The future outlook of the Pac-12 changed dramatically on Thursday, when news broke that UCLA and USC will depart the conference for the Big Ten in 2024 in a move set to dramatically alter the college sports landscape. But for now, the two Los Angeles schools have two more seasons to play with their old league.
Instead of the two Pac-12 division champions automatically facing each other in the conference title game this season, it will now be the two teams with the best winning percentage in conference games facing off, regardless of division. While it could still wind up as a North vs. South battle, there's at least a chance that the Pac-12 Championship Game could be a showdown between two foes from the same division.
With that change in mind, a deep dive on the league's schedule could yield some insights into how things will play out during the season ahead. Take USC, for example. Even if the Trojans lose at Utah on Oct. 15 and fall behind the Utes in the Pac-12 South standings, they could still navigate their way into a rematch in the conference title game. Given that USC's league schedule looks relatively manageable, it's a realistic possibility to consider.
It's a year of change in the league as new coaches enter at USC, Oregon and Washington with the cloud of UCLA and USC's future departure looming overhead. So, as the season approaches, it's time to get in the weeds a bit.
Which Pac-12 teams have the hardest schedules? Which caught some breaks that could make satisfactory seasons more likely? Here's our breakdown of each team's strength of schedule.
|There is absolutely nothing about Stanford's schedule that will make rebounding from last season's 3-9 season easy. A Week 1 game against Colgate is the only gimme on a schedule that features six true road games and a stretch of 10 straight games without a bye following Week 2. Stanford again has the misfortune of missing Pac-12 South bottom-feeders Arizona and Colorado and must play on the road against the likes of Washington, Oregon, UCLA and Utah. |
|Improving on last season's 4-8 mark will be challenging for Colorado, as the schedule only gets tougher for the Buffs this year. Last season, they fared 1-2 against nonconference foes Northern Colorado (win), Texas A&M (loss) and Minnesota (loss). This season, there is no pushover game, as the Buffs play vs. TCU, at Air Force and at Minnesota. A closing stretch of vs. Oregon, at USC, at Washington and vs. Utah in November is also daunting. |
|An Arizona team that was competitive throughout a 1-11 season under first-year coach Jedd Fisch in 2021 should be much improved, but the schedule brings little reprieve for a program seeking traction. Though the Wildcats play five Pac-12 home games, they have the misfortune of opening a sneaky tough nonconference slate at San Diego State, followed by home games against Mississippi State and North Dakota State. Squeaking out a single victory in that stretch might be a good outcome. With Oregon and Washington both on the schedule out of the Pac-12 North in consecutive weeks to begin October, things don't get much easier. Arizona will earn anything it gets out of this slate. |
|Oregon's first season under Dan Lanning begins in the most daunting way possible, as the Ducks travel to Atlanta to play defending national champion Georgia in what is technically a neutral site game, though in practicality it will be a heavily pro-UGA scene. With a Week 3 nonconference game against BYU also on the slate and five Pac-12 road games, there is nothing easy about this slate. Thankfully for Lanning, the Ducks do avoid USC in cross-division play. |
|This Oregon State schedule is annoyingly difficult, as it opens with testers vs. Boise State, at Fresno State and in a neutral-site game vs. respectable FCS foe Montana State. While OSU does get five Pac-12 home games, it must play both Pac-12 South favorites Utah and USC in cross-division play. The Beavers beat both of them last season on their way to an LA Bowl appearance. This program will have earned it yet again if they are going to make a repeat appearance in the postseason. |
|With six true road games, including a tricky opener at Florida, Utah has its work cut out for it in the quest to replicate last season's Pac-12 title run. However, the Utes managed to win the league even after going 1-2 in nonconference games, so a loss to the Gators wouldn't doom their season. |
|Despite posting a 1-2 record against the nonconference trio of Utah State, Portland State and BYU last season, Washington State still managed to finish the regular season 7-5. The Cougars should go 2-1 against Idaho, Wisconsin and Colorado State in nonconference play this season and get back on the track to bowl eligibility. Playing USC and Utah out of the Pac-12 South is undesirable, but this isn't the worst schedule since it does include five Pac-12 home games. |
|Arizona State should go 2-1 vs. Northern Arizona, at Oklahoma State and vs. Eastern Michigan in nonconference play, which would match its 2-1 non-league record from last season's 8-4 campaign. From there, the Sun Devils are fortunate to miss Oregon in cross-division play but must play five league road games. However, the only consecutive road games on ASU's schedule are against a manageable duo of Stanford and Colorado in October. A three-game stretch against Utah, USC and Washington to close the first half of the season is tough. |
|Like Washington out of the Pac-12 North, USC failed to capitalize on a favorable league schedule last season but will get another chance in 2022 under a new coach. With Oregon and Washington both absent from the slate in cross-division action, the Trojans will have no schedule-related excuses for failing to show dramatic improvement from last season's 4-8 mark. Nonconference games against Fresno State and Notre Dame won't be easy, but both are at home. Playing five league road games is not ideal, but the only consecutive road games on USC's schedule are separated by a bye week on Oct. 22. |
|Cal plays five league home games and avoids Utah in cross-division action, making this a relatively favorable league slate for the Bears. Though a game at Notre Dame on Sept. 17 looks like an insurmountable nonconference challenge, Cal should be 2-0 entering that contest after opening with UC Davis and UNLV. |
|Washington failed to capitalize on a favorable schedule last season that featured five league home games and did not include USC or Utah out of the Pac-12 South. The Huskies again miss the Utes and Trojans in cross-division play and open against Kent State and Portland State in two games that should be stress-free victories. While a game against Michigan State in Week 3 will be challenging, it's at home. All told, this is a manageable schedule for first-year coach Kalen DeBoer, and Washington should be able to reach bowl eligibility after last season's 4-8 fiasco. |
|UCLA plays eight true home games and should have no trouble breezing through a nonconference slate of Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama to begin the regular season. The Bruins also catch a break with a bye between tough games against Utah and at Oregon in the middle of the schedule. Everything about this schedule sets up for the Bruins to match or improve upon last season's 8-4 mark. |