- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
As usual, the Pac-12 will test itself in some of the top non-conference games of the 2013 season, which will have dynamic recruiting implications. But those will be the appetizers for what is shaping up to be a terrific conference slate. With natural rivalry games up and down the conference, recruiting stakes are high every week and games that could have a big impact on shaping the 2014 class could easily stretch into double digits.
But in this week’s The List, we examine the top 10 most important games for recruiting purposes involving a Pac-12 program.
UCLA at USC, Nov. 30
When it comes to Pac-12 recruiting, there is no bigger battle than the one for Los Angeles. UCLA impressed recruits in a big way with a win against USC and will have a chance to make another statement in the regular season finale. The Trojans don’t often load up on official visitors for home games, but the list of unofficial visitors for this one is sure to be lengthy.
Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7
It’s easily the Pac-12 game of the year and one that could produce one of the BCS National Championship Game participants. The fact that the game takes place on a Thursday will likely cut into the number of visitors -- both unofficial and official -- who take in the game, but the end result will have national repercussions, as the winning coaching staff will be able to take a win over a likely top-five team into their pitches to top recruits.
USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 19
The nation’s premier nonconference matchup returns to Notre Dame Stadium this season and the Fighting Irish are again likely to turn this into a major recruiting platform. Two years ago, Notre Dame brought in dozens of high-profile recruits, but the Trojans were able to impress with a big win. No game provides a Pac-12 program with a bigger opportunity to impress recruits on a national level than this one.
UCLA at Nebraska, Sept. 14
The Bruins announced themselves as contenders with last year’s home win against Nebraska. It’s an away game this year, but if UCLA can come up with another big win, head coach Jim Mora and staff will have a huge recruiting chip to use early in the season. It’s a much more difficult schedule for the Bruins in 2013, so any win -- especially against a ranked opponent -- will allow the Bruins to build momentum on the recruiting trail.
Cal at Stanford, Nov. 23
This year’s Big Game will be the first time Sonny Dykes gets a shot at Stanford, and while a number of recruits are likely to be in attendance, this game could turn out to be big for one of them in particular. Quarterback Josh Rosen (Bellfower, Calif./St. John Bosco), the top-ranked signal-caller in the 2015 class, plans to be at this game, and while Stanford held a commanding lead in his recruitment early on, Cal has made a big push.
Notre Dame at Arizona State, Oct. 5 (game played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex.)
Few programs have as daunting a four-game stretch as the one the Sun Devils will undertake early in the year. Home games against Wisconsin and USC sandwich a road trip to Stanford, and all of that is followed by a trip to a neutral site to take on Notre Dame. And although that isn’t a home game or a conference game, it’s the one that could mean the most in terms of recruiting. The Sun Devils have a chance to make a huge statement against a national program in a state where Arizona State is making more and more of an impact.
Ohio State at Cal, Sept. 14
Cal’s season starts off with a home game against Northwestern, which should provide a good look at how the Golden Bears stack up under Sonny Dykes. But it’s the third game of the season, against another Big Ten opponent, that could provide the biggest recruiting bump. A number of recruits -- including ESPN 300 RB Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom) -- plan to be in attendance for this game. A win here could put Cal on the short list for a number of prospects.
Boise State at Washington, Aug. 31
The Huskies have an opportunity to get off to a big start this season, as they welcome a nationally-ranked Boise State team to newly renovated Husky Stadium this weekend. Washington verbal commitments Jonathan Lockett (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), Chase Blakley (Coeur D’Alene, Idaho/Coeru D’Alene) and Rahshead Johnson (Long Beach, Calif./Cabrillo) have expressed interest in attending the game, and four-star running back Demario Richard (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale) will be there on an unofficial visit.
Oregon State at Oregon, Nov. 30
The schedule sets up for a big start from the Beavers, but ramps up in a big way to close the year, with the final five games against Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon. The Civil War is always a big game with in-state recruiting ramifications. This year, it could serve as a cap to regular season perfection for the Ducks, or a huge statement win for the Beavers.
Arizona at Arizona State, Nov. 30
Recruiting is heating up in the desert, as Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez have their respective programs headed in the right direction. The state is producing more and more talent, and the program that comes up with a win in this game could have a head start on the 2015 and 2016 recruits. This is another game where the sideline will likely be loaded with local recruits, and a possible berth in the Pac-12 title game could have the atmosphere dialed up another notch.