Pac-12 football rivalries can be extremely hot, deeply rooted in sometimes centuries of competition and the pursuit of declaring supremacy in the team’s state or region. It’s a league that hasn’t had tons of membership changes throughout its history – eight of the current 12 members have been locked in since 1928, the Arizona schools joined in 1978, and Colorado and Utah came aboard in 2011. These teams have had a long time to develop, let’s say, relationships.
The Pac-12 often plays late at night, and East Coasters aren’t always able or willing to stay up until 2 a.m. to catch what’s happening out West. The conference doesn’t always get the attention or respect it deserves, in part because of the time zone difference, but don’t let that fool you about the quality of football rivalries in the Pac-12.
Some rivalries have more history behind them than others, and while that might which are the greatest ever, that’s not what we’re looking at here. Instead, we’re checking out the Pac-12 football rivalries that are best right now. There is a bit of a historical component to this – one aspect of a great rivalry is the hatred, and that generally takes some time to cultivate properly – but it’s important to emphasize that this is much more narrow in its focus.
Now, in no particular order, these are the best Pac-12 football rivalries in the league right now.
Best Pac-12 Football Rivalries Right Now
Stanford – Oregon: 50-34-1
There have been 10 Pac-12 Championship Games since it was created in 2011. One of Stanford or Oregon has represented the North in the event all up two times.
The annual Stanford-Oregon game has often come to mean a crucial result in the race for the North title in the first decade of the Pac-12’s six-team divisions, and some of them have been classics. This year, Stanford upset the No. 3 Ducks to ruin what was an undefeated season up to that point, 31-24, in overtime, and the No. 7 Cardinal held off No. 20 Oregon in overtime in 2018, too, 38-31. Those are the two most recent examples of Stanford spoiling Oregon’s day – at one point, questions swirled around whether the high-flying Ducks had a “Stanford problem.”
Oregon has had its share of triumphs in the series, too. When Stanford was No. 7 in the nation in 2015, the unranked Ducks dashed the Cardinal’s playoff hopes, 38-36, outlasting a furious fourth quarter comeback attempt.
I suspect this one will remain heated for some time. These two are constantly getting in each other’s way, even when one of them isn’t all that good. It’s the perfect recipe for a delicious rivalry.
USC – UCLA: 49-33-7
Neither of these programs are where they want to be right now, but both programs have the capacity to wake up pretty quickly. And even if they’re not at their best at the moment, the nature of a crosstown rivalry means this is still one of the top showdowns in the conference.
UCLA put the hurt on USC in 2021, 62-33, but the games in 2017, 2018, and 2020 were all tight, with the Bruins pulling off the fourth quarter comeback in 2018 and the Trojans returning the favor in 2020. There’s plenty of pageantry surrounding this one, with each school having a good amount of special traditions and tomfoolery dedicated to this game.
The nature of this rivalry isn’t always as hate-filled as some others, but that doesn’t detract from the game itself, which has had plenty of chippy and intense moments over the last handful of years. With UCLA in the dumps for about five years at this point and USC’s future in question, this one could fall off the radar as one of the best Pac-12 football rivalries, but I think it still holds a spot for the time being. There’s just too much behind this one to ignore it quite yet.
Arizona – Arizona State: 49-44-1
This is one of the most intense, hate-filled rivalries in not just Pac-12 football but all of college sports. Arizona and Arizona State straight up despise one another – like would love for the opposing campus to burn in a fire, zero respect whatsoever kind of hate each other. It’s probably not healthy for the fanbases to run up their blood pressures with such negativity, but it makes for a great football game for neutrals.
Neither of these schools are powerhouses in Pac-12 football, but that doesn’t matter. The pure hate makes this rivalry entertaining no matter what the records are.
Arizona State has won four in a row at this point, the most dominant streak in the series since Arizona’s nine-game unbeaten run in the 80s. The Sun Devils absolutely annihilated the Wildcats in 2020, 70-7, and they might do something similar again in 2021. But even if ASU continues as the state’s king, that won’t diminish the ferocity if this rivalry at all. The Duel in the Desert is fought over the Territorial Cup, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football with a pretty cool back story.
This is the kind of rivalry that doesn’t normally have national implications, and if you’re just a casual college football fan outside of Arizona or the Pac-12, you might not know much about it or pay any attention. But it’s also the kind of rivalry that makes college football an amazing sport, and I implore you to give it more of your time whenever rivalry week rolls around.
Washington – Oregon: 60-48-5
This is one of the most marquee rivalries the Pac-12 has to offer, though Oregon’s rise to prominence while Washington simultaneously tanked into obscurity hurt it quite a bit in the 2000s and early 2010s, which led to the Ducks winning 12-straight over the hated Huskies. But Washington has generally been much better since the middle of last decade, and it’s brought a lot of animosity and national attention back to this storied rivalry.
Jake Browning famously pointed at an Oregon defender as he waltzed into the end zone for Washington first score in what would be an absolute rout in 2016, which gave the Huskies their first W over the Ducks since 2003. That game helped bring this rivalry back to its rightful place on the forefront of the conference.
Tight games in 2018 and 2019 helped continue the heat, too. The 2021 version wasn’t a blow out, either. We will see where Washington goes from here after ditching head coach Jimmy Lake earlier this month, and for the sake of the rivalry, hopefully it remains competitive and doesn’t slip into the hole it did 15-ish years ago. Regardless, this rivalry is much better now than it was at any other point in my college football-watching lifetime, and it’s one of the best in the Pac-12.
USC – Utah: 13-7-0
So, hear me out on this one. I know this isn’t a traditional rivalry, and these programs are anywhere near each other. But I’m not evaluating the most historic rivalries in Pac-12 football, I’m checking out the best ones right now, and right now these programs are the cream of the Pac-12 South crop.
USC or Utah has represented the South in the Pac-12 Championship Game every year since 2017, 2021 included with Utah locking the division up already, and there have been multiple times since the Utes joined the conference that they and the Trojans have been neck-and-neck for the division title. In fact, the winner of this game has won the South in all but one of the last five years.
Since Utah entered the Pac-12 in 2011, these teams have played single-possession games four times, including the second half USC comeback in 2017 and Southern Cal’s upset of No. 10 Utah, 30-23, in 2019 with third-string quarterback Matt Fink, who came in to replace the injured second-string, Kedon Slovis. The Utes have had the last laugh in tight affairs, too, like in 2016 when a 14-point fourth quarter catapulted Utah to victory over the Trojans.
If USC doesn’t dig itself out of its current mess and/or Utah doesn’t remain a competitor in the South, this rivalry won’t be on this kind of list in a few years. But right now, the winner of this contest generally wins the division, and that adds some fun intensity to the meetings.