Over the next couple of weeks, we will be marching through the league's 10 most compelling games of the season. Here's No. 10.
Our countdown continues with No. 9:
No. 9: Washington State at Boise State, Sept. 10
The Pac-12 North, once under complete Oregon and Stanford control, may be trending toward a four-horse race. The Cardinal and Ducks are fully expected to remain in the mix, Washington is full of promise moving forward, and Washington State announced its status as a contender last season by beating Oregon on the road and just narrowly losing to the eventual conference champion.
Will the Cougars continue their surge following 2015's nine-win campaign? This visit to the blue turf should give us an early gauge as to Washington State's potential 2016 prowess.
Mike Leach may be licking his chops. Quarterback Luke Falk, the nation's leader in passing yards per game last year, is returning to command the Air Raid as a junior. Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, two receivers with whom Falk developed excellent rapport in 2015, are back too. So is the backfield trio of Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, and Keith Harrington, which combined to more than double the Cougars' rushing output last year and provide balance to an offense that badly needed it.
Long story short: The Cougars shouldn't struggle to score next year, and there's also reasonable optimism regarding the continued improvement of their defense, which enjoyed significant strides under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch in 2015.
Bronco Stadium, though, has a history of derailing Pac-12 teams early in the season. The most famous example came back in 2009, when Oregon stumbled into an embarrassing 19-8 loss that is remembered for reasons even worse than the Ducks' on-field product in that game.
In 2010, Boise State beat Oregon State 37-24 to open their home schedule.
And just last season, the Broncos hosted Washington in the opener and edged the Huskies 16-13.
So Washington State, stocked and confident with returning players, will have to reverse a losing Pac-12 trend when it comes to games in Boise. Though they'll be the more talented team, the Cougars will have to battle a bloodthirsty crowd. They may even have to overcome themselves, too: Teams must usually pound out offseason rust during early games, and the smurf turf isn't a forgiving place to do that.
It took Washington State over a game to click last season, and they paid for that slow start with a home loss to FCS foe Portland State. The Cougars must be better prepared by week two of 2016, because history tells us this game will be a stiff challenge.