A few Pac-12 schools made an appearance on some Big Ten non-conference schedules, so naturally we’ll go out West to rank the Pac-12 and their own 2013 non-conference schedules.
A few schedules stand apart from the rest, but with no clear favorite to win the Pac-12, the non-conference games could play a key part in building momentum for a dark horse going into conference play.
Below is each Pac-12 school’s 2013 non-conference slate, counting down from the weakest to the toughest in the league.
12. Arizona Wildcats
Rich Rodriguez has never been a fan of tough out of conference games, and this lineup proves that to be just a little bit more factual. Two of these teams are FBS programs, but give yourself a pat on the back if you know what “UTSA” stands for. The toughest game on this schedule is on the road against a two win team from last year, UNLV. There’s no argument that UNLV should be higher on this list. Arizona easily has the weakest out of conference schedule in the league.
11. Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State did not have the same mindset that their arch rival did when they were scheduling these games. Wisconsin came to town last year, and it fueled a pretty good season for the Beavers, but they won’t get that this year by kicking off against Eastern Washington. Playing in Qualcomm Stadium against the Aztecs won’t be an automatic W, either. SDSU was a nine win team a year ago, and will probably give Oregon State everything they’ve got after their bye week. Anything less than a 3-0 start will be a disappointment in Corvallis.
10. Colorado Buffaloes
There are two reasons this schedule is tough: Colorado State is a rival, and Fresno State’s mascot has the best name of all mascots, ever. Central Arkansas should be a victory, even though the Buffaloes only had one win last year and lost to FCS Sacramento State. Colorado is easily the worst team in the Pac-12, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go 1-2 in the non-conference. Just being competitive is key for Colorado to get their feet under them this season. For the record, the Fresno State’s mascots’ name is Victor E. His middle initial is E! Now, that’s funny.
9. Washington State Cougars
An SEC team! This schedule is stacked! The Cougars are going to get blown out! Settle down now, please. Keep in mind this is the same Auburn team that went 3-9 and winless in conference play last year. Not exactly “S-E-C” chant worthy. That’s why this schedule is so low. Not only is there a lower-level SEC team on it, but also a one-win Idaho Vandal team, not to mention an FCS foe. While Auburn will definitely be better this year, it doesn’t hold enough merit by itself to bump this schedule any higher. Washington State could start the season 3-0, but 2-1 is more likely.
8. Utah Utes
Washington State and Utah’s schedule flip-flopped in this position for a solid 10 minutes. Ultimately, I didn’t let the SEC label scare me into putting them ahead of the Utes. The bottom line is Utah State at home and traveling to Provo is tougher than hosting Idaho and traveling to Auburn. Not to mention that both of these games are the Utes’ two biggest rivals. That always makes a schedule harder. Utah State is going for two in a row for the first time since ’96-’97, so you know they’ll give the Utes their best shot. BYU, however, will probably need to score more than six points to get their first win in the Holy War since ’09. Utah could quite possibly start out the season 1-2, and that would not qualify as momentum for the conference schedule.
7. Washington Huskies
Boise State quietly went 10-2 in the regular season last year. Also, Boise beat Washington in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. On the other hand, Illinois had a very forgettable season in the Big Ten, going winless and 2-10 overall. Illinois will be better this year, but as of now this only qualifies as the 7th best schedule in the conference. Idaho State should be an easy win, and 2-1 should be expected from Washington.
6. Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks planned for the future very well when they set these games up. They get the credit for stepping out of conference and playing the big names, however these two big name schools haven’t been relevant in the FBS in quite a few years. Combined, these three schools had a total of ten wins last year. I give Oregon more credit than they probably deserve, but this schedule shouldn’t provide too many issues unless there are some major improvements from a year ago in Charlottesville and Knoxville.
5. UCLA Bruins
Three very solid opponents lands UCLA at sixth in the schedule rankings. UCLA outlasted Nebraska in a thriller last year, but now they have to travel to one of the hardest places to win in the nation in Memorial Stadium. UCLA would like to go 3-0 out of conference, but one slip in each game could have them on the losing end of things. 2-1 is much more likely.
4. Stanford Cardinal
San Jose is a frequent in Pac-12 country as a non-conference opponent, and they are getting better because of it. The Cardinal only beat SJSU by three last year, and they are going to have to face the pesky Spartans again, making this no easy game. Going to West Point shouldn’t be a problem, but playing Notre Dame is going to be tough. What makes it even tougher is the game is a week after California comes to town for what could be a huge game in deciding the Pac-12. Being tired after an already tough schedule will not help matters for the Cardinal.
3. USC Trojans
This schedule was hard to rank. Although there are four FBS schools (USC plays an extra game since they travel to Hawaii), Boston college had two wins last year and could easily be the worst team on the slate. But this isn’t your Dad’s Utah State team. The Aggies were five points away from going undefeated last year. The Trojans should enjoy their vacation to kick off the season in Hawaii as it should be an easy game as well, albeit on the road. The toughest contest is going to be in South Bend when they take on Notre Dame for the Jeweled Shillelagh. USC has won nine of the last 11 against the Irish, but Notre Dame will be looking to win consecutive games in the series for the first time since ’00-’01.
2. California Golden Bears
The only reason this schedule is number two on the list is because Arizona State has a neutral site game and both of California’s are at home. Two ten win teams on the slate add up to a pretty tough schedule. Ohio State was also the only undefeated team in the nation last year that didn’t play for a national title and they are only expected to be better this year. However, the Buckeyes only beat Cal by seven last year in Columbus. A win there for California over Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, and company would be a huge momentum builder and perhaps push them to be the aforementioned dark horse Pac-12 title contender.
1. Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State and California both put together exceptional non-conference slates this year, but the Sun Devils barely edged the Golden Bears out. A quick warm up with Sacramento State opens the schedule with an easy win, and then the Badgers of Wisconsin come to town. Don’t expect the Badgers to play as bad this year as they did at Oregon State last year. Also, while losing some talent, the Fighting Irish’s signal caller is still in South Bend and should put on some fireworks for the fans at Cowboys Stadium. Arizona State has two high profile games, and they would be in great shape heading into conference play if they can come out of this slate with a 2-1 record. Hopefully that loss isn’t to Sacramento State.
Clayton Tinkle is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tink_CFB.