Photo courtesy of John McGillen/USC athletics

While the outlook on the 2020 College Football Season remains vague, it is becoming more optimistic that teams will play. The capacity in which this occurs, however, is still very much in the air.

Still, when looking ahead to the schedule in 2020, each Pac-12 team has a different game that could define their season.

Take a look at each program’s potential season-defining games for next season:

Colorado: Week 4 – Oregon @ Colorado

The Buffaloes will open conference play at home against the reigning Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks. While the Ducks graduated senior quarterback Justin Herbert, they remain the favorite to win the conference. The reason this game will define the season is that it will show exactly where the team stands under new coach Karl Dorrell. Colorado fans should reasonably expect a 2-1 start to the season, with wins against Colorado State and Fresno State while losing to Texas A&M.

While expectations should absolutely tamper for the opening game in conference play for Dorrell and company, Week 4 could provide a mental victory for the team. The Buffs will enter as heavy underdogs to the powerhouse Ducks. However, making plays against the best of the Pac-12 can help the locker room morale. While moral victories are not something to strive for, the team is in a rebuild. For their young talent or recruits to see the team show up, it would do wonders for their confidence. Obviously, an upset win would transform the outlook on the season. However, keeping some pace with the Ducks will give Colorado enough confidence moving forward to compete in the conference.

This season is all about Dorrell making his mark on the program. Also, earning a bowl berth for just the third time since 2005 would aid in the program’s development.

USC: Week 5 – USC @ Utah

The USC Trojans open up their 2020 campaign against the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Clay Helton’s team won seven conference contests last season en route to an 8-5 finish, and the feeling in LA is that this year’s team could be very special. Could they be special enough to beat Alabama? That remains to be seen. Regardless, that isn’t the date on the schedule that will define USC’s season. That game will come on Oct. 2 when Kedon Slovis and crew take the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium to take on Utah.

Last season, the Trojans upset the favored Utes in a 30-23 home victory. However, here in 2020, the Trojans will be the team hitting the road as the favorites. As the only two teams in the Pac-12 South to finish above .500 in conference play last season, the winner of this game should take early control of the division in October. 

A win for the Trojans here would also set them up with momentum heading into the remainder of October. The rest of the month includes games against California, Arizona, and Colorado before back-to-back games in November against Oregon and Washington. Playing in Utah is not an easy place to win either. Kyle Whittingham’s group was 7-0 at home last season; with that, USC has failed to win at Utah in its last three trips. This game will also be on a Friday night, providing a short week on the road. If the Trojans do not win the South division this fall, it will be a failed season. The path to winning this division runs through Utah in Week 5.

Oregon State: Week 7 – California @ Oregon State

The Oregon State Beavers will have bowl game or bust expectations for the 2020 season. They are on an accelerated rebuilding timeline after winning five games in 2019.

With that being said, they should be 3-3 coming into their match-up with Cal on Oct. 24 at Reser Stadium. Oregon State and Cal have a similar upward trajectory. New coaches were hired a year apart. Both are seeing increasing levels of success. Oregon State needs to win this game. A win shows significant improvements and will show it is no longer in the bottom half of the conference. A win here puts the Beavers at four wins around the halfway point. With their second-half schedule, it all but guarantees their first bowl game since 2013.

Arizona State: Week 4 – Arizona State @ USC

After a productive year in 2019, expectations are high for the Sun Devils. In preseason rankings, ASU has been labeled as USC’s main challenger for the division. USC starts the year off in a tough stretch, beginning with a trip to Texas to take on Alabama. ASU, on the other hand, could potentially start the year 3-0. Though early in the season, winning this game would give the Sun Devils a handle on the division. With similar strengths of the schedule beyond this point, this game could become a conference championship “play in-game”.

Both teams will come into this game with talented young quarterbacks in Jayden Daniels and Kedon Slovis. For USC, it may be a game it needs just to stay in the race for the division, with Alabama and Stanford in Weeks 1 and 3, respectively. But for Arizona State, this game could potentially put the Sun Devils in the driver’s seat for the division, and give them another chance at the conference title.

The ‘FQ Pac-12 Panel’ is a roundtable discussion of the Fifth Quarter writers covering Pac-12 teams to discuss a variety of topics. These writers can be found on social media for their corresponding teams: Colorado – @FQBuffaloes, USC – @FQTrojans, Oregon State@FQOregonSt, Arizona State@FQArizonaState