Forget UGA, forget U$C. One game stands out as the most critical on the Sun Devils' schedule: Stanford. That's right, the trees. Why? Because it's the Pac-10 opener, and this game has historically been a strong predictor of the season.
Consider these numbers (which count conference games only): since joining the Pac-10 in 1978, ASU has lost the conference opener 17 times, and in those seasons has gone a combined 57-70-2 (a 45% win percentage). However, in the 11 seasons in which we have won our first Pac-10 game, the composite record is 56-31-0 (a 64% win percentage). We tied our opener in 1983 and 1986 and finished a combined 9-4-2 in those seasons.
Since 1982, ASU has only once (in 1999) lost the conference opener and finished with a winning record in the Pac-10. Conversely, 1994 was the only season where the Sun Devils won their conference opener but finished below .500 in the Pac-10.
So feel free to overlook NAU, but don't overlook the Cardinal. September 6 in Sun Devil Stadium is the most important game of the season.