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Originally published September 2, 2014 at 5:30 PM | Page modified September 2, 2014 at 7:40 PM

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Pac-12 blockbusters: Stanford-USC, Oregon-Michigan State

USC vs. Stanford and Oregon vs. Michigan State offer two huge early season games that renew Big Ten/Pac-12 perceptions and a coaching feud, and could have implications on the first college football playoff.

Seattle Times college football reporter


Thursday night, the Seahawks host Green Bay, possibly to the accompaniment of two or three million blue-and-green heads exploding in anticipation. Whoever loses will have only 15 more games to get it right.

Two days later, USC visits Stanford and Michigan State matches muscles with Oregon. For urgency, that six hours will dwarf the proceedings at CenturyLink Field, which might be frenetic, riveting and cathartic, but not as meaningful.

Big fun, no doubt. But for collegians, the challenge is like a quarterback scanning a good secondary — a tight window.

“Every game matters,” says USC coach Steve Sarkisian.

As for Saturday: I can’t remember an early-season doubleheader any better for West Coast folks than what’s ahead in the second week of the season — six hours rife with subplots of hoary Big Ten/Pac-12 perceptions, renewal of a bitter 2013 coaching feud, a Heisman candidate under a microscope, the best current rivalry in the Pac-12, a matchup of underappreciated quarterbacks, trench warfare at its sweatiest, and oh by the way, heavy implications on the first college football playoff.

Consider it six hours when trimming the hedges, mowing the lawn or pulling weeds ought to be jailable offenses.

With nary an exhibition game — well, you could call USC’s bum-rush of Fresno State and Stanford’s offing of Cal-Davis the stuff of the preseason — the Trojans and Cardinal go bashing.

It’s the first meeting of Sarkisian and David Shaw since last year, when Sarkisian accused Shaw’s defensive troops of feigning injuries to brake Washington’s offensive pace.

Now, that heated exchange is seeing some Shaw-Sark reduction. Each insisted on Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference it’s a dead issue simply because they dropped it after it flared last October.

“We never talked about it again,” Shaw said. “He and I sat together at lunch and breakfast (at Pac-12 functions) and talked about a couple of other things. Our wives are getting to be good friends. There’s no animosity whatsoever.”

“I have a great deal of respect for David,” agreed Sark. “We’ve moved on.”

Ostensibly, that leaves other story lines, like the pairing of USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, whom Shaw calls “two of the Rodney Dangerfields of the conference.” Some conference. Over his last two games, Kessler has thrown for 739 yards and eight touchdowns, and Hogan is 10-1 against the AP top 25 as a starter.

Brawling in front of them (likely not against each other) will be Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat and USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, each of whom could be a top-five NFL pick.

It’s a sizzling rivalry, refreshed in 2007 when Tavita Pritchard led 41-point underdog Stanford’s victory, through the what’s-your-deal Pete Carroll-Jim Harbaugh days, to a triple-overtime, 56-48 Stanford win in 2011, to USC’s upset by a field goal last year. Good stuff, all of it, now bequeathed to scions of Carroll and Harbaugh.

Five hundred miles north, the plot thickens. Marcus Mariota triggers Oregon’s crackling offense against Michigan State’s bruising defense. It evokes old overtones of Big Ten-versus-West Coast preferences, back when merely throwing the ball represented new-age stuff to Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

That’s not how Oregon would write it. In the Duck camp, they’re peeved at the idea that they’re a finesse-and-frou-frou outfit ill-equipped to deal with physical teams, a notion that’s gained legs with losses to Stanford the past two years.

“That’s the media’s job,” says Oregon coach Mark Helfrich dryly. “If Stanford loses to Utah, it’s just an aberration. If we lose to Stanford, we need to blow everything up.”

As if that’s not juice enough, there are the playoff implications, which will be profound if each team performs to its early billing. Few people are suggesting that the Pac-12 isn’t superior to the Big Ten in 2014, but Michigan State could dent that assumption and set a tone that lasts into December.

“I love these kinds of games,” said Helfrich.

In the first week of September, who could argue?

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

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