It’s the first real week of the conference schedule with everyone in the Pac 12 starting their conference schedule in earnest (minus the UCLA Bruins who are on bye). That may seem too early to have a “must-win” game on the schedule, but the USC Trojans and Arizona State Sun Devils are probably as close as we will get. Both teams have aspirations of a Pac 12 title in 2013, but the loser of this game might already be out of the running.
Both the Trojans and Sun Devils sit at 0-1 in conference play as they meet up in Tempe on Saturday and neither can afford to drop to 0-2. The Pac 12 schedule is a meat grinder this season with no easy wins available. Dropping your first two conference games is a deep hole to try and dig out of, especially with the bulk of the schedule, with some truly daunting games, still on the horizon. For two teams looking to unseat UCLA in the Pac 12 South, 0-2 might be a death sentence.
Looking at the race for the South division, you begin to see how costly each slip up becomes. UCLA is obviously strong and appears to be the favorite now to repeat as the South representative in the conference title game. The Arizona Wildcats are a bit of a mystery since they have yet to play anyone of significance but their offense is going to be dangerously explosive with Ka’Deem Carey toting the rock.
Even the Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes, who have struggled to gain traction since joining the conference, look like tough outs this season. Both programs have found an early rhythm offensively and will be scrappy underdogs that won’t go away without a fight. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that at least one of those teams gets the better of USC and/or ASU later in the season, so avoiding that second conference loss is even more important this early.
The road isn’t going to get any easier for either of these teams after this game. Each week is going to be a major fight to get a win and try and scrape their way into the title picture. Dropping to 0-2 in the Pac 12 race will send the loser of this game to the back of the pack with little hope of making it back. So while it may not technically be a “must-win” situation, this is a game that neither program can afford to lose.