With two teams that will likely be ranked in the pre-season Top 5, six or seven teams that could make the Top 25 and a mountain of young talent, 2013 should be a strong year for the Pac-12. While, I don't think anyone will argue that the Pac-12 should be viewed as the strongest conference in the nation going into 2013, I think a legitimate one could be made for arguing that the Pac-12 is the strongest conference after the SEC. Whether or not this is a realistic perspective though probably can't be established until after the always-revealing non-conference slate of the schedule.
The Pac-12 faces off with some of the other top conferences in the nation once the season kicks off, but taking a look at the conference's recent history against the other conferences probably actually paints a better picture of where the conference stacks up in the conference power spectrum. Drawing results from every Pac-12 non-conference and bowl game from the past 10 seasons, we put together a breakdown of how the conference has performed against every other major conference in the country.
*This was kind of tricky with all of the recent re-alignment, and Colorado and Utah joining the conference. All of the records reflect which conference Pac-12 opponents play in now. For example, a win over Nebraska in 2007 counts as a win over the Big Ten and not the Big 12 and an over Utah in 2008 doesn't count as anything now since the Utes play in the Pac-12. For Colorado and Utah, only their non-conference games against non-Pac-12 teams before they joined the conference count. For example, a Utah win over Utah State before the Aggies joined the Mountain West counts as a win over the Mountain West since the Aggies were a non-conference foe at the time, but a Utah win over TCU while both teams were conference mates, does not count as a win over the Big 12.
I know that this is complicated, but it was the most accurate way to do it.
Conference USA 10-0
The Pac-12 doesn't face off with Conference USA much recently, but when they do, they win every time.
2013 match-ups & forecast 1-0
UTSA at Arizona 9/14
The Wildcats should easily keep the Pac-12's undefeated streak going against the Roadrunners in their first year in Conference USA and their second year as an FBS program.
Sun Belt 4-0
Another conference that the Pac-12 has dominated, but not combated much. There are no Sun Belt opponents on the Pac-12 schedule in 2013.
If it weren't for an embarrassing slip up by Colorado against Toledo in 2009, the MAC would be another conference that the Pac-12 has swept since 2003. There are no MAC opponents on the Pac-12 schedule in 2013.
This is a pretty dominant winning percentage to have over a conference that I regularly see ranked either right with, or even above the Pac-12 in some conference power rankings. That needs to stop. The Pac-12 has owned the ACC the past 10 years.
2013 match-ups and forecast 2-0
Oregon at Virginia 9/7 - The Cavaliers are expected to be one of the worst BCS teams in 2013 and the Ducks one of the very best. This one could be over quickly.
Boston College at USC 9/14 - Similar situation to directly above, though I don't think the Trojans are as strong as the Ducks, the Eagles have been a very soft program for a while now.
American Athletic Conference 12-5
The former Big East is now a mish mash of random programs that the Pac-12 does pretty well against and don't have on the schedule in 2013.
Mountain West 72-34
Not surprisingly, the Pac-12 has played far and away their most non-conference games against the nearest conference, especially since it basically absorbed the WAC. The Pac-12 does very well against the Mountain West, as they should, but it will be interesting to see if they can maintain the winning percentage they have enjoyed with the conference seemingly getting stronger each season.
2013 match-ups and forecast 11-0
Utah State at Utah 8/29 - The Utes used to own this rivalry, but the Aggies have stepped up and might even be favored in this game as they are expected to be one of the top non-BCS teams in the nation next season. Still, I think the Utes can get the revenge win at home.
USC at Hawaii 8/29 - The Warriors have turned into a patsy since June Jones left and there's no reason to think that the Trojans shouldn't have a breezy opener in paradise.
Boise State at Washington 8/31 - An immediate re-match of the Las Vegas Bowl, this one should be tight, but home field, more returning experience and a chance for revenge should give the Huskies the edge.
Nevada at UCLA 8/31 - The Wolfpack can be sneaky, as they upset Cal in their opener last year, but the Bruins should be strong enough to handle them easily.
Colorado State vs. Colorado 9/1 - The Buffs should be able to show that they are improving under Mike McIntyre by winning their opening rivalry game in Denver.
Hawaii at Oregon State 9/7 - The Warriors used to be a challenging non-BCS opponent, but those days are long gone and the Beavers should get a comfortable win here.
Arizona at UNLV 9/7 - It's pretty insane, but this is the Wildcats' toughest non-conference game and one they should easily win.
San Jose State at Stanford 9/7 - San Jose State's rise from the ashes makes this a bit more of a challenging game, but the Cardinal should be able to hang onto their Bay Area supremacy.
Fresno State at Colorado 9/14 - The Bulldogs utterly embarrassed the Buffs last year, and they should be even stronger this year, but the Buffs will be looking to make a big statement by competing here and I think they will with a win.
Utah State at USC 9/21 - The Aggies should be one of the best teams in the Mountain West, and this could be a tricky game, but the Trojans should have too much talent to falter.
Oregon State at San Diego State 9/21 - The Aztecs have become one of the strongest non-BCS teams in the nation, but the Beavers have enough weapons to where they can pull off the win on the road.
With USC and Stanford's rivalries with Notre Dame, Utah's with BYU and perennial Pac-12 pre-season punching bag Idaho all independent now, the Pac-12 has played a ton of games against the current independent teams in recent years. With USC's recent dominance of Notre Dame and Stanford's improvement against them, along with overall dominance of Idaho, it makes for a good record for the Pac-12 against independents.
2013 match-ups and forecast 4-3
Stanford at Army 9/14 - This one should feature some serious battling and running the ball and the Cardinal should assert their dominance easily.
Idaho at Washington State 9/21 - The Cougars get back to playing their rival from just down the road and should go right back to stomping the Vandals.
New Mexico State at UCLA 9/21 - The Aggies are temporarily independent, and will likely only temporarily be in the game with the Bruins.
Utah at BYU 9/21 - The Utes won the Holy War in controversy last year, so the Cougars, who are very strong this season, should be fired up to kick the Utes further down the totem pole of respectability.
Arizona State vs. Notre Dame 10/5 - The Sun Devils face off with the Irish in the Jerry Dome in Arlington, Texas and even though the neutral venue is better than traveling to South Bend, it still will be a very, very tough game to win.
USC at Notre Dame 10/19 - The tide seems to be turning on this rivalry back in the Irish's favor and it will be very tough for the Trojans.
Notre Dame at Stanford 11/30 - This could end up being the game of the year with serious national championship implications and the Cardinal should be fueled by revenge and aided by getting it out in Palo Alto.
Big Ten 35-21
Of what I would call the "Big Four" conferences (SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten), the Pac-12 has matched up the best with the Big Ten. The Pac-12 has done well in the Rose Bowl recently and the conference's speed and modern offenses have done well against the Big Ten's strength and slower pace.
2013 match-ups and forecast 2-3
Northwestern at Cal 8/31 - Most years this wouldn't seem like a challenging game for the Bears, but the Wildcats are a borderline Top 25 team this year and a very tough draw for the opening game of a new regime.
UCLA at Nebraska 9/14 - The Bruins announced that they were going to be strong under Jim Mora by winning a thriller against the Huskers early last season and now must head to Lincoln to prove that they will be a contender again in 2013, but it will be a very challenging game for a team with a lot of holes to fill.
Washington vs. Illinois 9/14 - The Illini should still be one of the worst BCS conference teams in the country and even though this game is in Chicago, it shouldn't be a hostile environment and the Huskies should be able to get a comfortable win.
Ohio State at Cal 9/14 - The Bears surprised the Buckeyes in Columbus last season by challenging them in an early season game, but Ohio State should be stronger this year and should be able to win in Berkeley.
Wisconsin at Arizona State 9/14 - A great match-up between two teams that should be right around the edge of pre-season Top 25, but I think the Sun Devils have more talent and experience and might control the game more than many are expected.
The Pac-12 plays America's top conference almost evenly, though, I would note that they don't seem to do as well when it's the Pac-12's top teams against the SEC's top teams. Still, a nearly .500 record against the SEC is an accomplishment.
2013 match-ups and forecast 1-1
Washington State at Auburn 8/31 - The Tigers were very down last year, which should give the Cougars hope, but it's a long road trip and the Tigers are expected to bounce back fairly well in 2013.
Tennessee at Oregon 9/14 - Tennessee is still struggling to get their footing again in the SEC, so a trip to Eugene should not be much fun for them.
Big 12 12-28
How poorly the Pac-12 has played against the Big 12 is almost shocking. It might be hard to make an argument for the Pac-12 being stronger than the Big 12 with how poorly they have performed against the conference during the past 10 years. Re-alignment also hurt here as the only programs that the Pac-10 really did well against prior to expansion in the Big 12 were Colorado and Nebraska. Also, the Pac-12's poor performances in the Holiday and Alamo Bowls has taken a toll here.
The Pac-12 has no regular season non-conference match-against Big 12 teams but will assuredly have chances to turn the tide against the Big 12 during bowl season.