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Ranking the Pac-12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2018

Arizona State Sun Devils QB Manny Wilkins

Arizona State Sun Devils QB Manny Wilkins

The 2018 college football season marks widespread change around the Pac-12. Much of the conference's new outlook comes from an influx of new head coaches, with five programs welcoming new staffs for this campaign.

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Some of those newcomers can expect a challenging welcome to the Pac-12 (or welcome back to, in one instance), as two of the hardest slates in the league await teams with new head coaches.

The Pac-12 also sees some change in the way it schedules. After USC, Washington and Washington State all hit detours as a result of playing road games on short weeks, the conference limited Saturday-to-Friday road-game turnarounds. That could have an impact on the way the 2018 Pac-12 title chase unfolds.

1. Arizona State

Non-Conference: UTSA, Michigan State, at San Diego State

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South Home: Utah, UCLA

South Road: Colorado, USC, Arizona

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

The odd number of conference games in the Pac-12 can make for a more difficult schedule, and in 2018, it works particularly poorly against Arizona State. Of the Sun Devils' five road games in conference play, four are against teams that went bowling last season. Two of those are divisional crossovers, and both Washington and Oregon will welcome Arizona State to town with revenge in mind. Add a difficult non-conference schedule, and first-year head coach Herm Edwards faces a rough welcome to college football.


Non-Conference: Cincinnati, at Oklahoma, Fresno State

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South Home: Arizona, Utah, USC

South Road: Colorado, Arizona State

Crossover: Washington, at Cal, at Oregon, Stanford

A challenging non-conference slate sets the tone for UCLA ahead of a demanding Pac-12 schedule. After opening with a road trip at perennial power Oklahoma and hosting 2017 surprise breakout team Fresno State, the Bruins draw each of the likely top three preseason teams from the Pac-12 North in divisional crossover. UCLA benefits from facing Arizona and Utah at the Rose Bowl, but the third home date -- USC -- is effectively a neutral-field game.

3. Stanford

Non-Conference: San Diego State, UC Davis, at Notre Dame

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North Home: Washington State, Oregon State

North Road: Oregon, Washington, Cal

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

Stanford's rivalry matchup with Notre Dame typically assures the Cardinal a challenging schedule, and 2018 is no exception. What makes the Cardinal's meeting with the Fighting Irish especially difficult this season is that Stanford visits South Bend in the middle of a brutal four-game stretch with two other road games -- at Oregon and Arizona State -- and a home encounter against Pac-12 South contender Utah.

That third of the Stanford schedule may well make or break the Cardinal's season -- if a competitive two games right out of the gate vs. San Diego State and USC haven't already shaped the outlook for the campaign. One thing is certain: Stanford will be tested when it travels to Washington.

4. USC

Non-Conference: UNLV, at Texas, Notre Dame

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South Home: Colorado, Arizona State

South Road: Arizona, Utah, UCLA

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

USC never shies from playing a challenging slate, and in 2018 faces 11 Power 5 games. One could make a pretty solid case for USC having the most difficult schedule in the Pac-12, considering that non-conference dates against Texas and Notre Dame alone pits the Trojans against blue bloods with high ceilings in the coming campaign. The only deduction for USC comes from its draw in Pac-12 play.

While the Trojans play Stanford on the road, as well as the most likely competitor to the Pac-12 South throne, Utah, USC avoids Washington and Oregon in crossover competition.

5. Utah

Non-Conference: Weber State, at Northern Illinois, BYU

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South Home: Arizona, USC

South Road: UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado

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

Utah faces a more-than-manageable non-conference slate bereft of Power 5 opponents (though a trip to Northern Illinois early in the campaign screams trap game). That less vigorous non-league schedule is warranted, given the Utes face a brutal draw in Pac-12 play.

Not only is this Utah's year for more road Pac-12 games than home, the Utes face a schedule that includes all four of last season's top teams from the North: Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Washington State. Three of those mark Utah's first Pac-12 games, making for an ironic situation in which a potential Pac-12 South front-runner will have its standing determined early by teams from the North. In the South, Utah benefits from facing both Arizona and USC at home -- though the Arizona game comes on six days' rest after the Stanford matchup.

6. Colorado

Non-Conference: Colorado State (in Denver), at Nebraska, New Hampshire

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South Home: UCLA, Arizona State, Utah

South Road: USC, Arizona

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

Colorado benefits from the uneven Pac-12 schedule this year with five home games against four on the road, but the dates away from Boulder make this one of the most harrowing league dockets. The Buffaloes travel to likely preseason divisional favorites (and winners of the last two Pac-12 championships) USC and Washington in consecutive weeks.

Colorado also travels to Arizona for a Friday night tilt on short rest, hosting Oregon State in the most winnable conference date six days earlier. The Oregon State matchup is a potential trap, tucked in between that USC-Washington doubleheader, which are two games that can take a physical toll on Mike MacIntyre's team.

7. Oregon State

Non-Conference: at Ohio State, Southern Utah, at Nevada

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North Home: Washington State, Cal, Oregon

North Road: Washington, Stanford

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

Oregon State is the rare Power 5 conference program facing two road games in non-conference play this season. Starting from that disadvantage, the Beavers embark on a Pac-12 slate that features back-to-back road trips at Washington and Stanford. Kicking off that November stretch is a home date against USC.

Meanwhile, the Beavers' most winnable conference game (on paper) against fellow divisional last-place finisher, Colorado, is on the road.

8. Washington

Non-Conference: Auburn (in Atlanta), North Dakota, BYU

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North Home: Stanford, Oregon State

North Road: Oregon, Cal, Washington State

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

Washington's 2017 schedule earned plenty of flak, but the 2018 edition starts much stronger with a road game-parading-as-a-neutral-site-game vs. defending SEC West champion Auburn. That leads into a difficult first half of the schedule, with the Huskies traveling to Utah, UCLA and Oregon all before mid-October. Those dates away from Husky Stadium will determine if Washington is back in the College Football Playoff hunt after missing the chase a season ago.

9. Arizona

Non-Conference: BYU, at Houston, Southern Utah

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South Home: USC, Colorado, Arizona State

South Road: UCLA, Utah

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

Arizona enjoyed a surprising resurgence midway through the 2017 season, despite playing the road side of the Pac-12's uneven schedule. Kevin Sumlin inherits a veteran roster and the benefit of more Pac-12 games at home than on the road -- including what could be a high-profile date early vs. USC. That contest may well shape the Wildcats' outlook for contention in the South.

10. Washington State

Non-Conference: at Wyoming, San Jose State, Eastern Washington

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North Home: Oregon, Cal, Washington

North Road: Oregon State, Stanford

Crossover: at USC, Utah, at Colorado, Arizona

Washington State's unimpressive non-conference schedule and the good fortune of drawing some of the tougher Pac-12 dates at home makes for a manageable slate in 2018. The Cougars lose some of the key pieces from the program's resurgence over the past three seasons, but they should be halfway to bowl eligibility when the conference slate starts with a Friday night visit to USC in September.

Washington State gets its most daunting road game out of the way early. Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Washington all must win at Martin Stadium, which has proven a difficult task in recent years. Just ask last season's Pac-12 Championship Game participants, USC and Stanford.

11. California

Non-Conference: North Carolina, at BYU, Idaho State

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North Home: Oregon, Washington, Stanford

North Road: Oregon State, Washington State

Crossover: at Arizona, UCLA, at USC, Colorado

Cal faces a less imposing non-conference schedule than the one against which it went 3-0 a season ago. The Golden Bears should again roll into the Pac-12 slate undefeated, fresh from a bye week before the first league game, and with two of those three dates in Berkeley.

The Golden Bears' schedule breaks down in such a way that they start and finish with home games. That should result in a bowl-eligible record by season's end.

12. Oregon

Non-Conference: Southern Utah, Nebraska, at Wyoming

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North Home: Stanford, Washington

North Road: Cal, Washington State, Oregon State

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

Oregon's soft non-conference schedule leads into a Pac-12 slate that does have the Ducks on the road more than home, but is also void of defending Pac-12 champion USC. What's more, Oregon draws both Stanford and Washington at Autzen Stadium -- which gives the Ducks a chance at shaking up the Pac-12 North race dramatically.

-- Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.