Pac-12 strength of schedule rankings: Bye week placement makes for tall orders from USC, Stanford

Scheduling matters more than ever before in the College Football Playoff era. As we've seen in the history of the CFP, it's one of the most significant factors in deciding who gets a shot to play for a national title and who does not. It's not just whether you win your conference, but who you play along the way. It's also proven that it's not just about who you have beaten, but who you lost to during the season.

We've already seen numerous examples of teams missing out on the playoff not just because of who they lost to, but which teams they never gave themselves a chance to beat.

So it only makes sense that we try to get an idea of which teams will play the more demanding schedules before the season even begins, and that's precisely what we've done. Now, it isn't a perfect process, but it's one I think gives us a good idea of what to expect. I'll explain.

Methodology: Essentially, what I do is look at which teams each program is playing, and how strong those teams have performed in my ranking system in past years. The history of a program is a better indicator of its future success than just about anything, though I did make a change this season.

In previous years I ranked programs based on how they fared the last five seasons. This year I've changed it to the last three seasons. Yes, the sample size is smaller, but what I noticed is that it's typically the same teams performing well over the last three as it was the previous five, but by changing it to three, it shows a bit more accuracy for the upcoming season. For example, playing UCF last season wasn't worth as much as it probably should have been when considering UCF's previous five seasons. Now, considering only the last three, UCF is much stronger. On the flip side, there's a program like Oregon, which is the No. 27 team overall over the previous five seasons but is only No. 47 in the last three. Considering the Ducks haven't finished any of the previous three seasons ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, that No. 47 ranking better reflects their overall strength at present than the previous five seasons ranking.

Finally, I consider other factors like where the game is played, as well as when it's played. For example, if you're playing Boston College on the road and it's your fifth game in five weeks, that's more difficult than if you were playing Boston College on the road following a bye. The same can be said if your opponent is coming off a bye while you've played a month straight. There's also the issue of playing on a short week.

I then crunch all the numbers, and in the end, I get something that gives us all a good idea of which teams are most likely to face the most difficult schedules in 2019.

And, without further ado, here are your 2019 Pac-12 strength of schedule rankings.

Pac-12 Strength of Schedule Rankings
1
The Pac-12 generally performs better than most teams in my projections because of the conference's nine-game conference schedule, as well as having nearly all of its teams playing at least one Power Five nonconference opponent. USC goes a bit further, however, as it doesn't play FCS schools, which is how it ends up with a noncon that includes Fresno State and road games against BYU and Notre Dame. Further complicating matters for the Trojans this year is that they will not have a bye until Oct. 5, and the season begins with Fresno, Stanford, at BYU, Utah and at Washington. That's not an easy way to start the season. Then, after the first bye, they hit the road for Notre Dame in the first of seven straight weeks before their second bye on the final weekend of the regular season. I don't quite understand what the Trojans are doing with their byes.
2
UCLA's noncon is headlined by a home date with Oklahoma, but includes a road trip to Cincinnati (which beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl last year) and a game against San Diego State. The Bruins open conference play with consecutive road games against Washington State and Arizona before returning home for Oregon State and finally taking their first bye of the season after six games. Their final six games will include road dates with Stanford, Utah and USC.
3
Stanford was punished a bit by circumstance in these projections. As mentioned, my projections are based upon how teams have performed the last three seasons, and while UCF is 25-1 the previous two seasons, the 6-7 season before it drags it down a little bit. Which helps explain how Stanford finishes third here despite having a noncon slate of Northwestern, at UCF and Notre Dame (the margins between the top three here are slim). Stanford also partakes in the Pac-12's ridiculous bye scheduling, as the Cardinal will have played games against Northwestern, USC, UCF, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington before finally taking a week off. Then it's two games, another bye week, and four straight with road trips to Colorado and Wazzu, as well as the rivalry game with Cal and the regular season finale against Notre Dame.
4
Finally, a team with a somewhat more typical schedule structure. Colorado's noncon includes its annual tilt with Colorado State in Denver, as well as home games against Nebraska and Air Force. The Buffs will take their first road trip to Arizona State before a bye week, and then things get tricky. After their bye, they'll play six straight against Arizona, Oregon, Washington State, USC, UCLA and Stanford. Oregon, Wazzu and UCLA are all road games. The Buffs will then take a second bye before finishing the season with Washington at home and a road trip to Salt Lake City.
5
We've now reached the portion of the program where the schedules get significantly more relaxed. Oregon State will open its season with a tough home game against Oklahoma State before a road trip to Hawaii (which is never an easy trip) and a home game against Cal-Poly. Then comes the first bye before conference play opens with Stanford at home, UCLA on the road, back home for Utah and a trip to Cal. That won't be easy, but the tougher stretch will be the final five weeks which feature Washington as well as road trips to Washington State and Oregon in consecutive weeks.
6
And now we're back to the ridiculous bye structures. Cal opens its season with UC-Davis before playing at Washington in Week 2. The rest of the noncon fills out the next two weeks against a tough North Texas team, and with a road game against Ole Miss. Then there are two more conference games (Arizona State, at Oregon) before the Bears finally have a bye! Then they play two games before the second bye. I do not get this at all. Anyway, the final four games of the season won't be fun, as it's home against Wazzu and USC before hitting the road for Stanford and UCLA.
7
Here's the most ridiculous bye placement of all. Want to know when Washington's first bye is? It's on Oct. 26, after the Huskies have already played eight games, or two-thirds of their regular season schedule. Those eight games will include USC, at Stanford and Oregon. Still, while that's not fun, the noncon featuring games against Eastern Washington, Hawaii and BYU doesn't allow this schedule to rank any higher than this.
8
Oregon would have finished just ahead of Washington if not for the Huskies ridiculous bye placement. Oregon's noncon is much more difficult as they'll open the season in Arlington against Auburn before returning home for Nevada and Montana. They then hit the road for the first time against Stanford before taking a bye in September (what a concept!) before the rest of Pac-12 play begins. Oregon then has two more difficult road games against Washington and USC, but they do get Wazzu in Eugene, as well as this year's Civil War.
9
Arizona will start the season in Week Zero against Hawaii in Honolulu, which is why they have a bye in August (faints). The rest of the noncon is Northern Arizona and Texas Tech before a second bye (faints again). Then it's a six-game stretch that features a murderous run of games against Washington, USC and Stanford in consecutive weeks, with both USC and Stanford on the road. That's followed with Oregon State and a third bye before the final three games against Oregon, Utah and Arizona State, with only Utah at home.
10
The Cougars have one of the weaker noncon slates in the conference, which hurts quite a bit in these rankings. They'll open the season with New Mexico State, Northern Colorado and Houston at a "neutral" site of NRG Stadium ... in Houston. Wazzu also subscribes to the "No Byes Before October" movement in the Pac-12, as it won't take a week off until Oct. 5 and will play both UCLA and at Utah beforehand. The schedule is mostly backloaded. Wazzu's final five games include their three major divisional clashes against Oregon, Stanford and Washington, with only Stanford making the trip to Pullman.
11
The Utes open the season with The Holy War in Provo against BYU, and then return home for easier games against Northern Illinois and Idaho State. Conference play begins with a road trip to USC and a home date with Wazzu before the first bye on Oct. 5. The Utes benefit slightly by avoiding both Oregon and Stanford from the North, but they will have to go on the road to face Washington.
12
This isn't an easy schedule by any stretch, but it finishes here due mostly to a noncon that includes Kent State, Sacramento State and a road trip to Michigan State. Michigan State doesn't carry as much weight this year, as the Spartans are only 20-18 the last three seasons. The Sun Devils also benefit by avoiding both Washington and Stanford from the North, as well as getting more difficult opponents like Wazzu, USC and Oregon in Tempe. The toughest road game on the schedule will be Utah in mid-October.
CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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