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2013 PAC-12 Football North/South Schedule Preview

2013 PAC-12 Football North/South Schedule Preview

2013 PAC-12 Football North Schedule Preview                     
By Joe Nelson

The football season is just two months away and while there are many position battles to be determined, the schedule is set and there are some great disparities within each conference that will impact the conference races. The Pac-12 featured a very interesting race last season with two great teams in the North and a mess in the South, will there be balance restored this season? Take a look at the schedules ahead in the Pac-12 North in 2013.

California Golden Bears

The Bears were a big disappointment last season, going just 3-9 despite nearly beating Ohio State as well as crushing eventual Pac-12 South champion UCLA in the first half of the season. After three successful seasons at Louisiana Tech, new Bears head coach Sonny Dykes takes over for longtime coach Jeff Tedford. There has been a lot of player turnover and California will face one of the toughest schedules in the conference with five of nine conference games on the road plus a fairly tough draw from the South division that includes both USC and UCLA.

Conference Misses: Arizona State and Utah

Toughest Back-to-Back: After a bye week the Bears open the Pac-12 season in late September at Oregon in what will be a huge game for the team, particularly if the Bears are sitting with a loss or two after playing two quality Big Ten teams in non-conference play. The Ducks will be heavy favorites but Oregon is also going through a transition. Regardless of the result it may be tough to keep focused for the homecoming game the following week against what could be an improved Washington State squad in a possible letdown spot after two big national games.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: The Bears will host Ohio State in the third week of the season and with a bye week following that game. The Buckeyes will be facing their first road game of the season and should be highly ranked when they visit Berkeley. Last season California out-gained Ohio State by 100 yards in a near comeback in Columbus, eventually falling 35-28 in an exciting game.

Oregon Ducks

The Ducks have a new coaching staff and will look for a fourth consecutive 12-win season in 2013. Oregon was not able to survive the North division last season with a late season loss to Stanford and that game will loom large again this season. The Ducks will play two quality non-conference games early in the year and Oregon does have a favorable conference draw, missing perhaps the top two teams in the South division and getting five of the nine conference games at home. The big rematch with Stanford will be on the road however. This is a team with a schedule conducive to another great season.

Conference Misses: Arizona State and USC

Toughest Back-to-Back: Oregon fans have to love this Pac-12 schedule as there are not a lot of overly challenging stretches on the schedule provided this team does not face a steep drop-off in performance in the transition. Even though there is a bye week ahead of the Thursday night affair the toughest set of games will start with the huge rematch at Stanford in early November. That game will be projected to determine the division champion and it would not be a surprise if both teams are undefeated at the time. A follow-up game at home against Utah could be a possible letdown spot for Oregon as it will be the first crack at the Ducks for Utah since they joined the Pac-12.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: While Virginia could be a stronger team than Tennessee this year, any shot at a SEC team will be taken very seriously by an Oregon team that has failed in its last two chances, losing badly to LSU in 2011 and falling to Auburn in the BCS Championship game the previous season. In the third week of the season Oregon will host a Tennessee team also going through a transition and it could be a challenging spot after the cross country trip the previous week playing at Virginia.

Oregon State Beavers

After a tough 2011 season Oregon State rebounded nicely with a 9-4 season last year, falling the Alamo Bowl against Texas after competing well in the Pac-12 North race. After opening last year with a marquee win against Wisconsin the non-conference slate is softer this season and this is an experienced team that could vie for a dark horse role in the Pac-12 again. The schedule does present some challenges however and getting to the top of the conference is not likely with this slate.

Conference Misses: Arizona and UCLA

Toughest Back-to-Back: While both games are at home the make-or-break point in the season will be in late October and early November, hosting Stanford for homecoming and then hosting USC on a Friday night primetime game. While the early season schedule will be no cakewalk, including four road games in a six-week span, the Beavers should have a strong record at that point in the year and that two-game stretch surrounding Halloween will determine which direction the Beavers go.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: The Beavers will open the Pac-12 season with an early match in Utah in the third week of the season and then a tricky follow-up game at San Diego State for a second straight road game and long travel could be a spot where getting tripped up is very possible. The Aztecs will have an experienced defense and two weeks to prepare, likely coming off a loss at Ohio State which could add to the potential challenge for Oregon State to survive.

Stanford Cardinal

Expectations were grounded for Stanford last season but David Shaw is now 23-4 in two seasons replacing Jim Harbaugh, delivering a Rose Bowl championship last season. Stanford could have one of the best defenses in the nation this season but there is some work to do on offense. The schedule provides the chance for a great start but November will be a daunting month even with three of the final four games on the schedule at home. This is a team that has a chance at a special season but they do face arguably the toughest Pac-12 South draw in this division. A benefit is only playing three true road games in conference play however as the Washington State road game will be played in Seattle.

Conference Misses: Arizona and Colorado

Toughest Back-to-Back: While upsets are not rare in the Pac-12, Stanford should be favored in the first eight games of the season. After an off week in early November the Cardinal will have a gauntlet to close the year, starting with a Thursday primetime game with Oregon and then facing a daunting to road game at USC the following week. Wins in those two games could put the Cardinal in the national title hunt; losses, or even just a loss, could cost Stanford a shot at defending the Pac-12 title.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: The final game of the season will be a huge one for Stanford with Notre Dame visiting. Last year's game in South Bend was one for the ages and ending with great controversy. While it appears unlikely that the Irish will be undefeated again at that point it should still be a critical game for both teams, perhaps with a BCS bowl bid in the mix for the victor.

Washington Huskies

Washington was saddled with a very tough schedule last season and despite the challenges and a slow start the Huskies managed a third straight winning season. Getting over the 7-6 hump will not be easy in this division but Washington does catch some breaks in the schedule this year with a slightly weaker non-conference slate and the benefit of missing USC from the South draw. Washington also gets to play five of nine conference games at home. The road schedule is daunting with all four conference road games looking like big challenges however but this is one of the most experienced teams in the conference.

Conference Misses: USC and Utah

Toughest Back-to-Back: The middle of the season will be a difficult grind for the Huskies and Washington will have to face likely the top two teams in the division in consecutive weeks in early October, playing at Stanford and then hosting Oregon. A game at Arizona State is next in line making for a very tricky second month of the season. Washington also has back-to-back road games late in the year at UCLA and at Oregon State as there are certainly some steep hurdles in this slate.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: Washington has played several marquee non-conference games in recent years but few of them have gone favorably. This year the season opens at home with perennial BCS buster Boise State in town. That may be the perfect time to face a rebuilding Boise State squad but the Broncos have a great track record in these types of games early in the year and it will be a critical tone-setting game for both teams.

Washington State Cougars

There was a lot of excitement last season with Mike Leach taking over at Washington State but the season opened with a thud, scoring just six points in an opening loss. While Washington State was competitive in several games the end result was just 3-9, a game worse than the previous season under Paul Wulff. Given the radical changes on offense it was not going to be an overnight success story but more pressure will be on this season for the Cougars. The season opens with a bang and does not get much easier with just three true home games in conference play and having to play most of the top teams from the South division while missing lowly Colorado.

Conference Misses: Colorado and UCLA

Toughest Back-to-Back: Last season's opening game set the tone for a disappointing year in Pullman and this year the first two weeks will provide another important measuring stick for this team. 0-2 is the likely result but it will be important for the Cougars to score some points and show that they can compete in two big road games to kick off the season, playing at Auburn on the opening weekend and then opening up Pac-12 play at USC the following week. The long travel and tough matchups could take a serious toll or it could spark Washington State to a new level of success if they pull off an upset or at least look the part.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: As mentioned the opening game at Auburn will be a critical starting point for the Cougars. The Tigers have SEC talent but are also going through a coaching change and are coming off a very disappointing year so the opportunity for a huge wave-making win is possible for the Washington State program.

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Re: 2013 PAC-12 Football North/South Schedule Preview

2013 PAC-12 Football South Schedule Preview
By Joe Nelson

The college football season is less than two months away, the schedule is set and there are some great disparities within each conference that will impact the conference races. The Pac-12 South was a tight race last season as the heavy favorite USC stumbled and it should be an interesting race again this season. Take a look at the schedules ahead in the Pac-12 South in 2013.

Arizona Wildcats:

Rich Rodriguez led an upstart season for the Wildcats last season, finishing 8-5 with a bowl win after a tough 4-8 2011 season. The schedule played a huge role in the disparities between those records and this season Arizona again draws a relatively favorable path. Five of nine Pac-12 games will be on the road but missing Stanford on the schedule is certainly a break and several of the biggest games will be at home. Arizona has a very light non-conference schedule that should ensure a strong start and bye weeks before big road games at Washington and at USC could help the cause for a possible upset. Arizona will need to replace some key players on offense but another solid season could be ahead.

Conference Misses: Oregon State and Stanford

Toughest Back-to-Back: The Wildcats will have a tough finish to the season hosting Oregon in late November and then closing the season at Arizona State. A lot could be on the line for the Wildcats who could have a record that has them in contention in this division, especially if they find a way to win at USC early in the season. Arizona will play back-to-back road games in the middle of the year but this late season set should provide the biggest tests of the year.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: Arizona will play one of the weaker non-conference slates in the conference with home games with Northern Arizona and Texas-San Antonio, leaving a road trip to UNLV as the biggest non-conference test in week 2, even though Arizona should be a solid road favorite in that game.

Arizona State Sun Devils:

The Sun Devils started the Pac-12 season 3-0 last year but four consecutive losses dropped them out of the picture. Arizona State has an experienced team back in action and while the overall schedule is tougher this season with two huge non-conference games, the Pac-12 slate lines up nicely featuring the notable omission of Oregon. Arizona State will need to be ready to go early in the year as after an opener against FCS Sacramento State there will be four straight very tough games. It is truly a gauntlet for the Sun Devils playing Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks in late September and early October. It could be smooth sailing after that however and Arizona State will play five of nine Pac-12 games at home.

Conference Misses: California and Oregon

Toughest Back-to-Back: The aforementioned four-game stretch early in the season could be sliced in a number of ways to find the toughest two-game set but the two conference games will be the most critical, playing at Stanford for the first road game of the season and then following that game up with a huge home contest against USC. The Trojans beat Arizona State soundly last season and the Sun Devils have not played Stanford since they nearly upset then #7 Stanford in 2010.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: A big early season game with Wisconsin will be a huge game in Tempe but the chance to play Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium will certainly be a game the team is looking forward to all season even though it comes at the end of a stretch of very tough games.

Colorado Buffaloes:

After a 1-11 season there is nowhere to go but up for Colorado and Mike MacIntyre takes over the program after engineering a successful turnaround at San Jose State. Colorado does miss Stanford on the schedule but they also do not get to play Washington State this year and the Cougars provided Colorado's only win last season. Five of nine games will be on the road for Colorado and the non-conference schedule has two challenging games as well. It is a very tough slate of home games for Colorado featuring Oregon, Arizona, and USC visiting Boulder so the opportunity for a quick turnaround is likely limited.

Conference Misses: Stanford and Washington State

Toughest Back-to-Back: Following up the homecoming game with Arizona, a game that will have a bye week preceding it, Colorado will play back-to-back road games at UCLA and at Washington. While there may be tougher games on the schedule that will be a difficult set of road games with long travel that could take a greater toll late in the season.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: The opener in Denver against Colorado State will be critical. MacIntyre could gain instant credibility if he can win that game and move back to the top of the ladder in the Rocky Mountain State college football landscape. Colorado State won in the rivalry last season and has some promising pieces in place this year but a win would be a great way to provide a spark for the program.

UCLA Bruins:

Despite producing mediocre records both years it has been UCLA representing the Pac-12 South in the first two years of the Pac-12 championship game. The Bruins did not win either of those games but they played reasonably well, covering as heavy underdogs in both chances. There is a lot to like about what UCLA is bringing back in Jim Mora's second season in Los Angeles but a very difficult schedule is waiting and will make another championship run a tough task. UCLA plays five road games and two of those games will be against the top two from the North, Stanford and Oregon. The game with USC is also on the road and the non-conference schedule won't offer any easy outs.

Conference Misses: Oregon State and Washington State

Toughest Back-to-Back: It could not get any tougher in this conference as the Bruins have to play Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks in October with both of those games coming on the road. UCLA will play all nine Pac-12 games in consecutive weeks without a bye week so the late season games will also be challenging but it is certainly hard to imagine the Bruins sweeping this brutal October set and it will be very hard to avoid a 0-2 hit in the conference race.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: An opener against Nevada will be an important challenge but a week 3 game at Nebraska will be a huge national game and a showcase opportunity for the conference. UCLA won 36-30 at home in a minor upset last season so the challenge could be greater this year in Lincoln but a win would propel the Bruins to forefront of this division.

USC Trojans:

Despite being a very popular national title pick USC slogged through an ugly 7-6 campaign last season, going just 5-4 in conference play. Injuries played a role but so far the Lane Kiffin era has offered quite a bit of disappointment. Things could line up nicely for USC this season however as they do not have to play Oregon and they draw Stanford at home. USC gets five of nine conference games at home and the non-conference slate is manageable. Playing at Hawaii to open the season will give USC an extra game this season and there are six road games on the schedule but overall this is favorable slate in this division.

Conference Misses:
Oregon and Washington

Toughest Back-to-Back: The toughest set of games may come late in the season with back-to-back road games at Oregon State and then at California. While USC may be favored in both games neither will be an easy draw at that point in the season and a huge home game with Stanford could create a look-ahead situation for the second game in Berkeley. While this schedule lines up well for USC, there are definitely no breaks or weak FCS foes like many of the other prominent national programs will have included in their schedules.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: As usual the biggest game will be with Notre Dame. Last season that match came at the end of the year with the world on the line for the Irish while USC was stumbling through an ugly season and playing without its starting quarterback. It will be a much bigger game for USC this season being played in the middle of the year and on the road.

Utah Utes:

Utah has enjoyed one of the best schedules in the Pac-12 in its first two years in the conference but the Utes failed to take advantage, going just 8-5 in 2011 and really struggling last season with an ugly 5-7 finish to snap a long bowl streak. Utah will have a schedule featuring three four-game blocks separated with bye weeks and it will be a challenging slate with difficult road games. Five of nine conference games will be at home but the North draw is tough with Oregon and Stanford both on the map. Non-conference games with Utah State and BYU keeps this schedule relatively tough overall and it may be difficult for the Utes to make a big jump in improvement.

Conference Misses: California and Washington

Toughest Back-to-Back: The toughest month of the season will be in October as the Utes host UCLA and Stanford in back-to-back weeks including a primetime Thursday night game and then the homecoming game. Yes, the homecoming game will be against Stanford, a program that has gone 35-5 the last three years finishing high in the national rankings. Following up that game will be a back-to-back road game set and that will be at Arizona and then at USC, two very tough games in what could be a problematic stretch in the schedule.

Biggest Non-Conference Game: While they are no longer conference rivals, Utah and BYU will face off in Provo in late September. Last season Utah held on for a narrow win, the third in a row in the series but it could be a tougher game this year and it will follow-up the conference opener for the Utes which could be less than ideal.

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