It won't be easy for Jim Mora to follow up his fantastic first season at UCLA with the schedule that the Bruins face. The Bruins have to play at Stanford and Oregon on back-to-back weeks and finish their season with six out of their seven final games against teams that went to bowls in 2012, and four of those are on the road. The Bruins also have a tough road game out-of-conference at Nebraska and a decent opener against Nevada, who has been known to sneak up on Pac-12 teams.
It's going to be a tough road for Sonny Dykes to have a great season in his first effort in Berkeley due to what is the second-toughest schedule in the conference. The Bears draw both of the Pac-12's best teams (Oregon and Stanford), on the road and host a pre-season Top 5 Ohio State team, and a likely pre-season Top 25 Northwestern, out-of-conference.
It's a big, big season for Steve Sarkisian and he is going to have to have his team firing on all cylinders if he hopes to finally break the seven-win barrier that he has been stuck on for the past three years because it's not an easy slate for the Huskies. They face a particularly tough opening run of Pac-12 play as they start with games against Arizona, at Stanford, Oregon and at Arizona State in consecutive weeks. The non-conference portion of their schedule isn't a nightmare, but they open against Boise State, who plays better out-of-conference than any program in the country.
The Utes don't play an FBS team that didn't make a bowl in 2012 until the second to last week of the season when they have to head up to frigid Pullman to play Washington State. The Utes miss neither Oregon or Stanford and play two tough rivalry games out of conference against Utah State and at BYU.
5. Arizona State
The Sun Devils dodge a bullet by avoiding Oregon, but do have to play at Stanford and have maybe the most difficult non-conference schedule of anyone in the conference. The Sun Devils get the majority of the other contenders in the Pac-12 South (USC, UCLA and Arizona) at home, but those games against Notre Dame and Wisconsin will not be easy.
The Cardinal suffer a little bit of weakness in their schedule by being strong themselves as they mainly play weaker teams than themselves, but still, the Cardinal have a strong schedule. The Cardinal got a pretty good in-conference draw though, as they get Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Arizona State at home, but they do have to travel to USC and Oregon State. Also, a non-conference slate that includes their annual game with Notre Dame and a game against resurgent San Jose State helps make up for a softer in-conference slate just a bit.
It's a make-or-break season for Lane Kiffin and the good news in-conference is that they avoid Oregon and Washington and they get two out of the three other contenders in the South at home (USC, Arizona, at Arizona State). The Trojans also have a solid non-conference portion of their schedule that includes a road trip to South Bend and mid-level challenges against Hawaii, Boston College and Utah State.
8. Washington State
The toughest draw for the Cougars, who desperately need every win they can get, miss Colorado and open with two tough road games at Auburn and USC. Their season will probably hinge on how they do against two of the Pac-12's other weaker teams when they play at Cal and at home against Utah.
9. Oregon State
The Beavers have the friendliest in-conference opening of anyone in the Pac-12, as they open with Utah, Colorado, Washington State and Cal. It's a murderer's row after that, but the Beavers could easily be undefeated deep into October as their non-conference schedule is somewhat light too, with their only really challenging game being at San Diego State.
Kind of hard to analyze the Buff's schedule accurately, since almost every game for them is a tough game. They dodged one bullet by missing Stanford, but also got a couple of tough draws in missing Washington State and getting Utah on the road what is probably their closest to winnable in-conference game. They have a good draw out of conference though, as they could win any of their games with Fresno State and Central Arkansas coming to town and Colorado State in Denver.
To be fair, a big part of the reason of why the Ducks are so far down the list is because, like Stanford, they suffer from their own power, in that they can't play themselves. Outside of that, the Ducks have a pretty average Pac-12 schedule, but did get a decent draw in missing two South contenders in USC and Arizona State. The Ducks stepped up their non-conference schedule with games at Virginia and against Tennessee, but neither are tough enough games to pull their overall strength too much higher.
The Wildcats got a good in-conference draw, and topped it off with the conference's easiest non-conference slate. The Wildcats dodge Stanford and Oregon State and have a nice middle chunk of their in-conference schedule that pits them against Utah, Cal, Colorado and Washington State. The Wildcats also have one of the weakest non-conference schedules in recent Pac-12 history as they play Northern Arizona and UTSA at home and UNLV on the road.