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Originally published September 12, 2013 at 5:44 PM | Page modified September 14, 2013 at 4:31 PM

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Bud Withers looks ahead to Saturday’s best college football games

It’s a big day for the Pac-12, where a few teams should find out how good they are against tough nonconference opponents.

Seattle Times college football reporter

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Once you get past the Alabama-Texas A&M game — and that’s not easy to do, what with breaking news every 45 minutes on Johnny Manziel’s latest autograph party, pub crawl or wayward field gesture — it’s a college-football weekend speckled with good Pac-12 games.

It’s Discovery Saturday, a day when the league finds out whether it’s as good as it thinks it is, or just another conference to be debated against the Big 12 and ACC (for now, we’ll leave the monolithic SEC out of the discussion).

More important, it’s a day that could be pivotal in three months, when the final BCS reckoning becomes clear. Strength of schedule is a key component of the formula, so if, for instance, UCLA has a win over Nebraska and Arizona State a victory over Wisconsin, it’s going to make wins within the conference more significant, increasing the likelihood that a one-loss team could crash the national-title game.

(For more on this concept, refer to the Washington basketball team, 2011-2012 season.)

The best of the day’s TV slate, chronologically:

UCLA (AP No. 16) at Nebraska, 9 a.m., ESPN: Bruins are dealing with the death of freshman receiver Nick Pasquale. Nebraska has had big defensive issues under Bo Pelini, and this is a spot where it could either be exposed or redeem itself. Forty years ago, in 1973, a Nebraska win over UCLA was Tom Osborne’s first with the Huskers. It’ll be the 327th straight sellout in Lincoln, dating back to about the Buchanan administration.

Boston College at USC, noon, Pac-12 Networks: It’s a long-awaited rematch of the 2009 Emerald Bowl — by the way, the only bowl Matt Barkley played in during four years at USC. There are a lot of words that describe USC’s offensive performance against Washington State last week, but the best one I can think of is mysterious.

A stat that shocks: Tre Madden is the first USC rusher to open with back-to-back 100-yard games since Marcus Allen in 1981.

Alabama (1) at Texas A&M (6), 12:30 p.m. , Ch. 7: ‘Bama coach Nick Saban is always good with six weeks to prepare, so how does he do with 10 months? The other question: Who’s Bear Bryant rooting for, the architect of both programs long ago, now sitting in a Barca-lounger up there in his houndstooth hat?

Intriguing matchup between the button-down Tide and the free-swinging Manziel in what’s billed as the game of the season (although games of the season have a way of becoming forgotten by about the first of October).

Tennessee at Oregon (2), 12:30 p.m., Ch. 4: Most interesting matchup here might be the Vols offense — and Phil Steele’s No. 2-ranked offensive line in the nation — against the Ducks’ defensive front. Tennessee is a robust 7-7-1 all-time against No. 2-ranked teams.

When they met in Knoxville in 2010, Tennessee broke to a 13-3 lead. Then Oregon scored the last 45 points of the game, probably in about four minutes.

Washington (19) at Illinois, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network: No doubt the Huskies are seething for revenge from the 1964 Rose Bowl loss, 17-7, to the Illini and Dick Butkus.

Timely historical note: This is Illinois’ second game in history at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The first was in 1994, against Washington State and the Palouse Posse, and the Cougars won that one, 10-9, scoring on a 71-yard fumble return by Mark Fields. That happened to be the last time WSU won without an offensive TD until last weekend.

Ohio State (4) at California, 4 p.m., Ch. 13: Back in the 1921 Rose Bowl, one of Cal’s “Wonder Teams“ — you know, Andy Smith, Brick Muller — whipped up on the Buckeyes, 28-0, and OSU has never let the Bears back up for air, winning the other six in a sparse series.

The status of the Bucks’ Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Braxton Miller, is uncertain with his knee sprain. Makes sense that Miller, especially if he hasn’t practiced, would rest, return to mesh with the offense against Florida A&M and get ready for an important game Sept. 28 with Wisconsin.

Oregon State at Utah, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1: So far, it’s one of those seasons for the battered Beavers (1-1). “We can’t catch a break,” linebacker D.J. Alexander told The Oregonian, after fellow ’backer Michael Doctor’s foot surgery that will keep him out at least six to eight weeks.

There’s big pressure here on Utah, because fans groused in the offseason about a 7-11 league record since entering the Pac-12, and because the Utes have to make hay early with a schedule front-loaded with league home games.

Wisconsin (20) at Arizona State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN: Sun Devils have a history of magic in nonleague night games — there was a 19-0 victory over No. 1 Nebraska in 1996 — and they have owned the Big Ten at home, winning eight straight, including a 44-7 breeze over No. 16 Iowa in 2004.

The Badgers haven’t yet allowed a point against lesser opposition. For ASU, it’s a four-game gauntlet that includes Stanford, USC and Notre Dame, with a shot of Wisky first.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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