We’re up to the Pac 12 in our nonconference schedule grades. This conference has missed the Playoff in two of its four years, and is second only to the Big 12 in its scheduling disadvantage. This means that a good nonconference schedule is important to Pac 12 schools in order to impress the selection committee, but there is far less margin for error so the potential extra losses are deadly. As always, a good schedule is a double-edged sword, but that is more true for the Pac 12 than other conferences. A bad reputation is hard to overcome. And, as far as the CFP is concerned, the Pac 12’s reputation isn’t good.
A few notes before I begin. First of all, this is a highly subjective process, because it has to be. I have general outlines, but every team has to be judged on its own merits. It would be foolish, for example, to expect the exact same schedules out of Alabama and Kansas. Obviously, a College Football Playoff contender has to be held to a higher standard.
Second of all, I will give a grade for each game and an overall grade. The overall grade is not simply an average of the individual grades. It is a grade in its own right looking at the totality of a team’s nonconference schedule. Every game against an FCS team earns an automatic F. But if a Power 5 team schedules one FCS team and two other really good games, the one FCS game won’t really hurt the overall grade.
Finally, the Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac 12 are relatively simple as to how to judge the schedules. There are only three games. I expect one game against a Power 5 team of relatively equal standing. The second game should be against at least a challenging Group of 5 team, and I’ll accept one cupcake as the third game. The ACC and SEC–who each play four nonconference games–present a very different challenge in grading.
Pac 12 South Nonconference Schedule Grades
Sept. 1st, BYU
Arizona opens with BYU, usually a strong game. The Cougars have dropped off in recent years, though, so this may not be the most valuable game when the season ends. It’s a great chance to showcase Khalil Tate’s explosiveness, though.
Sept. 8th, @Houston
I love all aspects of this game. It’s a chance for Arizona to recruit in Texas. It’s a good road game against a top Group of 5 team. And we get a full game of Houston’s Heisman hopeful (Ed Oliver) chasing around Arizona’s Heisman candidate (Khalil Tate). Sounds awesome.
Sept. 15th, Southern Utah
A Week 3 FCS team. Not a fan.
This schedule doesn’t have a P5 team on it, and I’m okay with that. The game against Houston may as well be, and even if BYU turns out to be a weak opponent this year, it’s still a tough team to schedule. It’s not like Arizona expects to challenge for the CFP or even a New Years’ Six Bowl, really–although avoiding Washington and Stanford in cross-divisional play means it isn’t out of the question.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Sept. 1st, Texas-San Antonio
UTSA might not be a total cupcake, but this shouldn’t be a particularly difficult game for the Sun Devils.
Sept. 8th, Michigan State
We’ll get a very early test of what Herm Edwards can do with this program when he hosts a CFP hopeful in Week 2. The Spartans might be a bit out of Arizona State’s league, but kudos for scheduling this.
Sept. 15th, @San Diego State
This game is more in Arizona State’s range. The Aztecs are a top Group of 5 team and almost always in the hunt for that New Years’ Six spot, though they haven’t made it yet. Still, this is a good road trip for the school and should be a good game for all college football fans. Plus, it’s always great when Power 5 teams play good Group of 5 schools.
Honestly, this schedule from Arizona State is both ambitious and perfect. 1-2 in nonconference play–and therefore no real chance at a bowl game–is very possible. But 3-0 or even 2-1 here will put the Sun Devils on the path to a very good season, especially the first under a new coach.
Sept. 1st, vs Colorado State (in Denver, CO)
This is one of the most underrated rivalries in college football. Colorado has been improving in recent years, but Colorado State has been a solid Group of 5 program in that span as well. And when both teams were awful, the rivalry was always enjoyable as well. I’m very happy with both teams for playing it
Sept. 8th, @Nebraska
This is a great series as well. The two former Big 12 rivals face off in the nonconference, and college football is better for it. With both the Big Ten and Pac 12 improving around them, each of these teams will need wins early on. I’m very excited for this game.
Sept. 15th, New Hampshire
I can’t really fault playing an FCS team in addition to those first two.
This is all I ever ask for. Colorado plays one cupcake, one good Group of 5 team, and one good P5 team. Well done. The only thing that keeps this from being an A+ is the FCS opponent.
Sept. 1st, Cincinnati
The Bearcats were recently a competitive Group of 5 team that was reportedly considered to be added to the Big 12. Now, though, they’re struggling and shouldn’t challenge good P5 teams. This will be a chance to see what Chip Kelly has set up this offseason.
Sept. 8th, @Oklahoma
The real early test for UCLA comes in Week 2. The Sooners are probably too much for the Bruins, but I’ll never complain about home-and-homes between traditional powers.
Sept. 15th, Fresno State
The Bulldogs looked better last year than any time since the Pat Hill era. We’ll find out if that’s going to last or just be a one-time thing in Jeff Tedford’s first season, but it’s not a bad at all game for UCLA to schedule.
There are two likely weak games on this schedule, but no true cupcake. That game against Oklahoma more than makes up for it. If Chip Kelly is going to make a splash in Year 1, this schedule definitely gives him a chance.
Sept. 1st, UNLV
The Rebels are actually improving under coach Tony Sanchez, but they’re still a cupcake for USC.
Sept. 15th, @Texas
The Longhorns may have been down a bit the past few years, but this is still a home-and-home between two blue bloods. There’s not much more exciting that can happen in the nonconference.
Nov. 24th, Notre Dame
Is there any better way to close the regular season than this USC/Notre Dame rivalry? Okay, there are, but only because Ohio State/Michigan and the Iron Bowl are also that weekend. But, at least looking at it now, this is a close third. Both teams could be out of the running by November, or we could witness a Thanksgiving weekend CFP qualifier.
Just like last year, USC is playing one of the toughest nonconference slates in the country. Last season ended with a Pac 12 title and a Cotton Bowl berth for the Trojans. Does this year hold even more in store? The schedule definitely will give them any benefit of the doubt that may be needed
Aug. 30th, Weber State
Games between P5 teams and an in-state FCS squad isn’t quite what fans look for in opening Thursday night games.
Sept. 8th, @Northern Illinois
The Huskies are usually a strong MAC squad with a history of knocking off Power 5 teams. Traveling to visit them is something I love to see. I wish more P5 schools would do things like this.
Nov. 24th, BYU
The Holy War is moving to the end of the season. and I love the idea.
There’s no P5 team on this schedule, but BYU is supposed to be close enough. That might not be true with the direction the Cougars are trending, but the road game to DeKalb makes up for it.