One of the best things about sports is the unpredictability it has year in and year out. Many times the games that were supposed to be everything going into the season, or feeling like everything early in the season, end up being afterthoughts.
With that in mind, I thought it would be the perfect time to look at the 2016 Pac-12 games which ended up shaping up the conference the most this season.
Here is a look back at the 12 I think ended up defining the season not counting the championship game because that’s a no-brainer.
September 7 - Palo Alto - Stanford 27 USC 10 - This one was funny because it was a big game at the time, then seemed like an afterthought, then was important again at the end of the season. It was the game that ultimately pushed Sam Darnold into the starting spot and in turn kind of actually sparked USC’s turnaround. This rather dull slog also also ended up costing USC the South.
September 23 - Salt Lake City - Utah 31 USC 27 - Another early-season road disappointment that bit the Trojans in the end. This one literally went down to the last play with Utah winning in dramatic fashion and with the rest of the Pac-12 taking note that Sam Darnold looked like he was going to take USC in the right direction.
September 24 - Tucson - Washington 35 Arizona 28 OT - One of those “what the hell?” And “what if?” games? The Wildcats took the ultra-hyped Huskies to overtime and then proceeded to be the worst team in the Pac-12 and the Huskies had to go to overtime to beat a banged-up, disaster of an Arizona team, but went on to win the Pac-12 and make the Playoffs. The Huskies were very close to having their Pac-12 season start with disaster.
September 30 - Seattle - Washington 44 Stanford 6 - The statement of the season. The Huskies were ready for the then fellow Top 10-ranked and undefeated Cardinal and brutalized them in a way I don’t think anyone has since the pre-Harbaugh days. This one set the tone for the Huskies run to the Playoffs.
October 8 - Los Angeles - USC 21 Colorado 17 - The official start of USC’s rise. We didn’t think too much of it at the time, but this gritty win here by the Trojans ended up being huge and almost tipped the South in their favor. The fact that Colorado kept to four actually showed just how good they actually were in retrospect.
October 8 - Eugene - Washington 70 Oregon 21 - This wasn’t a big one in the standings, but its symbolism was massive. The Huskies ended their endless streak of losses to Oregon by hanging 70 on them in Eugene. This ultimately may have been the end of Mark Helfrich even before the Ducks lost a few more games.
October 22 - Palo Alto - Colorado 10 Stanford 5 - This one officially confirmed that Colorado was for real (especially on defense) and the end of a dark and very injured run for Stanford.
October 29 - Salt Lake City - Washington 31 Utah 24 - My Pac-12 game of the year. It was the best in the North vs. the best in the South at the time and it ended up being decided by a punt return for a touchdown in the final minutes. This one ended up being Washington’s toughest win of the year and featured that late-game magic I feel like all championship teams show at some point. It also started Utah stumbling off of the top of the South.
November 12 - Seattle - USC 26 Washington 13 - The Trojans went up into a cold and windy Husky Stadium and controlled the game from almost start to finish as they handed the Huskies their only loss. This one nearly ended up giving USC the South and nearly cost the Huskies a Playoff shot. It also started the conversation of if USC was actually better than Washington and almost any team in the country in November.
November 19 - Boulder - Colorado 38 Washington State 24 - The first of the two tests Colorado needed to pass to win the South and complete their magical run. They passed with flying colors as they grounded WSU’s air raid and ran the ball exceptionally well.
November 25 - Pullman - Washington 45 Washington State 17 - The Huskies stunned the crowd in Pullman who was ready for the biggest Apple Cup maybe ever before they could even really get going and sealed their ticket to Santa Clara while keeping their Playoff hopes alive (their style points here helped that dream).
November 26 - Boulder - Colorado 27 Utah 22 - An ugly showdown which gave Colorado the South and capped off the Pac-12 regular season.