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Pac-12 2012 Football Schedule Analysis

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College football's 2012 season is still a couple of months away, but it's never too early to take a look at the schedules and highlight some of the key games. The Pac-12 slate once again features nine conference games for each team, while there are some intriguing non-conference matchups.

Here's a team-by-team look at schedule analysis for each of the teams in the Pac-12 for 2012:

North Division

Cal Golden Bears

Sept. 1 Nevada
Sept. 8 Southern Utah
Sept. 15 at Ohio State
Sept. 22 at USC
Sept. 29 Arizona State
Oct. 6 UCLA
Oct. 13 at Washington State
Oct. 20 Stanford
Oct. 27 at Utah
Nov. 2 Washington (Fri.)
Nov. 10 Oregon
Nov. 17 at Oregon State
Nov. 24 Bye Week

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* Few teams in the nation will finish the first month of the season in tougher fashion than the Golden Bears. Jeff Tedford has the unenviable task of leading his team on road trips to the Horseshoe and the Coliseum. Both USC and Ohio State should be ranked in the Top 10 nationally in the preseason and should be unbeaten when they face them. Best of luck Coach Tedford.

* In addition to USC, the crossover schedule also doesn’t give too many breaks. Cal misses Colorado (likely picked sixth in the South) and Arizona (likely picked third or fourth in the South) from the South. This means they play the top three teams in the other division this fall.

* The good news for Cal fans is the home slate within the division. Cal gets the top three teams in the North — Oregon, Stanford and Washington  — all at home. If Tedford wants to keep his job, he may have to pull an upset of one of those three teams and getting them all at home might give him the best chance.

* Could the bye week come at a worse time? If Cal was the clear pick to the win the North — and they could still surprise — then the bye week falling during the last week of the regular season might provide some value. But if Cal does anything other than play in the Pac-12 title game, this bye week is essentially worthless. So the Bears get nine weeks to prepare for a bowl game against Kansas State instead of eight? So what.

Oregon Ducks

Sept. 1 Arkansas State
Sept. 8 Fresno State
Sept. 15 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 22 Arizona
Sept. 29 at Washington State
Oct. 6 Washington
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 18 at Arizona State
Oct. 27 Colorado
Nov. 3 at USC
Nov. 10 at Cal
Nov. 17 Stanford
Nov. 24 at Oregon State

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* Noticeably absent from the Ducks schedule is a marquee non-conference tilt. The Ducks are used to playing LSU, Tennessee, Boise State or some other preseason top-15 team. Arkansas State is a solid team, but the trio of non-conference matchups this season should provide little competition. This could be a good thing for an offense that is replacing Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and most of the pass-catchers.

* This year’s Game of the Century will also take place on the first weekend in November, but it will happen in Los Angeles instead of Tuscaloosa. The first of what could be two meetings between USC and Oregon will take place Nov. 3. All eyes in college football will be focused on the Coliseum as the winner will likely host the rematch in the Pac-12 title game. And it could decide a berth in the national championship.

* Other than USC, the crossover schedule for Oregon is fairly easy. The Ducks miss both Utah and UCLA (likely picked second and third respectively in the South) and instead face the bottom three teams in the division. In fact, Colorado and Arizona both visit Autzen Stadium making the crossover schedule that much easier. Look for Oregon to be, worst-case scenario, a cool 3-1 against the South.

* In key North Division contests, the Ducks get a nice break by hosting both Stanford and Washington. If either of those teams expects to challenge the three-year reign of Duck Pac-12 dominance, then they will have to pull the upset on the road in Eugene. No easy task.

Oregon State Beavers

Sept. 1 Nicholls State
Sept. 8 Wisconsin
Sept. 15 Bye Week
Sept. 22 at UCLA
Sept. 29 at Arizona
Oct. 6 Washington State
Oct. 13 at BYU
Oct. 20 Utah
Oct. 27 at Washington
Nov. 3 Arizona State
Nov. 10 at Stanford
Nov. 17 Cal
Nov. 24 Oregon

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* It may not be as tough as Cal’s daunting early season slate, but Oregon State have two very tricky non-conference tests against Wisconsin (who beat them 35-0 in Madison last year) and a road trip to face BYU. Unless the Beavers show marked improvement on defense, they will hard pressed to be anything by 1-2 in non-conference action.

* Crossover play won’t kill Oregon State this year. The Beavers miss the potential National Championship contender USC and get Utah at home. Early road trips to UCLA and Arizona could be swing games for all three teams in terms of bowl eligibility. Oregon State also gets Arizona State at home on the first weekend in November.

* Mike Riley’s bunch will need to get work done early if he wants to get his team back to the postseason — and potentially keep his job. Because the month of November will be absolutely brutal to finish the year. The final three games of the season feature a road trip to Stanford and back-to-back visits from Cal and Oregon to wrap-up 2012. A 1-2 record to finish the season would be considered a success.

Stanford Cardinal

Sept. 1 San Jose State
Sept. 8 Duke
Sept. 15 USC
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 at Washington
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame
Oct. 20 at Cal
Oct. 27 Washington State
Nov. 3 at Colorado
Nov. 10 Oregon State
Nov. 17 at Oregon
Nov. 24 at UCLA

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* Year one A.L.H — After Luck and Harbaugh — will place the magnifying glass directly above David Shaw. And the Pac-12 schedule doesn’t get started easily for the Cardinal. USC comes to town very early on (Sept. 15), and following a bye week, Stanford visits Washington (Sept. 27). The trip to Seattle should decide the pecking order in the North and will set either the Cardinal or Huskies into the drivers seat to challenge Oregon. That said, the bye week is strategically placed between these two tough games. Yet, Shaw could start 0-2 in conference play — which would be as many Pac-12 losses as Andrew Luck experienced over the last two seasons.

* Cardinal fans should just leave their bags packed after the October 6 home game against Arizona. Stanford finishes on the road in five of its final seven games of the 2012 season. This includes a huge non-conference tilt against Notre Dame as well as divisional games against Cal (Oct. 20) and Oregon (Nov. 17). Colorado is the only road trip in those five games where Stanford will be a clear favorite.

* Stanford must face all three North contenders — Oregon, Washington, Cal — on the road in 2012.

* Crossover play, with the exception of USC at home, isn’t all that treacherous. Arizona at home and a road trip to Colorado is not daunting at all. Visiting UCLA could be sneaky tough on the final weekend of the year — depending on how the new coaching staff in Westwood gels. Missing Utah is a small blessing.

Washington Huskies

Sept. 1 San Diego State
Sept. 8 at LSU
Sept. 15 Portland State
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 Stanford
Oct. 6 at Oregon
Oct. 13 USC
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 27 Oregon State
Nov. 2 at Cal
Nov. 10 Utah
Nov. 17 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Washington State (Fri.)

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* The Huskies have one of the most intriguing and exciting opportunities in the nation this fall when they visit LSU in Week 2. The Keith Price-led passing attack will test the Bayou secondary, but the lines of scrimmage will likely be dominated by the Tigers. There are very few positives that come from early season losses, but Washington could win a moral victory if they can keep it close in Baton Rouge. Additionally, the LSU defensive line will be the best Washington faces all season and the challenge could help prepare U of W for Pac-12 play. Again, if they can keep it close.

* A three-week span early in the season will likely determine the entire outlook of the 2012 campaign for Washington. In consecutive weeks, the Huskies will host Stanford, visit Oregon and welcome USC to Seattle. If Washington wants to continue its upward trajectory under Steve Sarkisian, it must defeat the Luck-less Cardinal at home. A 1-2 record over that span might be good enough to earn second place in the North. Anything more would be a pleasant surprise.

* Crossover play features the best two teams in the South, but both USC and Utah have to come to Seattle. The road trips in South Division play, at Arizona and at Colorado, are games Washington must win in order to continue trending upwards.

* Three of the final four games, including a key test against Cal as well as the Apple Cup, will come on the road for the Huskies. The renewed energy in Pullman, as well as the hot seat in Berkeley, will make for tough, albeit manageable, sledding down the stretch for Washington.

Washington State Cougars

Sept. 1 at BYU
Sept. 8 Eastern Washington
Sept. 15 at UNLV
Sept. 22 Colorado
Sept. 29 Oregon
Oct. 6 at Oregon State
Oct. 13 Cal
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Stanford
Nov. 3 at Utah
Nov. 10 UCLA
Nov. 17 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington (Fri.)

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* It is never fair to place the entire weight of a season’s outcome on the first game, but making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2003 may be determined in Week 1. A trip to Provo to take on BYU is not easy task, but for a Mike Leach coached team, it is a winnable game. If Wazzu wins its opener, fans should be in for a great first season under Leach. A loss will make it tough to reach the postseason. UNLV and Eastern Washington are must wins if Leach wants to go bowling.

* Helping Wazzu’s case for bowl eligibility is the crossover play. There is no USC and no Rich Rodriguez on the schedule this fall. Road trips to Utah and Arizona State won’t be easy, but home tests against Colorado and UCLA could provide bowl help. A 3-1 record against the South and Washington State should land in a bowl game.

* In order to reach a bowl, the Cougars will need to pull a home upset or two in 2012. Cal, UCLA and Washington provide tough but winnable conference games in Pullman. If the Cougars can win two of those games, they will all but locked into postseason play.

* The bye week is nicely placed after four Pac-12 games and just before two tough road trips to Stanford and Utah. It is virtually dead in the middle of Pac-12 play and should provide a perfect respite for a team fighting for a bowl game.

South Division

Arizona Wildcats

Sept. 1 Toledo
Sept. 8 Oklahoma State
Sept. 15 South Carolina State
Sept. 22 at Oregon
Sept. 29 Oregon State
Oct. 6 at Stanford
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Washington
Oct. 27 USC
Nov. 3 at UCLA
Nov. 10 Colorado
Nov. 17 at Utah
Nov. 23 Arizona State

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* Arizona should be in the mix for a bowl, but the non-conference schedule certainly doesn’t help its quest to get to six wins. South Carolina State is a cupcake, but Toledo and Oklahoma State aren’t guaranteed wins. Even though both teams have some losses, neither will be an easy out for the Wildcats.

* Rich Rodriguez didn’t catch a break either, as his first Pac-12 game is at Oregon. The Ducks have won four in a row over Arizona, including a blowout 56-31 win in Tucson last year.

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* In addition to playing Oregon in crossover games with the North, the Wildcats also catch Stanford and Washington – the likely No. 2 and No. 3 teams.

* USC is the clear favorite in the South, but second place is up for grabs. Utah is the early preseason frontrunner for the No. 2 spot, but Arizona has a chance to push for a finish in the top three of the division. The key game will be against UCLA on Nov. 3, which could decided whether or not the Bruins or Wildcats finish third in the South.

* There’s no doubt there may be a few ups and downs during Rodriguez’s first season, but he could make a lot of people happy in Tucson with a victory over Arizona State on Nov. 23. The Sun Devils also have a new coach (Todd Graham), so there’s a lot of new energy surrounding this rivalry. Arizona has won three out of the last four against Arizona State.

Arizona State

Sept. 1 Northern Arizona
Sept. 8 Illinois
Sept. 15 at Missouri
Sept. 22 Utah
Sept. 29 at California
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 11 at Colorado
Oct. 18 Oregon
Oct. 27 UCLA
Nov. 3 at Oregon State
Nov. 10 at USC
Nov. 17 Washington State
Nov. 23 at Arizona

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* Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe should get off to a good start with the opener against Northern Arizona. However, the rest of the non-conference schedule is challenging. The Sun Devils host Illinois and hit the road to play Missouri. Arizona State will probably be favored to beat the Fighting Illini, but a trip to Columbia against the Tigers won’t be easy.

* If Arizona State wants to reach the postseason, the Sept. 29 date at California will be a key swing game. The Sun Devils have lost eight out of their last nine games to the Golden Bears and this year’s matchup is on the road in Berkeley.

* The Sun Devils close out 2012 with three of their final four games on the road.

* Arizona State has a favorable crossover slate with the North. Although the Sun Devils have to play Oregon, they do not play Washington or Stanford.

* The intensity in the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry should be on the rise in 2012. With Rich Rodriguez taking over in Tucson, both programs will have new coaches. And adding a little more spice to the mix – Graham coached under Rodriguez at West Virginia from 2001-02.

Colorado Buffaloes

Sept. 2 Colorado State (Denver)
Sept. 8 Sacramento State
Sept. 15 at Fresno State
Sept. 22 at Washington State
Sept. 29 UCLA
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 11 Arizona State
Oct. 20 at USC
Oct. 27 at Oregon
Nov. 3 Stanford
Nov. 10 at Arizona
Nov. 17 Washington
Nov. 23 Utah

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* For a team coming off a 3-10 season, the Buffaloes need to build some momentum early in the year. Colorado faces off against Colorado State in Denver and should be favored to win this game. The Buffaloes have won four out of the last five in this series, including a 28-14 victory last season.

* Assuming Colorado handles Sacramento State in Week 2, it will have another chance to pickup a non-conference victory in Week 3 against Fresno State. The Bulldogs have a new coaching staff, but are loaded with talent on offense. If Colorado is struggling to get its new quarterback (likely Connor Wood) on track, Fresno State could upset the Buffaloes.

* The Buffaloes finished 97th nationally in pass defense last season and the secondary will be put to the test in the Pac-12 opener against Washington State. The Cougars return quarterback Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson, which will be one of the top pass-catch duos in the nation.

* Could Colorado have one of the most difficult back-to-back road trips in the nation? The Buffaloes play at USC on Oct. 20 and at Oregon on Oct. 27. Ouch.

* Finding wins in Pac-12 play could be difficult with a team full of question marks, but Colorado’s best opportunities would appear to be at home against UCLA on Sept. 29 and on Nov. 23 against Utah. Although the Utes are the better team on paper, the Buffaloes won in Salt Lake City last year. 

UCLA Bruins

Aug. 30 at Rice
Sept. 8 Nebraska
Sept. 15 Houston
Sept. 22 Oregon State
Sept. 29 at Colorado
Oct. 6 at California
Oct. 13 Utah
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 Arizona
Nov. 10 at Washington State
Nov. 17 USC
Nov. 24 Stanford

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* UCLA opens the season in Texas for the second consecutive season. The Bruins played at Houston last year and open against Rice in 2012.

* The Bruins will meet Nebraska for the first time since 1994. UCLA is 4-6 all-time against the Cornhuskers, but only one of those wins has come in Lincoln.

* This will be the third consecutive season UCLA has played Houston during the regular season. The Bruins won the 2010 matchup, but lost last season.

* Two of UCLA’s first three conference games will be on the road. However, the Bruins will be heavily favored to win against Colorado and beat California last season.

* The matchup with Arizona on Nov. 3 is expected to be an important one for the final standings in the Pac-12. The Wildcats and Bruins will likely be picked by most to finish third or fourth in the South, so this game could decide which team goes to a bowl or which team stays home in the postseason.

* The final two games of the season offer an interesting barometer for UCLA. New coach Jim Mora wasn’t the most popular selection as head coach, but has pieced together a good staff. Stanford and USC easily handled the Bruins last year, and keeping the score closer this time would be a good sign for Mora heading into 2013.

USC Trojans

Sept. 1 Hawaii
Sept. 8 Syracuse (East Rutherford)
Sept. 15 at Stanford
Sept. 22 California
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 4 at Utah
Oct. 13 at Washington
Oct. 20 Colorado
Oct. 27 at Arizona
Nov. 3 Oregon
Nov. 10 Arizona State
Nov. 17 at UCLA
Nov. 24 Notre Dame

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* The biggest game on USC’s schedule is clearly the Nov. 3 showdown against Oregon. The Trojans won 38-35 in Eugene last year and it’s likely this game will decide which team has homefield advantage in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

* The Trojans open the year against a familiar face. Norm Chow worked as USC’s offensive coordinator from 2001-04 and 2012 will be his first year as Hawaii’s head coach. The Trojans beat the Warriors 49-36 in Honolulu in 2010, but it would be a major surprise if Hawaii kept the opening week matchup within 30 points.

* After opening up at home with Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans will rack up some frequent flyer miles in Week 2. USC makes the long flight to the opposite coast, taking on Syracuse in East Rutherford. The Orange are coming off a 5-7 season, but as we have seen in the NFL, teams making long flights across the country often turn in a sluggish effort that week.

* The Trojans open Pac-12 play with a road date at Stanford. USC has lost four out of the last five games to the Cardinal, including a 56-48 shootout last season. With Andrew Luck no longer at Stanford, this matchup should favor USC.

* USC has won eight in a row over rival California. The Trojans won last year’s matchup 30-9 and won 48-14 in 2010.

* A key part of USC’s 2012 schedule will be a difficult two-game road trip in early October. The Trojans travel to Salt Lake City for a Thursday night matchup against Utah and hit the road again the following week for a matchup against Washington. Although USC will be favored, Utah held its own in Los Angeles last year, and the Huskies have won two out of the last three games against the Trojans.

* Trap game? With a date against Oregon the following week, USC should be on upset alert against Arizona on Oct. 27. The Wildcats have defeated the Trojans only once since 2001, but this could be a case of looking ahead on the schedule creates an upset possibility.

* Crosstown rivalry? The USC-UCLA series has been a one-sided affair in recent years. The Trojans have won five in a row and most of the matchups haven’t been close. Will that change in 2012 with Jim Mora taking over at UCLA?

* USC has won nine out of the last ten meetings against Notre Dame.

Utah

Aug. 30 Northern Colorado
Sept. 7 at Utah State
Sept. 15 BYU
Sept. 22 at Arizona State
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 4 USC
Oct. 13 at UCLA
Oct. 20 at Oregon State
Oct. 27 California
Nov. 3 Washington State
Nov. 10 at Washington
Nov. 17 Arizona
Nov. 23 at Colorado

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* Utah has not played in-state rival Utah State since 2009, but owns a 12-game winning streak over the Aggies. Although the Utes should win this matchup once again, Utah State won’t be a pushover, which will give Utah a good test just before playing BYU and opening up Pac-12 play.

* The Utes crushed BYU last season, winning 54-10 in Provo. However, the loss to Utah sparked the Cougars, as they won nine out of their last 10 games. Revenge will certainly be on BYU’s mind this year, but the Utes have not lost to the Cougars in Salt Lake City since 2006.

* The Oct. 4 date against USC will have major ramifications in the South Division. The Utes held their own against the Trojans last year and this season’s matchup is in Salt Lake City. If Utah can knock off USC, it will have a huge early advantage in the South title race.

* Utah catches a huge break in Pac-12 scheduling once again, as it does not play Stanford and Oregon in crossover games with the North.

* The Pac-12 opener against Arizona State is one of the Pac-12’s most intriguing early season matchups. The Utes are the better team on paper, but the Sun Devils are a mystery. With a new coaching staff, who knows how much Arizona State will show in the non-conference portion of its schedule. 

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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