When putting together Athlon Sports' college football magazine and preseason Top 25 each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.
And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.
So who has the toughest schedule in the Pac-12 this fall? Who has the easiest path?
There is no easy schedule in the North, but Cal is probably the most unlucky team in the division. Road trips for the season include games at Texas, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Utah and Washington with USC and Arizona State at home. Washington also has a tough run starting Week 6: at USC, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona, Utah, at Arizona State.
Arizona State and USC have the two toughest slates in the South division but the Men of Troy get the nod here. The Trojans have to face Notre Dame on the road in non-conference action as well as the projected top four teams in the North: Oregon (road), Stanford (home), Washington (home) and Cal (road). The division split sends USC to Arizona State for a critical 60 minutes. The only comfort is getting key division games with UCLA, Utah and Arizona at home.
The Huskies are in rebuilding mode and they didn't get much help from the schedule makers. A road trip to Boise State will be filled with emotion for Chris Petersen (and UW could be an underdog) and Utah State is much better than most Pac-12 fans will acknowledge. Road trips in the league, however, are what make this schedule brutal. Washington will face USC, Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon State away from Seattle. Oregon, Cal, Arizona and Utah dot the home slate.
4. Arizona State
Arizona State and USC appear to be the class of the South and if either team wins the division or the league, their strength of schedule will likely put them into the Playoff. The Sun Devils get Texas A&M in Houston, which is far from a true neutral-site game. The road slate is intriguing, as trips to UCLA and Utah in the division are huge, as well as trickier-than-they-appear trips north to Cal and Washington State, but there are no preseason-ranked teams on the slate away from Tempe. USC, Oregon, Washington and Arizona highlight an extremely tough home slate.
Stanford is getting a lot of love as a sleeper team to win the Pac-12 but the Cardinal will have to earn their division title for this to happen. The non-conference slate includes Notre Dame of course but also tricky games with UCF and at Northwestern. All of the big games in the Pac-12 come at home (minus one) but each one should be a battle between Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Arizona and Washington. The road slate in the league isn't terribly difficult as only USC makes Stanford a true road underdog.
The Utes start the year with three really interesting non-conference games. Utah will be favored against Michigan, Utah State and Fresno State but all three are tough outs. Four road trips within the league (USC, Oregon, Arizona and Washington) are devastating with a not-so-easy home schedule against Cal, Arizona State and UCLA. Utah misses the worst two teams from the North.
Per usual, Colorado doesn't get to face Colorado, automatically making it one of the toughest schedules in the South Division. The non-conference slate offers chances for wins with four winnable games (not three) because of Hawaii. Facing Oregon and Stanford from the North hurts and having five road trips in the Pac-12 adds difficulty as well. The Buffaloes face Oregon, USC, Stanford and Arizona at home, meaning any Pac-12 wins might have to come on the road.
8. Washington State
The showdown with Rutgers last year was memorable at the very least and now Wazzu flies all the way to East Coast for its toughest non-con game in the rematch. The Cougars get five home games and miss USC and Utah from the South and has two winnable road games in Oregon State and Colorado. Huge swing games that likely decide if WSU is going bowling or not will come at home in Cal, Arizona and The Apple Cup.
Oregon faces arguably the toughest non-conference test of any team in the nation when it heads to East Lansing to face Michigan State. However, the Ducks should roll through the rest of their home schedule with the exception of USC. Huge road trips to Stanford and Arizona State loom as well. But this schedule looks like a four-game slate with three huge road trips and the Trojans at home. Cal and Utah would be tricky if they weren't in Autzen Stadium and trips to Seattle and Boulder shouldn't cause too much concern.
10. Oregon State
There are no easy schedules in the North but Oregon State gets the nod by default because the Beavers miss both Arizona State and USC in crossover and get Stanford, Washington and UCLA at home. A non-con trip to Michigan still keeps this slate from being far from "easy" however.
Clearly, there are no easy schedules in this league but UCLA might have one of the more manageable slates — which comes at a great time to break in a new quarterback. Virginia and BYU are tricky but winnable in the non-conference, while missing Oregon and Washington from the North Division seems like a big positive. Sweeping home games with Arizona State, Cal, Colorado and Washington State is very doable and road trips to Arizona, Oregon State and Utah also could be winnable. Trips to USC and Stanford are the toughest games of the year.
First of all, there is no easy schedule in the South. Five teams could win the division so crossover play and non-conference games are the deciding factors. UCLA and Arizona have the two easiest slates because both avoid Oregon from the North, but Zona gets the nod for the least difficult due to a non-conference slate that should provide three easy wins.