What sets the Pac-12 (and Big 12) apart from the other Power Fives is its members play three non-league games opposed to four. Though this makes the non-conference schedule easier to manage, it means that they must play an additional Power opponent, only in this case that foe hails from its own conference.
Like the Big Ten—and as opposed to the SEC and ACC—the Pac-12 has a substantial number of members not playing FCS teams. Where the ACC has every school squaring off with an FCS school, the SEC has all but one member playing such a game. The Big Ten, on the other hand, has only seven of its members (or half) playing a FCS opponent while the Pac-12 has eight, meaning four won’t face a lower-level program.
Here’s a look at the Pac-12 non-league schedules, top to bottom. In the race for the North division crown look for Washington to have an edge to go 3-0 in non-league play vs. Stanford or Oregon, both with tougher slates. In the South, Arizona’s non-Pac-12 line-up could be the competitive edge it needs to launch it back into contention again.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: UTSA, at Nevada, FCS Northern Arizona
Arizona is one of three Pac-12 teams that won’t play a Power-Five opponent out of conference. The only winning FBS foe the Wildcats will face is Nevada, a team that went 7-6 last season.
The last time Arizona scheduled a regular season game vs. a non-conference Power Five was in 2012 when it hosted No. 18 Oklahoma State and won 59-38.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Hawaii, UMass, Colorado State (in Denver, Col.), FCS Nicholls State
Like Arizona, Colorado also doesn’t have a Power-Five scheduled out of Pac-12 play. But, the Buffs draw 10-3 Colorado State rather than 7-6 Nevada and they have to travel to Hawaii for the opener.
Colorado and Colorado State have split the last four games, the Rams winning 31-17 last season in Denver. The Buffs haven’t had a Power-Five team out of conference since 2011 when they traveled to Ohio State and lost 37-17.
Overall, Colorado’s four non-conference foes (it is the only Pac-12 school with four) combined for a 17-33 (34%) mark in 2014, the lowest in the league.
10. Washington State
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Portland State, at Rutgers, Wyoming
What saves Washington State’s non-league slate is its road trip to Rutgers, a Big Ten team that went 8-5 last season, including a 41-38 win over the Cougars in Seattle.
Other than that, WSU draws 3-9 FCS Portland State and 4-8 Wyoming.
The Cougars haven’t played a game on the East Coast since 1996 when they traveled to Philadelphia and beat Temple 38-34.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Boise State, FCS Sacramento State, Utah State
Though Washington doesn’t have a Power Five out of Pac-12 play in 2015, they do have Boise State (in Boise) and Utah State, teams that combined for a 22-6 record last season.
In fact, the Huskies are the only Pac-12 school that will play all its non-conference games against winning teams, the combined mark of 29-11 (72.5%) is the best in the league.
All that said, Washington is 2-1 all-time vs. Boise State (the only loss coming via a 28-26 decision in the 2012 Las Vegas Bowl), 2-0 vs. Utah State and has never played FCS Sacramento State.
8. Oregon State
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Weber State, at Michigan, San Jose State
Oregon State’s entire ranking comes down to its road trip to Michigan. Other than that it’s 2-10 FCS Weber State and 3-9 San Jose State. Combined with the Wolverines 5-7 finish in 2014, that makes the Beavers the only Pac-12 team that won’t play a non-league game vs. a winning opponent.
But, keep in mind that before Utah’s 26-10 win over Michigan last season the last non-Big Ten team to win in the Big House was Toledo, who rolled into town in 2008 and shocked the world with a 13-10 victory.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: Michigan, Utah State, at Fresno State
Utah draws three solid non-conference foes this season: Michigan, a team that based on its talent pool underperformed to a 5-7 finish last season, 10-3 Utah State and 6-8 Fresno State.
Plus, it is one of the four Pac-12 teams without an FCS team on their schedule.
The last time Utah didn’t play an FCS opponent was in 2010 when it faced No. 15 Pitt, San Jose State, Iowa State and Notre Dame out of Mountain West play and finished the season 10-3.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: Virginia, at UNLV, BYU
What gives UCLA’s non-Pac-12 slate a lift is its date with BYU, an independent team that would compete well in any of the Power Five leagues.
What hurts it is the combined record of its three opponents: 15-23 (39%).
The Bruins haven’t faced BYU since 2008, a game they lost 59-0 in Provo. UCLA’s last win over the Cougars came in the 2007 regular season, a 27-17 victory in L.A.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: Arkansas State, Idaho, at Notre Dame
In 2015 USC has its easiest non-conference slate since 1999 when it faced Hawaii, San Diego State, Louisiana Tech and Notre Dame.
Other than the road trip to South Bend, where the Trojans haven’t won since 2011, it’s 7-6 Arkansas State and 1-10 Idaho. Arkansas State has only faced a Pac-12 program once, in 2012 when it fell 57-34 to Oregon in Eugene. Idaho is 0-8 all-time against USC and hasn’t beaten a Pac-12 team since edging Washington State 38-34 in 2000.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: Texas A&M (at Houston, Texas), FCS Cal Poly, New Mexico
While Arizona State’s 2015 opener vs. Texas A&M is officially billed as a neutral game, it’s key to remember that Houston’s NRG Stadium is only 99 miles away from the Aggies’ home turf, Kyle Field.
It’s the first time the Sun Devils will open up on the road since 2002 when they traveled to Nebraska and got drilled 48-10 by the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Grambling State, San Diego State, at Texas
What gives Cal’s non-league slate the slightest edge over Arizona State’s is it’s true road trip to Austin to face Texas and it’s game vs. San Diego State, a team that finished 2014 7-6 vs. the Sun Devils’ contest with New Mexico, who went 4-8.
The Golden Bears have faced the Longhorns five times and never won. The last meeting came in the 2011 Holiday Bowl (a 21-10 loss) and the most recent regular-season match was in 1970, a game Cal dropped 56-15 in Austin.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: FCS Eastern Washington, at Michigan State, Georgia State
Not only will the Ducks travel across country to face Michigan State in East Lansing, they’ll host FCS Eastern Washington, a team that went 11-3 last season including advancing to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. It’s the same program that lost 59-52 to Washington in Seattle last season and upset Oregon State 49-46 in Corvallis in 2013.
The only “lock” is Georgia State, a squad that went 1-11 last season and has never beaten an FBS opponent in the five-year history of its program.
2015 Non-Conference Opponents: at Northwestern, UCF, Notre Dame
Though Stanford’s three non-Pac-12 opponents in 2015 combined for a 22-16 (58%) record last season—third best in the conference—it’s clearly got the toughest slate.
First, Stanford gets Northwestern, on the road. The Wildcats may have slumped to 5-7 last season but the win column included victories over Penn State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
Next up its UCF, arguably the most dangerous non-Power team in the land. The Knights are fresh off their second straight conference championship and just a year away from beating Baylor 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Last, you’ve got Notre Dame. Sure, they finished last season 8-5 but they’ve beaten the Cardinal two of the last three times the two have met, the last three outcomes decided by an average of six points.
Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.