More and more each season, major college football teams are filling their non-conference schedules with patsy teams, frequently from the FCS division, in hopes of padding their win number and increasing their chances of making it to a bowl game. It wasn't very long ago that most good BCS level programs would schedule one, and sometimes even two games against other good programs from other conferences and then one game against a mid-major level school or a lower level school, but that with only a few schools like USC still holding onto this, it appears to be a thing of the past. Playing in these marquee non-conference games is simply too much of a risk for teams when one loss will usually eliminate a team from the national championship conversation or lower their chance of getting to bowl eligibility.
While playing it safe and scheduling these "gimme games" usually works out fine for teams in that they usually cruise to an easy win, avoid revealing too much of their playbook and get some playing time for younger guys, they open up the chance for epic embarrassment. These games can actually be lose, lose situations for good teams as they gain nothing by winning the game but can lose everything by slipping up and losing a game to an FCS team or a lower level FBS team. Everyone remembers when Michigan lost to Appalachian State in the Big House, but no one would have remembered that game had Michigan won by a couple of touchdowns.
Overall, the Pac-12 should be commended for being slower in adopting this trend than schools in other conferences, particularly the SEC, and schools like USC, UCLA and Washington have done a great job at holding onto tougher non-conference schedules (though it should be noted that Oregon's non-conference schedule this year is borderline offensive). Because of this, I feel that the conference has really limited the number of embarrassing non-conferences losses, but here are some that surely still stick in the minds of Pac-12 fans.
1. Montana State at Colorado, 2006
Dan Hawkins' first game in Boulder couldn't have gone any worse, as the Buffaloes lost to FCS Montana State 19-10. The Buffaloes were coming off a Big 12 North title, but were so bad on offense that they barely mustered 200 yards total and were torched through the air by Bobcat quarterback Cory Carpenter who went 23-31 for 229 yards with a touchdown. The game would serve as omen for things to come, as Colorado struggled throughout the Dan Hawkins era. This FCS loss gets the nudge for the top spot over Oregon State and Stanford's slip up because both of those teams lost on last second plays while the Buffaloes were taken down by a two possession score.
2. Sacramento State at Oregon State, 2011
The Beavers have been known to struggle in the early part of the season under Mike Riley but their early season struggles peaked in the 2011 opener, when they fell to FCS Sacramento State in overtime by one point. The Beavers astonishingly got behind 21-6 at halftime and recovered to send it to overtime, but would lose to the Hornets on a two-point conversion pass.
3. UC Davis at Stanford, 2005
Walt Harris was just beginning his astonishingly bad tenure in Palo Alto, but the Cardinal had no excuse for dropping a home game to the FCS school from just East of the Bay Area. Despite coming in 0-2 with losses to other FCS schools, the Broncos held the Cardinal without an offensive touchdown and limited them to less than 200 yards total. Despite falling behind 17-0 in the first half, UC Davis took advantage of an injury to Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards and scored 20 unanswered and won on a last second touchdown pass.
4. Stanford at San Jose State, 2006
The 2006 Stanford team was one of the worst to ever play in the conference and the one point loss they suffered down in San Jose was the worst they would suffer during their putrid season. The Spartans were regularly one of the worst FBS programs during the 2000's but were able to overcome deficits of 27-7 and 34-14 along with four touchdown passes from Trent Edwards to score three unanswered touchdowns and shock their Bay Area companions by a point. The Cardinal gave up an astonishing 342 yards on the ground to the Spartans in a loss that would spark their downtrodden season.
5. UNLV at Arizona State, 2008
This loss was especially shocking as the Sun Devils were highly touted early in the 2008 season, were actually ranked thirteenth in the country heading into the game and had just routed a somewhat respectable Stanford team the week before. UNLV would go on to only win two games in the Mountain West in 2008, but like many of the underdog teams on this list, staged a comeback to score the last thirteen points of the game and win by kicking a field goal in overtime and then blocking Arizona State's attempt to tie.
6. New Mexico at Arizona, 2007
This home loss to the Lobos actually ended up costing the Wildcats a bowl bid as the Wildcats fell 27-29 despite 446 yards passing and three touchdowns from quarterback Willie Tuitama. Three turnovers and more than 300 yards passing surrendered to the Lobos led to the Wildcats falling behind by 13 points in the third quarter and they were never able to recover with a late interception thrown by Tuitama sealing the deal.
7. Arizona at New Mexico, 2008
It was a painful home and home series with the Lobos for Arizona as they followed up their home loss in 2007 with a 28-36 loss in Albuquerque. This loss was slightly less embarrassing as it happened on the road, but even more confounding as the Wildcats went on to go 8-5 on the season and the Lobos stumbled to a 4-8 record.
8. Colorado at Toledo, 2009
Another embarrassing loss for Dan Hawkins as the Buffaloes gave up 54 points and more than 600 yards to the Rockets on their way to a 38-54 loss that was the low point of a terrible season in Boulder. The Buffaloes trailed their MAC Conference opponent by as much as 30 points at one point at couldn't even slow down Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt who tossed 4 touchdowns on the night.
9. Nevada at Washington, 2003
The Huskies were still regarded as possibly the most elite program other than USC in the conference when the Wolfpack rolled into Husky Stadium and came away with a 28-17 stunner in 2003. The tough loss would signal Washington's downfall which progressed through the decade. All-conference quarterback Cody Pickett tossed 3 interceptions while Nevada quarterback Andy Heiser looked unstoppable and led the Wolfpack out to a 17-point lead which they would hold onto to give the Huskies the most embarrassing loss ever suffered in Husky Stadium.
10. Navy at Stanford, 2006
While Navy did end up having a good team in 2006, a Pac-12 school should never get thrashed at home against a military academy the way that the Cardinal did in this 37-9 loss. The Cardinal gave up more than 300 yards rushing and were unable to score a single touchdown as they suffered just one of the many tough losses they experience during the 2006 season and during the Walt Harris era in Palo Alto.