Pac 12 South Schedule Breakdown
College football is just a few weeks away and this year we have a few new divisions to think about. The Pac-12 added two teams this season and split into two divisions and those moves will bring about big changes. The biggest difference is the scheduling as the Pac-10 will no longer feature a true round-robin schedule, and with a nine-game conference slate there are some big disparities in the various schedules. Here is a look at the Pac-12 North and how scheduling could impact the final standings.
California Golden Bears: California was going to be in a tough scheduling situation this year to begin with as stadium construction is moving all home games to AT&T Park in San Francisco so the Bears will not feature some of the advantages of having home games right on campus. The Bears also will have to play ten Pac-12 teams this season with an early season game against Colorado being designated as a non-conference game. The only team California misses from the conference is Arizona. Six of those ten games including five counting towards the conference standings will be road games. The opening ‘home’ game of the season will also be played at Candlestick Park so the October 15 ‘home’ game against USC will be the first of the season against a FBS team in the temporary home stadium. Cal does have winnable home games however with Utah, Washington State, and Oregon State visiting but the road schedule is very tough. The opener against Fresno State is not a game to overlook so the game against FCS Presbyterian will be the only real break on the schedule. Cal does have a bye week before the big game at Oregon in early October but the draw from the South division is a tough one and overall the Bears will face a challenging schedule, especially given the lack of a true home game. Coming off the worst season in Jeff Tedford’s tenure the Bears could have a tough time rebounding even though there is some promising talent on the squad.
Oregon Ducks: Oregon has established itself as an elite program with back-to-back BCS Bowls but the Ducks have last season’s 3-point loss in the BCS Championship game lingering. The 2011 schedule is a tough one and with the addition of the Pac-12 championship game going undefeated through the conference will be even more difficult. An undefeated year for Oregon will face a major hurdle right off the bat, playing LSU in Texas to start the season in a huge game with major season-long implications. The Pac-12 draw for Oregon is not bad but they have to play at Stanford, as the Ducks and Cardinal figure to be the top teams in this division. Oregon gets five of nine conference games at home and other than the trip to Stanford the rest of the road slate looks manageable. Oregon does draw Arizona State and USC from the South division but both games will be at home. UCLA and Utah are missing from the schedule for the Ducks and the bye week is early in the year, the first weekend in October. Oregon also has to play Nevada in the non-conference slate but that game is not as difficult as it might look as the Wolf Pack should drop off considerably from last year’s 13-1 team. If Oregon wins the opener they have to join the national title conversation although there will be several more challenges ahead, most notably Stanford and USC in back-to-back games in November as well as the potential conference championship game.
Oregon State Beavers: In recent years it has generally been safe to assume that Oregon State will have one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Beavers are again challenging themselves with non-conference games against Wisconsin and BYU. The opener against Sacramento State is the only break on the schedule as the Beavers have a tough path ahead in the conference schedule and filling the Pac-12 off date with the BYU game will not make things any easier. Oregon State does not have to play USC this season for a slight break on the schedule although they also miss a Colorado team that most expect to struggle a bit. Oregon State is playing four Pac-12 home games and four Pac-12 road games as the match-up with Washington State will be played in Seattle. Oregon State had a rare losing season last year and the Beavers will likely be in the battle for the third spot in this division along with California and Washington. While this will still be a very difficult schedule, it should be an easier slate than the Beavers had last season when they played both TCU and Boise State. The Beavers played four teams that ended up ranked in the Top 10 last season and played five top ten teams at the time they played them. They have three teams ranked in the top ten on the schedule at the moment and while it is not an easy schedule, this program has been through worse.
Stanford Cardinal: A coaching change can be a big challenge for a program but Stanford expects a smooth transition as they look to get back to another BCS bowl game. Stanford has a relatively easy non-conference schedule with San Jose State and Duke in the first two games before a potentially tricky opener at Arizona. That game comes after cross country travel so it may be an upset possibility to keep an eye on. Stanford does not have to play Arizona State or Utah from the South division and they get to host Oregon in what could be a huge late season showdown. Stanford has to go to USC however and the finale against Notre Dame could be another difficult game. Stanford has five of the nine conference games at home and another double-digit win season is certainly a possibility although there are a handful of games that the Cardinal could lose. Twice this season the Cardinal have to play back-to-back road games which can be a challenge given some of the distances traveled in the conference. Stanford should get off to a strong start to the season as most of the toughest games come late in the year so the Cardinal may be a team that can thrive in a transition season.
Washington Huskies: The Huskies may be an overlooked team in the Pac-12 despite strong depth and returning talent on the roster. Gone is QB Jake Locker so there will be some challenges this season and Washington will only play four true home games on the conference slate although a game at Qwest Field will be a very advantageous neutral site. Washington must play Nebraska for the third time in about a year as they met twice last season so that will be a very challenging non-conference game and a early season home game against an explosive Hawaii team could be tricky. Washington misses UCLA and Arizona State but overall the road schedule is a very tough one, facing Nebraska, Utah, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State on the road. It would not be a surprise for Washington to lose all five of those games as they are historically tough venues and each program should have a good team this season. The home schedule features Oregon so it will be tough to sweep the home games but overall Washington can’t feel too bad about this draw in the first year of the Pac-12.
Washington State Cougars: As if Washington State did not have a tough enough time competing in the Pac-12, they now will face a schedule with just three conference home games. The Cougars are playing two games in Seattle this season so there will be a lot of travel for a team that is somewhat isolated geographically in the conference. Washington State has one of the easiest non-conference schedules as they will face Idaho State and UNLV before heading to San Diego State. The Cougars could win all three of those games this year but winning in the conference will be difficult. Washington State misses Arizona and USC on the schedule but it appears that the most favorable opportunities in conference play will come on the road. Washington State has just two conference wins the last three years and it will again be a difficult prospect this season although most expect a more competitive team for the Cougars. Washington State played within ten points three times last season in conference play as well as winning at Oregon State so there is progress being made slowly in Pullman.