Stanford has arguably the toughest opening month slate of any team in the country this fall
The nine-game conference schedule is a hallmark of the Pac-12, dating back to the first season of 12-game regular seasons, 2006. That's a cause for controversy in some circles, as the conference has not produced a national champion in that time, and had only two teams play in the national title game.
Historically challenging non-conference schedules combined with that loaded conference slate gives would-be College Football Playoff contenders from the Pac-12 a difficult road. While it may not be particularly conducive to a title tilt in the winter, it makes for exciting football in the fall.
Paced by Stanford, which plays 11 Power 5 games and a 12th contest against an elite-level Group of 5 opponent, all but two teams in the Pac-12 this season play 10 or more teams from power conferences. That makes even some of the lower-ranked schedules in the conference still challenging all the same.
Non-Conference: Northwestern, at UCF, Notre Dame
North Home: Oregon, Washington, Cal
North Road: Oregon State, Washington State
Crossover: at USC, UCLA, Arizona, at Colorado
The most brutal non-conference schedule in the nation highlights Stanford's 2019 gauntlet. The Cardinal draw opponents outside of the Pac-12 that played in the Big Ten Championship Game a season ago (Northwestern), have not lost a regular-season game since 2016 (UCF), and that played in last season's College Football Playoff (Notre Dame). In the Pac-12, the North's balance with five teams that went bowling a season ago makes for an inherently difficult slate, though Stanford does benefit from drawing both Oregon and Washington at home.
Non-Conference: Fresno State, at BYU, at Notre Dame
South Home: Utah, Arizona, UCLA
South Road: Colorado, Arizona State
Crossover: Stanford, at Washington, Oregon, at Cal
Another tough non-conference docket sets the tone for USC's challenging 2019 schedule. Week 1 opponent Fresno State is coming off a historic 2018 with 12 wins and a Mountain West Conference championship, while historic rival Notre Dame is a season removed from the College Football Playoff.
The Pac-12 schedule is imbalanced in USC's favor, giving the Trojans five home games (and off-setting a 1-2 home-road non-conference slate). USC draws each of Oregon, Stanford and Washington in divisional crossover play, however.
Non-Conference: at Cincinnati, San Diego State, Oklahoma
South Home: Arizona State, Colorado
North Road: Arizona, Utah, USC
Crossover: at Washington State, Oregon State, at Stanford, Cal
UCLA's 2018 schedule can be best described as nightmarish, as the Bruins dealt with non-conference games against Cincinnati, Fresno State and Oklahoma (combined for 35 wins); and Pac-12 division cross-overs against Washington and Oregon. This fall, the Bruins avoid the Huskies and Ducks, alleviating some of the pressure in Chip Kelly's second season. However, the non-conference slate is again a gauntlet. It kicks off with a road trip to Cincinnati and home games against perennial Mountain West contender San Diego State, as well as Oklahoma visiting the Rose Bowl.
Non-Conference: vs. Colorado State (Denver), Nebraska, Air Force
South Home: Arizona, USC
South Road: Arizona State, UCLA, Utah
Crossover: at Oregon, at Washington State, Stanford, Washington
Although Colorado does not leave the state in non-conference play, the trio of games against Colorado State, Nebraska and Air Force are all against veteran-heavy teams expected to make significant strides in 2019. Nebraska, in particular, is a trendy pick to win the Big Ten West.
This year is Colorado's season for an imbalanced road schedule in the Pac-12, with the Buffaloes playing four in Boulder and five away. Among those road trips are Arizona State and UCLA, the only two opponents Colorado beat in the conference a season ago; and divisional crossover matchups at Washington State and Oregon.
Non-Conference: UC Davis, North Texas, at Ole Miss
North Home: Washington State, Oregon State
North Road: Washington, Oregon, Stanford
Crossover: Arizona State, at Utah, at UCLA, USC
A deceptively challenging non-conference schedule sees Cal hosting a UC Davis program from the FCS ranks that has grown into a Big Sky Conference contender under head coach Dan Hawkins. North Texas also comes to Berkeley, bringing with it the prolific passing attack powered by Mason Fine. Add a trip to The Grove to face Ole Miss, and that gives Cal's slate some bite.
But the real test comes in the North. Cal draws each of Washington, Oregon and Stanford on the road. The Golden Bears also go on the road to face Utah, making it four games against the Pac-12's highest projected teams away from Berkeley.
Non-Conference: vs. Auburn (Arlington, Texas), Nevada, Montana
North Home: Cal, Washington State, Oregon State
North Road: Stanford, Washington
Crossover: Colorado, at USC, Arizona, at Arizona State
The Week 1 showdown with Auburn in Texas might be the most important game of college football's opening weekend. That matchup can set the tone -- positively or negatively -- for what's to come. Oregon continues the season's first month at home against a feisty Nevada bunch, then draws Montana ahead of a marquee Pac-12 North meeting with Stanford.
Add the road trip to Washington in the early part of October, and the Ducks' front-loaded calendar might determine this team's postseason fate.
Non-Conference: at Hawaii, Northern Arizona, Texas Tech
South Home: UCLA, Utah
South Road: Colorado, USC, Arizona State
Crossover: Washington, at Stanford, Oregon State, at Oregon
Arizona is the first Pac-12 team to take the field in 2019, kicking off Week 0 at Hawaii. The high-scoring Rainbow Warriors pose a significant threat to the Wildcats, who are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 5-7 debut under head coach Kevin Sumlin. Arizona also draws a new-look Texas Tech to close the non-conference schedule.
The Pac-12 schedule is what really makes Arizona's schedule challenging, however. The Wildcats draw the road imbalance this season, including divisional crossovers at Stanford and Oregon. Washington comes to Tucson for another matchup vs. the North.
8. Oregon State
Non-Conference: Oklahoma State, at Hawaii, Cal Poly
North Home: Stanford, Washington
North Road: Cal, Washington State, Oregon
Crossover: at UCLA, Utah, at Arizona, Arizona State
Oregon State's defense gets a workout its first two times out in 2019. The Beavers host Oklahoma State on Week 1 Friday night, then make the trek to Oahu to face Hawaii in Week 2. A home game against FCS opponent Cal Poly leads into the Pac-12 docket, which sends the Beavers on the road five times.
Oregon State's home-road balance can be seen as a blessing or a curse. The Beavers get three of their toughest opponents at home -- Stanford, Utah and Washington -- but that means drawing some perhaps more beatable opponents away from Reser Stadium.
Non-Conference: at BYU, Northern Illinois, Idaho State
South Home: Arizona State, UCLA, Colorado
South Road: USC, Arizona
Crossover: Washington State, at Oregon State, Cal, at Washington
Promise for a big season, building off its run to the 2018 Pac-12 Championship Game, awaits a veteran-laden Utah team in '19. The Utes face rival BYU in Week 1, the same opponent that capped Utah's regular season in 2018. Should the Utes extend their streak in the series and beat reigning MAC champion Northern Illinois the next week, the road to a 3-0 start ahead of a Friday night road trip to USC is clear.
Utah gets more home games than road dates in the Pac-12 this season, but one of the roadies is a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch with Washington. Otherwise, Utah avoids Stanford and Oregon from the North and gets both Washington State and Cal at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
10. Arizona State
Non-Conference: Kent State, Sacramento State, at Michigan State
South Home: Colorado, USC, Arizona
South Road: Utah, UCLA
Crossover: at Cal, Washington State, at Oregon State, Oregon
Arizona State should cruise to 2-0 before a non-conference game Week 3 at Michigan State. That a schedule with Michigan State on it appears here in this ranking speaks to the collective degree of difficulty the Pac-12 is taking on in its scheduling this season.
Additionally, the Sun Devils face Oregon and Washington State from the North but get both in Tempe.
Non-Conference: Eastern Washington, Hawaii, at BYU
North Home: Cal, Oregon, Washington State
North Road: Stanford, Oregon State
Crossover: USC, at Arizona, Utah, at Colorado
Three straight home games open Washington's 2019 schedule, include a Pac-12 revenge game against Cal. The Huskies draw both of their in-conference revenge matchups at home, in fact, with Oregon also visiting Husky Stadium.
Much of the road slate is back-loaded for Washington, which could present a problem in the home stretch of the Pac-12 North chase. However, things break down nicely for the Huskies to have the inside track going into the season's latter half.
12. Washington State
Non-Conference: New Mexico State, Northern Colorado, at Houston (NRG Stadium)
North Home: Oregon State, Stanford
North Road: Oregon, Cal, Washington
Crossover: UCLA, at Utah, at Arizona State, Colorado
What is essentially a road game against Houston in Week 3 is a challenge, but Washington State should otherwise roll through the non-conference slate. Once in Pac-12 play, the Cougars do face the challenge of playing more road games than home. Those road contests are also some of the tougher matchups on the schedule: Oregon, Washington and Utah, as well as Cal. The Golden Bears smashed a then-top-10-ranked Washington State in Berkeley two seasons ago.