The race for the Pac-12 South crown is sure to be one of the most interesting, and perpetual storylines in the conference this year, and if you have any interest in keeping an eye on it, Saturday will be a huge day for the division's current front runners in Arizona State and UCLA, as both take on Big Ten powers. Since both games take place outside of conference play, they won't make a dent in the division's standings, but both teams' performances should give major glimpses into just how strong each team will be and if they can make a serious run at being one of the top teams in the country.
The Bruins likely have the tougher task of the two, traveling to Lincoln to take on twenty-third ranked Nebraska in a game that will kick off at 9 a.m. pacific time. Add in the factor that the Bruins won the match-up between the two in 2012, providing a little extra motivation for the Huskers, should make the game a particularly tough task, even if Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and Jim Mora claimed this week that last year's game means nothing in regards to Saturday's contest. That idea might be hard to completely believe, as even Pelini hinted just a little bit at the possibility of revenge being a motivator for his team earlier this week.
"It just so happens that we played this team a year ago. If that provides our team with extra motivation, so be it," Pelini said.
Despite the difficulty of the task, it's the kind of game that the Bruins need to win if they hope to step up to the national prominence level of Oregon and Stanford, especially if Arizona State is able to pull off a win in their marquee matchup Saturday against their elite Big Ten opponent Wisconsin. Even if the Bruins have a tougher draw on the road, a Bruin loss and a Sun Devil win on Saturday would give the Sun Devils a head start in the competition for respect even if it does nothing for them in the Pac-12 South standings.
The Sun Devils play an eighteenth-ranked Wisconsin team that though strong, is still breaking in a new head coach, and has lost their last three games against Pac-12 teams. The Badgers are still a fearsome foe, but their style hasn't given Pac-12 teams much trouble in recent seasons, and the Sun Devils have an excellent chance to capitalize on their home field advantage and score their biggest win yet under Todd Graham.
The Badgers have thrown the ball well, in their first two games, but their bread-and-butter is still their Big Ten style running game and Graham expressed to reporters just how troublesome those kind of attacks can be.
"We're probably not going to play a better running football team," Graham said.
What's encouraging for the Sun Devils is that, led by Will Sutton, they have a devastatingly talented front seven, that if healthy, has the potential to shut down the Badger running game and get Arizona State's dynamic offense on the field as much as possible to give them a chance to win. If they can do just that, not only will the Sun Devils have the chance to either jump past, or stick with UCLA in the race for the Pac-12 South, but they will jump into the Top 25.
So even though UCLA and Arizona State don't play each other until the second-to-last weekend of the season, they are already fighting each other for the top of the Pac-12 South in week three.