Author’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part series analyzing Pac-12 football schedules for fall 2017.
Last week: Pac-12 South (https://www.pacifictakes.com/2017/7/25/16021400/pac12-schedule-analysis-2017-part-1-the-south)
Today: Pac-12 North
Next week: Most important non-conference games for the conference as a whole.
- Rutgers (road, week 1)
- FCS Montana (home, week 2)
- Fresno State (home, week 3)
Pac-12 home games: California (6), UCLA (9), Oregon (10), Utah (12), Washington State (13)
Pac-12 road games: Colorado (4), Oregon State (5), Arizona State (7), Stanford (11)
South teams missed: USC & Arizona
Notable: Yuck. Just yuck. Of all the teams to have three cupcakes on the schedule, the Huskies are about as bad of a choice as possible. Similar to last year’s grouping of Rutgers/Idaho/Portland State, this schedule gives Washington no possible way to impress the committee at all in non-conference play. When it was initially scheduled, the home-and-home against Rutgers was intended to be a mid-level opponent – Rutgers was coming off an 8-win season at the time, I believe. The fact that the Scarlet Knights are still the toughest opponent on this schedule is really sad. Positive changes on the way starting next year, though: Huskies scheduled to open up against Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff in 2018.
Although the Huskies have 5 of 9 Pac-12 games at home, the schedule is road-heavy early. Back-to-back trips to Boulder and Corvallis, then 2 weeks later, UW heads to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils before the bye week. On paper, UW-ASU is a mismatch. But many Husky fans, including myself, have very bad recent memories of games played in the desert. When Washington barely defeated a struggling Arizona team in overtime last year, that was the first win for the Huskies in the state of Arizona in quite a while. That stretch includes games at UA, at ASU, and even a Cactus bowl game against Oklahoma State. The Sun Devils will be coming off a bye week as well.
With the front-loaded road games, the Huskies will only play one game away from Husky Stadium after mid-October: a week 11 trip to the farm that very well may decide the Pac-12 North title. Even with 4 of the last 5 at home, though, the opponents in those games are all teams that should be competitive in the Pac-12 this year.
- FCS Montana State (home, week 1)
- Boise State (home, week 2)
- Nevada (home, week 4)
Pac-12 home games: Oregon State (3), USC (5), Colorado (8), Stanford (10)
Pac-12 road games: Oregon (6), California (7), Arizona (9), Utah (11), Washington (13)
South teams missed: UCLA & Arizona State
Notable: The Cougars are currently on one of the statistically odd streaks I’ve ever seen. The past two seasons, Washington State has lost a season-opening game to an FCS opponent (Eastern Washington in 2015, Portland State last year), but then gone on to have a very productive season (surprise Sun Bowl berth and victory against Miami in 2015, 2nd in Pac-12 North last year). For the decade before that, the Cougars consistently beat their FCS opponents, but not many others. Is losing to lower-division opponents a good-luck charm? I don’t know about that. But the ability to not have the season derailed by an awful opener has been entertaining, if nothing else.
Assuming the Cougars manage to break their 2-game losing streak to the Big Sky, an intriguing matchup awaits them in week 2, as the Boise State Broncos make the trip to Martin Stadium. Last year’s matchup on the blue turf dropped the Cougs to 0-2, but the performance by WSU in the fairly close loss was a big improvement over the first week, and they were able to carry that into an 8-game winning streak starting against Palouse neighbor Idaho the next week. With home field advantage this time, this looks to be one of the best chances for the Pac-12 to get a good win early. Whoever wins this game, it looks like a really entertaining matchup.
Overall, WSU’s schedule looks like the opposite of their cross-state rival. The Cougars play the entire month of September at home, capped by a week 5 showdown with USC. But once the Trojans leave town, Washington State has just 2 home games the rest of the season. The Cougars will need to take advantage of the schedule early, and during the easier part of the road schedule weeks 7-9 (at Cal, vs. Colorado, at Arizona) to continue being a factor in the North.
- FCS Southern Utah (home, week 1)
- Nebraska (home week 2)
- Wyoming (road, week 3)
Pac-12 home games: California (5), Washington State (6), Utah (9), Arizona (12), Oregon State (13)
Pac-12 road games: Arizona State (4), Stanford (7), UCLA (8), Washington (11)
South teams missed: USC & Colorado
Notable: Intriguing non-conference slate. Nebraska may not be quite what is once was in football, but home games against premier programs are always a plus. But the week 3 trip to Laramie, Wyoming by the Ducks will be fun to watch. Pac-12 schools, over the years, have played a very large number of games against the Mountain West, as you would expect, given the overlapping geography. Mostly, the games are played at Pac-12 schools, although MWC hosts a significant chunk of them. But most of the times a Mountain West school has hosted a Pac-12 school, it’s a game in Boise, San Diego, or Honolulu. Utah and BYU, when they were still in the Mountain West, hosted then-Pac-10 schools somewhat often (BYU still does, but as an independent). But no Pac-12 football team has played at Wyoming in a long, long, time. The Cowboys had a banner year in 2016, going 6-2 in the Mountain West, including securing upsets of two teams that were ranked at the time: #13 Boise State (7-0) and #24 San Diego State (9-1) on their way to a MWC Mountain Division crown. I’m not saying an upset is likely to happen. But if Wyoming can beat Boise State and SDSU, Oregon should not be taking this team lightly.
Oregon’s Pac-12 schedule is like a big, hearty, sandwich. The games at the front and back are the soft, fluffy buns: games against ASU and Cal to open, then a bye leading into a homestand against the Wildcats and Beavers to end it. The four teams picked to finish 5-6 in each of their respective divisions means that as long as Oregon can get back to being an average (or better) Pac-12 team, they should go 4-0 in those games.
In between, the Ducks get 5 of the middle and upper-tier Pac-12 teams in a row, all coming before UO’s bye week. Not seeing USC is a plus, but a 5-game stretch of WSU-Stan-UCLA-Utah-Wash, with just two in Autzen Stadium, is a tricky part to navigate for any team, never mind one coming off a dismal season and a coaching change.
- FCS Portland State (home, week 1)
- Minnesota (home, week 2)
- Colorado State (road, week 4)
Pac-12 home games: Washington (5), Colorado (7), Stanford (9), Arizona State (12)
Pac-12 road games: Washington State (3), USC (6), California (10), Arizona (11), Oregon (13)
South teams missed: UCLA & Utah
Notable: The Beavers’ schedule sets up either really well or really poorly, depending on whether the Beavers are able to continue to progress under Gary Andersen. If Oregon State plays like they did more towards the end of last season, getting to play Arizona State and Colorado at home gives OSU two chances to pull a significant, but reasonable, upset. Under this same scenario, having to play both Cal and Arizona, the projected bottom-feeders of the conference, on the road, should still be quite winnable.
But here’s the flip side. Say Oregon State plays this year the way they did for most of last year, before the mini-surge at the end. That home game against Colorado is now out of reach, and the road games in Tucson and Berkeley become far from a sure thing as well. Toss in a non-conference road game at Colorado State, another team that Oregon State is probably better than, but not by a lot, and there’s a lot of games that could go either way. I would not be overly surprised to see the Beavers reach bowl eligibility (win 6 of these 7: PSU, Minn, CSU, Cal, Ariz, ASU, CU), but I also think it’s quite possible Oregon State could drop to 2-10 if things don’t break their way. I’m guessing we see a bunch of close games for the orange and black.
- North Carolina (road, week 1)
- Weber State (home, week 2)
- Ole Miss (home, week 3)
Pac-12 home games: USC (4), Washington State (7), Arizona (8), Oregon State (10)
Pac-12 road games: Oregon (5), Washington (6), Colorado (9), Stanford (12), UCLA (13)
South teams missed: Arizona State & Utah
Notable: Cal has the exact opposite problem from Washington. In a year with a rebuilding program, a new coaching staff, and a projected last-place finish in conference, this is not the ideal time to be playing multiple power conference teams in non-conference play. Even if the Rebels come to Berkeley in shambles after the fallout from Hugh Freeze’s sudden dismissal, it’s hard to imagine them not putting away the Bears – the Rebs should have enough talent to win the easy games, which this, unfortunately, qualifies as.
One good thing about Cal’s schedule: unless the Golden Bears show something positive that the majority of those that follow college football don’t see coming, there are only a few teams in this year’s Pac-12 that California is realistically capable of beating. Two of those teams, Arizona and Oregon State, have to travel to the East Bay. If you’re at or near the bottom, it’s better to play the teams that you probably are going to lose to anyway on the road, and save the winnable games for playing in front of your fans.
From a wishful (and completely hypothetical) standpoint: Would it be possible if the Huskies and Golden Bears just, like, switched non-conference schedules for a year? Both teams play in each of the first three weeks and are then done with non-con afterward. That way, UW would have two chances to bolster their potential resume for the CFP (at UNC is a big plus, hosting Ole Miss is bonus). Meanwhile, Cal would get to play three teams that they would actually be reasonably capable of defeating! Everybody wins, right?
- Rice (neutral – Australia, week 0*)
- San Diego State (road, week 3)
- Notre Dame (home, week 13)
Pac-12 home games: UCLA (4), Arizona State (5), Oregon (7), Washington (11), California (12)
Pac-12 road games: USC (2), Utah (6), Oregon State (9), Washington State (10)
South teams missed: Arizona & Colorado
Notable: I’m not sure when the last time a Power Five program with the football pedigree of Stanford had to wait until week 4 to play a home game, but I definitely can’t remember a specific time. Playing Rice in Australia should be an easy win, but even with the week off, having your first game back in the United States be a key nationally televised rivalry game with the Trojans on the road seems…less than ideal. Then another trip to Southern California, this time to San Diego to face the Aztecs, before finally returning to the Farm to open up the home schedule with UCLA.
I mentioned this in the last article as well as a positive for the Utes, but it bears mentioning again here: of all the games on the Pac-12 schedule, Stanford visiting Salt Lake City in early October keeps jumping out at me as a major red flag for Stanford. The Utes are good at home, whether due to fan support, elevation, or some combination of both. Utah will be coming off a bye week. With Stanford no longer at the very top of their game the way they were for a few years (along with the Ducks), there have been some games once in a while that they have just nosedived. You can bet I will be glued to this one.
The positive side of the lack of early home games for the Cardinal? The final three weeks are all in Palo Alto, starting with a huge North showdown with the Huskies in week 11. No doubt Stanford will be out for blood from Washington, particularly if they can make it to this game within a game of the lead in the North division.