Wide open in the Pac-12 South
July 1, 2013
By Joe Nelson
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Pac-12 North Preview
2013 PAC-12 South - Schedule Outlook
The college football season is less than two months away, the schedule is set and there are some great disparities within each conference that will impact the conference races. The Pac-12 South was a tight race last season as the heavy favorite USC stumbled and it should be an interesting race again this season. Take a look at the schedules ahead in the Pac-12 South in 2013.
Rich Rodriguez led an upstart season for the Wildcats last season, finishing 8-5 with a bowl win after a tough 4-8 2011 season. The schedule played a huge role in the disparities between those records and this season Arizona again draws a relatively favorable path. Five of nine Pac-12 games will be on the road but missing Stanford on the schedule is certainly a break and several of the biggest games will be at home. Arizona has a very light non-conference schedule that should ensure a strong start and bye weeks before big road games at Washington and at USC could help the cause for a possible upset. Arizona will need to replace some key players on offense but another solid season could be ahead.
Conference Misses: Oregon State and Stanford
Toughest Back-to-Back: The Wildcats will have a tough finish to the season hosting Oregon in late November and then closing the season at Arizona State. A lot could be on the line for the Wildcats who could have a record that has them in contention in this division, especially if they find a way to win at USC early in the season. Arizona will play back-to-back road games in the middle of the year but this late season set should provide the biggest tests of the year.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: Arizona will play one of the weaker non-conference slates in the conference with home games with Northern Arizona and Texas-San Antonio, leaving a road trip to UNLV as the biggest non-conference test in week 2, even though Arizona should be a solid road favorite in that game.
Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils started the Pac-12 season 3-0 last year but four consecutive losses dropped them out of the picture. Arizona State has an experienced team back in action and while the overall schedule is tougher this season with two huge non-conference games, the Pac-12 slate lines up nicely featuring the notable omission of Oregon. Arizona State will need to be ready to go early in the year as after an opener against FCS Sacramento State there will be four straight very tough games. It is truly a gauntlet for the Sun Devils playing Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks in late September and early October. It could be smooth sailing after that however and Arizona State will play five of nine Pac-12 games at home.
Conference Misses: California and Oregon
Toughest Back-to-Back: The aforementioned four-game stretch early in the season could be sliced in a number of ways to find the toughest two-game set but the two conference games will be the most critical, playing at Stanford for the first road game of the season and then following that game up with a huge home contest against USC. The Trojans beat Arizona State soundly last season and the Sun Devils have not played Stanford since they nearly upset then #7 Stanford in 2010.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: A big early season game with Wisconsin will be a huge game in Tempe but the chance to play Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium will certainly be a game the team is looking forward to all season even though it comes at the end of a stretch of very tough games.
After a 1-11 season there is nowhere to go but up for Colorado and Mike MacIntyre takes over the program after engineering a successful turnaround at San Jose State. Colorado does miss Stanford on the schedule but they also do not get to play Washington State this year and the Cougars provided Colorado's only win last season. Five of nine games will be on the road for Colorado and the non-conference schedule has two challenging games as well. It is a very tough slate of home games for Colorado featuring Oregon, Arizona, and USC visiting Boulder so the opportunity for a quick turnaround is likely limited.
Conference Misses: Stanford and Washington State
Toughest Back-to-Back: Following up the homecoming game with Arizona, a game that will have a bye week preceding it, Colorado will play back-to-back road games at UCLA and at Washington. While there may be tougher games on the schedule that will be a difficult set of road games with long travel that could take a greater toll late in the season.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: The opener in Denver against Colorado State will be critical. MacIntyre could gain instant credibility if he can win that game and move back to the top of the ladder in the Rocky Mountain State college football landscape. Colorado State won in the rivalry last season and has some promising pieces in place this year but a win would be a great way to provide a spark for the program.
Despite producing mediocre records both years it has been UCLA representing the Pac-12 South in the first two years of the Pac-12 championship game. The Bruins did not win either of those games but they played reasonably well, covering as heavy underdogs in both chances. There is a lot to like about what UCLA is bringing back in Jim Mora's second season in Los Angeles but a very difficult schedule is waiting and will make another championship run a tough task. UCLA plays five road games and two of those games will be against the top two from the North, Stanford and Oregon. The game with USC is also on the road and the non-conference schedule won't offer any easy outs.
Conference Misses: Oregon State and Washington State
Toughest Back-to-Back: It could not get any tougher in this conference as the Bruins have to play Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks in October with both of those games coming on the road. UCLA will play all nine Pac-12 games in consecutive weeks without a bye week so the late season games will also be challenging but it is certainly hard to imagine the Bruins sweeping this brutal October set and it will be very hard to avoid a 0-2 hit in the conference race.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: An opener against Nevada will be an important challenge but a week 3 game at Nebraska will be a huge national game and a showcase opportunity for the conference. UCLA won 36-30 at home in a minor upset last season so the challenge could be greater this year in Lincoln but a win would propel the Bruins to forefront of this division.
Despite being a very popular national title pick USC slogged through an ugly 7-6 campaign last season, going just 5-4 in conference play. Injuries played a role but so far the Lane Kiffin era has offered quite a bit of disappointment. Things could line up nicely for USC this season however as they do not have to play Oregon and they draw Stanford at home. USC gets five of nine conference games at home and the non-conference slate is manageable. Playing at Hawaii to open the season will give USC an extra game this season and there are six road games on the schedule but overall this is favorable slate in this division.
Conference Misses: Oregon and Washington
Toughest Back-to-Back: The toughest set of games may come late in the season with back-to-back road games at Oregon State and then at California. While USC may be favored in both games neither will be an easy draw at that point in the season and a huge home game with Stanford could create a look-ahead situation for the second game in Berkeley. While this schedule lines up well for USC, there are definitely no breaks or weak FCS foes like many of the other prominent national programs will have included in their schedules.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: As usual the biggest game will be with Notre Dame. Last season that match came at the end of the year with the world on the line for the Irish while USC was stumbling through an ugly season and playing without its starting quarterback. It will be a much bigger game for USC this season being played in the middle of the year and on the road.
Utah has enjoyed one of the best schedules in the Pac-12 in its first two years in the conference but the Utes failed to take advantage, going just 8-5 in 2011 and really struggling last season with an ugly 5-7 finish to snap a long bowl streak. Utah will have a schedule featuring three four-game blocks separated with bye weeks and it will be a challenging slate with difficult road games. Five of nine conference games will be at home but the North draw is tough with Oregon and Stanford both on the map. Non-conference games with Utah State and BYU keeps this schedule relatively tough overall and it may be difficult for the Utes to make a big jump in improvement.
Conference Misses: California and Washington
Toughest Back-to-Back: The toughest month of the season will be in October as the Utes host UCLA and Stanford in back-to-back weeks including a primetime Thursday night game and then the homecoming game. Yes, the homecoming game will be against Stanford, a program that has gone 35-5 the last three years finishing high in the national rankings. Following up that game will be a back-to-back road game set and that will be at Arizona and then at USC, two very tough games in what could be a problematic stretch in the schedule.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: While they are no longer conference rivals, Utah and BYU will face off in Provo in late September. Last season Utah held on for a narrow win, the third in a row in the series but it could be a tougher game this year and it will follow-up the conference opener for the Utes which could be less than ideal.
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