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Ranking the Pac-12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2017

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For the first time in 16 years, the reigning Pac-12 Conference champion is not one of either Oregon, Stanford or USC. The Washington Huskies enter 2017 looking to repeat as league champions for the first time since completing a trifecta in 1990-92. But the program that Washington unseated to take its place on the Pac-12 throne — looms as one potential threat. Another is USC.

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It's been almost 10 years since USC's decade of dominance ended. After finishing 2016 on a nine-game winning streak, which included a road win at Washington and Rose Bowl comeback for the ages, the Trojans could be the front-runners in the 2017 Conference of Champions race. That's assuming they can endure a difficult schedule bereft of a bye week.

Related: Ranking College Football's Top 25 Toughest Schedules for 2017

1. USC

Non-Conference: Western Michigan, Texas, at Notre Dame

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South Home: Utah, Arizona, UCLA

South Road: Arizona State, Colorado

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

For a second consecutive season, USC's is the toughest schedule in the Pac-12. Much like last season, an ambitious non-conference slate sets the tone. The Trojans face two blue-blood programs in Texas and Notre Dame that, despite struggles in 2016, are both rife with talent. Kicking off the non-conference schedule — as well as a daunting, 12-week run without a bye — is last season's Cotton Bowl participant, Western Michigan.

USC does get some relief in that it plays a majority of its games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, including a divisional rivalry showdown with Stanford on Week 2. The Trojans avoid defending Pac-12 champion Washington, as well. Divisional crossover does make up for that somewhat, sending the Trojans to the Palouse to meet a dangerous Washington State team on just six days of rest.

2. Cal

Non-Conference: at North Carolina, Weber State, Ole Miss

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North Home: Washington State, Oregon State

North Road: Oregon, Washington, Stanford

Crossover: USC, Arizona, at Colorado, at UCLA

Cal's non-conference schedule ranks among the toughest in the nation, with dates against the ACC's North Carolina Tar Heels and SEC's Ole Miss Rebels looming. That gives the Golden Bears a hefty 11 games vs. Power Five opponents. Cal isn't the only team in the Pac-12 facing such a task, but the Golden Bears are up against more of those on the road than at home.

The road plays an important theme in Cal's second-toughest Pac-12 schedule ranking. The Golden Bears open at North Carolina, then begin Pac-12 play with two of their first three away from Berkeley — at Oregon and at Washington — then wrap up with back-to-back roadies at Stanford and UCLA. Cal's trip to the Rose Bowl comes on short rest.

3. UCLA

Non-Conference: Texas A&M, Hawaii, at Memphis

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South Home: Colorado, Arizona State

South Road: Arizona, Utah, USC

Crossover: at Stanford, Oregon, at Washington, Cal

One could make a compelling case that UCLA has the toughest schedule in the Pac-12. After all, the Bruins face both Stanford and Washington in cross-divisional play — and both are played away from the Rose Bowl. Those are two of the standout road contests in a year that UCLA gets the more challenging end of the Pac-12's odd conference schedule. Count likely South-division contenders Utah and USC among the traveling road show.

4. Stanford

Non-Conference: Rice (in Sydney, Australia), at San Diego State, Notre Dame

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North Home: Oregon, Washington, Cal

North Road: at Oregon State, at Washington State

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

Stanford sees a collection of formidable opponents away from home this season, both in and out of conference. The Pac-12 docket opens Week 2 with a trip to Los Angeles to face USC, and the next week takes the Cardinal south down the 5 to meet San Diego State. The Aztecs boast back-to-back 11-win seasons. Other road contests include a Thursday night trip to Oregon State — and weird things tend to happen on Thursdays in college football — then Washington State two weeks later.

An odd wrinkle to Stanford's schedule: It will have played its entire allotment of crossover games before seeing a single opponent out of the North. Oregon's visit to the Farm on Oct. 14 marks the first Pac-12 North contest on the Cardinal's slate.

5. Arizona State

Non-Conference: New Mexico State, San Diego State, at Texas Tech

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South Home: USC, Colorado, Arizona

South Road: Utah, UCLA

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

Arizona State's schedule is an interesting mix of potential upsets — both for and against the Sun Devils. ASU welcomes presumptive Pac-12 favorite USC to Tempe, as well as defending divisional champion Colorado. The Sun Devils also see Washington in the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium, where the Huskies have yet to win in 14 years.

On the flip side, San Diego State looms as a potential trap game early in the schedule, and Oregon State welcomes the Sun Devils to Reser Stadium later in the year. The Beavers denied Arizona State's Pac-12 South title bid with an upset victory in Corvallis when ASU last visited.

6. Washington State

Non-Conference: Montana State, Boise State, Nevada

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North Home: Oregon State, Stanford