will be an interesting matchup for Cal, with the Horned Frogs returning a fantastic QB in Max Duggan.

9. Arizona State at BYU

The Sun Devils had one of the more disrupted schedules in 2020, even for a Pac 12 team. ASU closed strong and ran all over their last 2 opponents, showing flashes of what the offense can look like under 2nd year OC Zak Hill. BYU will be coming off its rivalry game showdown with Utah, and ASU must capitalize and prove things are finally coming together for the program.

10. Colorado vs Minnesota

Props to the Buffs for scheduling a nice non-conference slate that should provide some entertaining games for fans around the nation. The Golden Gophers come to Boulder on September, 18th and will pose a tough test for Colorado. Minnesota is a program on the rise with PJ Fleck in charge and are one year removed from an 11-2 season.

11. Oregon State at Purdue

It was a bittersweet 2020 for Oregon State, with a rivalry game win over the Ducks that cost them its QB Tristan Gebbia. Still, the Beavers showed that they can finally compete in the Pac 12 North and head coach Jonathan Smith has his alma mater seeking an elusive bowl berth in 2021. A road game against Purdue presents a great opportunity to begin the season in positive fashion, with the Boilermakers coming off a lackluster campaign and losing the dynamic Rondale Moore.

12. Stanford at Vanderbilt

Yes, this is the woeful Commodores. Stanford and the Pac-12 can ill afford anything short of annihilating Vanderbilt who went winless in 2020. A solid program in the Pac 12 absolutely cannot lose to the doormat of the SEC or the conference naysayers will be back in full-force. Losing QB Davis Mills and WR Simi Fehoko to the NFL was a huge loss for the Cardinal, and it will be up to David Shaw to retool the offense.

13. USC vs San Jose State

The 2020 Pac-12 South Champs vs the 2020 MWC Champs. This is going to be a fun test for both programs and should give us a gauge of how each program will fare in 2021. The Trojans need a good showing and a loss to the Spartans could be the end for Helton.

14. USC vs BYU

BYU stunned the Trojans in 2019 and will look to do so again in 2021.

15. Stanford vs Notre Dame

Stanford will likely be outmatched against what should be a very good Notre Dame squad but a win would be a nice result for the Cardinal and the Pac-12.

16. Utah at San Diego State

The Aztecs are known for their tough defense and it will be a slug fest in San Diego between two physical teams.

17. WSU vs BYU

WSU and BYU should be evenly matched in 2021 as the Pac-12 Cougs return almost their entire roster and BYU looks to rebuild from a dominant 2020.

18. Cal vs Nevada

Nevada has been consistently strong under Jay Norvell and finished 2020 7-2. The high powered Nevada offense against the stingy Golden Bear defense will be an exciting matchup to watch.

19. UCLA vs Fresno State

Fresno State features Husky transfer QB Jake Haener who can light up a defense and could pose issues for what has been a porous Bruin defense. Don't be surprised if this becomes a shootout.

20. Arizona vs BYU (Las Vegas, NV)

The Jedd Fisch era begins in Las Vegas against BYU. The Wildcats have brought in quality transfers and will look to shock a rebuilding Cougar squad.