The Pac-12 released their schedules last week. A hallmark of offseason banter is dissecting schedules to determine how difficult a season might be for any one team. When does a team get their bye week? Who does Team A start their conference schedule against? Will a stretch of three games be a make-or-break for Team B?
Arizona lucked out just a bit in their out-of-conference schedule. Houston became a big name over the last two seasons but their head coach just left for the Texas Longhorns. While still a potent team, Houston won’t likely see the same success they have had recently. Arizona dodges another two bullets not having Washington or Stanford on their Pac-12 North schedule, either. While the South division is no pushover, this is certainly a best-case scenario for Arizona the season after going 3-9. That being said, Arizona is going to have a tough season competing against the likes of USC, Utah, Colorado, and UCLA.
Arizona State, unlike Arizona, gets to play Washington and Stanford this next season. They also miss out on Cal and Washington State (which seems like a wash, at this point). The Sun Devils’ out-of-conference schedule should be competitive, at least, with a gimme game against New Mexico State and two games against two solid programs in San Diego State and Texas Tech. The real test for ASU will be the Oregon-Stanford-Washington-Utah-USC-Colorado-UCLA stretch. Oregon, Colorado, and UCLA are up in the air on competitiveness, but there is no doubt that all six of these teams recruit well and have talent.
Last year, Colorado went to the Big House and played Michigan tough. This year, they don’t have to worry quite as much. Starting off with Colorado State (who they beat quite handedly) they round out the non-conference schedule with Texas State and Northern Colorado. Anything less than three wins to start the season will be a disappointment (a travesty if they don’t win their second two games). After a leisurely first three games they dive right in to a game with Pac-12 Champion Washington. If they can come out alive, they’ll play a nice stretch against UCLA, Arizona and Oregon State. The last part of their schedule should be moderately difficult, especially against USC and Utah, but the Buffs have a pretty favorable schedule from start to finish including two late by weeks.
Both UCLA and Cal have a habit of making considerable non-conference schedules (far be it from me, as a college football fan, to complain). UCLA takes on Texas A&M hoping to redeem themselves from last year. Hawai’i and Memphis should not pose too much of a threat before taking on Stanford and Colorado back-to-back. The real gauntlet of UCLA’s schedule will come in the form of playing Washington, Utah, and USC within a four game stretch. If they can come away with two wins from that month, they can consider the season a success.
The first three games of USC’s schedule had the potential to be a real nightmare. Western Michigan went to the Cotton Bowl last year and performed very well against, in my opinion, a Top 5 defense in Wisconsin. However, Western Michigan lost both their best player (to the NFL draft) and their head coach (to Minnesota). Stanford had a preseason Heisman candidate last year but had a very rocky start to the season. Texas is…well..Texas, but they fired their head coach last year and will be playing under a completely new system this year. USC doesn’t have a particularly difficult stretch at any one place during the season and should be able to compete for a Pac-12 Championship appearance if everything goes well.
Utah was very fortunate with the spacing of their schedule. The Utes get a long week before their appearance in the Holy War (against Brigham Young), they get two weeks before their Stanford/USC back-to-back, and they get an extra week between Washington and Colorado. Arguably, the toughest stretch will be Stanford-USC-Arizona State-Oregon-UCLA-Washington State where the combined winning percentage is 54%.
Next up will be a breakdown of the Pac-12 North scheduling.