Pac-12 second-half primer: Five most important conference games

All eyes in the Pac-12 will be on Utah, which currently has the best chance of any conference team to be in the College Football Playoff. AP Photo/Kim Raff

In the preseason, we brought you what we thought at the time would be the top 10 games of 2015. Some are/were still valid. Others turned out to be duds. Let's take a look at five (OK, more than five) in the second half of the season that could have a huge impact. If it looks a little Stanford/Utah heavy, well, there's a reason for that.

1. Utah versus ... everyone

If you go back and read the preseason post -- specifically No. 10 -- you'll see we singled out Utah in August as a team that was tough to gauge. Now, at 6-0, the Utes probably represent the league's best shot at qualifying for the College Football Playoff, though a strong argument can be made for Stanford if the Cardinal run the table. Every Utah game from here is critical for the Pac-12. And while Kyle Whittingham & Co. probably aren't too concerned with the rest of the league, the country is watching to see just how far the Pac-12's top-ranked team can really go.

2. California at Stanford -- Saturday, Nov. 21

This is a game we had in our preseason top 10 games, and it's proving to be prophetic. The Big Game is going to be relevant beyond the rivalry for the first time in a while. And there's a very good chance this game could determine the winner of the North Division. Two veteran quarterbacks, plenty of skill players and a couple of opportunistic defenses will headline what should be an outstanding matchup.

3. Oregon at Stanford -- Saturday, Nov. 14

In recent years, Oregon has typically beaten Stanford when everyone expects them to, while Stanford has typically beaten Oregon when nobody expects them to. So what do we make of this year? Oregon is mortal and Stanford seems unflappable on either side of the ball. These are still the only two teams to win the conference since expansion in 2011. And whenever they get together, it's noteworthy.

4. Notre Dame at Stanford -- Saturday, Nov. 28

Let's suppose, shall we, that Stanford gets by Cal and Oregon (and everyone else on their docket not listed above) and faces off with a ranked Notre Dame team to close out the season. Committee folks love a team that ends the year with a bang. If the Cardinal win this game and win the conference championship (against a team to be determined, but we're thinking Utah as of now), their loss in Week 1 will have zero impact on the committee's decision. They'll be in. Those are a couple of big ifs, though.

5. Rivalry games

As teams jockey for bowl position down the stretch, the rivalry games will take on extra importance. Beyond the obvious pride and recruiting benefits that come from beating your rival, there is a level of competitive balance in some of the rivalry games we haven't seen the last few years. UCLA has owned USC in the Jim Mora era. Yet both have had their struggles this year for various reasons. The same can be said for the Arizona-Arizona State game, which features a couple of teams that were also thought to be in the hunt for the South Division (and still could be, maybe). And in the North, whether Washington fans want to admit it, Washington State has closed the gap, making this year's Apple Cup extremely intriguing.