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Ranking the Pac-12's Toughest 2016 College Football Schedules

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Unprecedented parity has transformed the Pac-12 landscape, turning a conference once dominated but just one or two teams into a wide-open free-for-all.

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That trend should continue in 2016, with no clear front-runner for the league championship standing out on paper. All of last season's top performers, including reigning champion Stanford, must address sizable voids left by departing players.

An open race should for a wildly competitive and entertaining campaign. Some teams have schedules more conducive to making a run to the top, while others must endure a grind to win out.

* - neutral site

1. USC

Non-Conference: Alabama*, Utah State, Notre Dame

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South Home: Arizona State, Colorado

South Road: Arizona, Utah, UCLA

Crossover: at Stanford, Cal, Oregon, at Washington

A brutal schedule starts and ends with teams that played in New Year’s Six bowl games a season ago. One just happens to be defending national champion Alabama.

Between dates with the Crimson Tide and Notre Dame, USC draws the three best teams from the North in cross-divisional play

– Oregon, Stanford and Washington – and gets just two South division foes at home.

2. UCLA

Non-Conference: at Texas A&M, UNLV, at BYU

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South Home: Arizona, Utah, USC

South Road: at Arizona State, at Colorado

Crossover: Stanford, at Washington State, Oregon State, at Cal

Power Five conference programs will often take advantage of their status by playing more home dates than road. UCLA gets an even six on each side, with two challenging contests away from the Rose Bowl in non-conference play, and some trap contests in the Pac-12 slate.

3. Stanford

Non-Conference: Kansas State, at Notre Dame, Rice

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North Home: Washington State, Oregon State

North Road: Washington, Oregon, Cal

Crossover: USC, at UCLA, Colorado, at Arizona

Stanford often plays one of the more ambitious schedules in college football, typically facing 11 power-conference opponents. The 2016 campaign is no exception.

This is Stanford's year to draw more road games than home in Pac-12 play, and that includes treks to Oregon and Washington -- two teams likely to contend for the North division crown. The Cardinal avoid Utah in cross-divisional play, but travel to UCLA.

4. Oregon

Non-Conference: UC Davis, Virginia, at Nebraska 

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North Home: Washington, Stanford

North Road: Washington State, Cal, Oregon State

Crossover: Colorado, Arizona State, at USC, at Utah

Autzen Stadium was recently the Pac-12's most feared venue, but losses there last season to Washington State and Utah, and Arizona in 2014, have worn the veneer somewhat. Defending home field is critical -- particularly with pivotal, North division games against Stanford and Washington coming in Eugene.

Oregon's road docket is challenging. The Ducks travel to USC and Utah in divisional crossover competition, trek to Martin Stadium to visit Washington State, and go to Lincoln, Neb., for a marquee, non-conference date with the Cornhuskers.

5. Colorado

Non-Conference: Colorado State*, Idaho State, at Michigan

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South Home: Arizona State, UCLA, Utah

South Road: USC, Arizona

Crossover: at Oregon, Oregon State, at Stanford, Washington State

Colorado’s gained a lot of invaluable experience and suffered repeated heartbreak, dropping several close games in 2015. The 2016 Buffaloes return with one of the Pac-12’s most veteran rosters, and a real chance to finally break out under head coach Mike MacIntyre.

Doing so means braving a challenge schedule, which sends Colorado to Michigan, Oregon and Stanford.

6. Washington

Non-Conference: Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State