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Ranking the Pac-12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2014

Stanford Cardinal

Will 2014 be the year the SEC is no longer considered the best conference in football?

If Larry Scott has anything to do with it, the answer is yes. The Pac-12, on the backs of elite quarterback play and a talented coaching roster, is poised to make a run at the SEC’s supremacy this fall.

If it doesn’t eat itself alive, that is. The Pac-12 schedules appear to be the most difficult in the country. Some of that is because the league west of the Rockies plays nine conference games and a championship game. Additionally, most of the heavy hitters in this league also will play a marquee non-conference game.

In trying to pick a champion — we settled on Oregon over UCLA after much deliberation — schedules play a huge role. Which Pac-12 schedule is the toughest?

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1. Stanford

Road: Washington, Arizona St, Oregon, Cal, UCLA

Home: USC, Wazzu, Oregon St, Utah

Misses: Arizona, Colorado

Non-Con: UC Davis, Army, at Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 86-68 (55.8%, 42nd)

Road trips are going to be the name of the game for the Cardinal. Stanford has to face four of the Pac-12's six ranked teams (preseason Top 25) on the road, including the top two North Division challengers and Notre Dame. Not only does Stanford have to face each of the top three teams from the South but also it gets UCLA and Arizona State on the road. A perfect home record may not be able to overcome the difficulty of the away schedule this fall.

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Road: Arizona St, Cal, Colorado, Washington

Home: Utah, Oregon, Arizona, USC, Stanford

Misses: Oregon St, Wazzu

Non-Con: at Virginia, Memphis, Texas (Arlington)

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 82-72 (53.3%, 60th)

The Bruins, like Stanford, will play most of the other preseason-ranked teams in the league. Facing just two — Arizona State and Washington — from this quintet on the road is a small comfort as USC, Oregon and Stanford must all visit Pasadena. The trip to Arlington to play Texas is no joke either. This is a brutal schedule with very few breaks.

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3. Utah

Road: UCLA, Oregon St, Arizona St, Stanford, Colorado

Home: Wazzu, USC, Oregon, Arizona

Misses: Cal, Washington

Non-Con: Idaho St, Fresno St, at Michigan

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 98-59 (62.4%, 11th)

Utah has to play both Stanford and Oregon to go along with the top four teams in the South. It also must visit Michigan on the road — even though the Utes won the last trip to the Big House. The road schedule is one of the toughest in the nation, as there are maybe two guaranteed wins on the slate. Missing Cal from the North really hurts Utah’s bowl chances.

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4. Washington State

Road: Utah, Stanford, Oregon St, Arizona St

Home: Oregon, Cal, Arizona, USC, Washington

Misses: UCLA, Colorado

Non-Con: Rutgers, at Nevada, Portland St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 88-67 (56.9%, 36th)

There are some wins to be had early for Mike Leach despite two “interesting” non-conference games with Rutgers and Nevada. Other than a visit from Oregon, Wazzu could easily win every other game until Oct. 10. Then the slate gives way to brutal tests each and every week. The final six include Stanford, Arizona, USC, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington.

5. Cal

Road: Arizona, Wazzu, Oregon St, USC

Home: Colorado, Washington, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford
Misses: Arizona St, Utah

Non-Con: at Northwestern, Sacramento St, BYU

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 94-61 (60.6%, 17th)

There is no marquee non-conference game but there are two tough ones instead of what should be three gimmies. Cal does get the top three teams in its division at home but unless the Bears pull off a major upset, fans might actually prefer those (almost guaranteed) losses come on the road. There aren’t many winnable games on this schedule.

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6. Colorado

Road: Cal, USC, Arizona, Oregon

Home: Arizona St, Oregon St, UCLA, Washington, Utah

Misses: Stanford, Wazzu

Non-Con: Colorado St (Denver), at UMass, Hawaii

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 81-74 (52.3%, 66th)

The Buffs are slated to play five preseason-ranked conference foes, two of which will come on the road. The home schedule is full of marquee games, but can Colorado capitalize and pull an upset or two? Missing Stanford is a blessing and the non-conference slate isn’t overly taxing but this is still a schedule befitting a team picked last in the division.

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7. Arizona State

Road: Colorado, USC, Washington, Oregon St, Arizona

Home: UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Wazzu

Misses: Cal, Oregon

Non-Con: Weber St, at New Mexico, Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-70 (54.6%, 52nd)

Missing Oregon is huge news for the Sun Devils but that is balanced by adding Notre Dame in the non-conference. The home slate is filled with three ranked teams and four bowl teams while the road slate features trips to two potential third-place teams (USC, Washington) and two really dangerous locales (Corvallis, Tucson).

8. Oregon State

Road: USC, Colorado, Stanford, Washington

Home: Utah, Cal, Wazzu, Arizona St, Oregon

Misses: Arizona, UCLA

Non-Con: Portland St, at Hawaii, San Diego St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 82-72 (53.3%, 60th)

The non-conference slate should provide three wins for the Beavers and the second half of the schedule is very intriguing. The Beavers miss two great offenses from the South in Arizona and UCLA and will get four out of five games at home in Reser Stadium in the month of November. The road schedule isn’t helpful with trips to Stanford, USC and Washington on the slate.

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9. USC

Road: Stanford, Arizona, Utah, Wazzu, UCLA

Home: Oregon St, Arizona St, Colorado, Cal

Misses: Washington, Oregon

Non-Con: Fresno St, at Boston College, Notre Dame

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 89-66 (57.4%, 29th)

Although Fresno State and Boston College aren’t as good as last year, this is one of the more difficult non-conference slates in the league. So it’s a good thing that USC misses both the Huskies and Ducks from the North. The home slate isn’t all that intriguing while the road schedule is full of speed bumps and showdowns.

10. Oregon

Road: Wazzu, UCLA, Cal, Utah, Oregon St

Home: Arizona, Washington, Stanford, Colorado

Misses: Arizona St, USC

Non-Con: S. Dakota, Michigan St, Wyoming

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-69 (54.9%, 49th)

Missing two of the top three teams from the South is a major positive. Getting to host the top two teams in the North — Washington and Stanford — is another huge plus. There are some tricky road trips to UCLA, Salt Lake City, Corvallis and Pullman, but this schedule sets up pretty well for the Ducks later in the year — despite having to play arguably the biggest non-conference game of the year.

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11. Arizona

Road: Oregon, Wazzu, UCLA, Utah

Home: Cal, USC, Colorado, Washington, Arizona St

Misses: Oregon St, Stanford

Non-Con: UNLV, at UTSA, Nevada

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 84-69 (54.9%, 49th)

Rich Rodriguez should once again be perfect in the non-conference while five home games in league play in Tucson could be exciting. Missing Stanford and Oregon State from up North is a positive and having to face Oregon and UCLA — the two predicted winners and likely losses — on the road may actually be a blessing too. This is a manageable, albeit very testy, slate.

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12. Washington

Road: Cal, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, Wazzu

Home: Stanford, Arizona St, UCLA, Oregon St

Misses: Utah, USC

Non-Con: at Hawaii, E. Washington, Illinois, Georgia St

Opponents’ ’13 Record: 85-83 (50.6%, 77th)

Missing USC is going to be a blessing (for a variety of reasons) and both Arizona State and UCLA must come North to Seattle. So, too, does two-time defending champ Stanford. And the non-conference slate should provide four easy wins (yes, four). That said, the biggest game of the year could come at Oregon on Oct. 18. Unless U of W can close the gap on the Ducks, the rest of the schedule may not matter.