With Pac-12 Basketball officially over after Oregon was unable to grab a rebound, on two occasions, we know look forward to the gridiron as we rank the toughest non-conference schedules the Conference of Champions face, en route to, a hopeful, College Football Playoff slot and eventual National Championship. Questions will surround whether Josh Browning and the Washington Huskies can keep it going, or if Oregon can bounce back and challenge them for the Pac-12 North. Or maybe Washington State can get its first taste of the conference championship game. While the South will have USC trying to hold off Utah and cross-town rivals, UCLA and get back in the thick of things.
1] USC Trojans
If there is one thing about Clay Helton you have to compliment, it’s his willingness to play tough opponents. In 2016, they opened up with Alabama before facing Utah State and the eventual Notre Dame rivalry game. This year, they start off with Western Michigan, who played in the Cotton Bowl the prior year, just like Alabama did before hosting Texas and making the trip to South Bend in October for the Fighting Irish.
Western Michigan is clearly not Alabama, and they did lose Coach P.J. Fleck after a 13-0 regular season, while Texas was a subpar 5-7 (including a Pac-12 loss against Cal) and Notre Dame finished 4-8. The Longhorns hired Todd Herman away from Houston, hoping he changes the fortunes down in Austin and their first winning season since 2013. Notre Dame is hoping the players rally around Kelly.
2] California Golden Bears
Coming off a 5-7 campaign, the Bears will look to go bowling and won’t have to worry about making a trip to Australia to start the campaign off. Instead, they’ll just go over to Chapel Hill and face a Tar Heel side looking to build on a 8-5 season and show that they are more than just a basketball school. Weber State the following week should be a tune-up, as the Big Sky school isn’t much of a threat, for the date against the SEC’s Ole Miss.
The Rebels struggled in 2016, winning just five games, which included victories over the Aggies and Georgia, who were ranked 10th and 12th respectively at the time of the game. They also played Alabama tough, losing by five.
3] UCLA Bruins
UCLA sputtured for the second consecutive season, managing just four wins and the first sub-.500 season since 2011 when they went 6-8. The new season will not start any easier, as they kick-off against the Texas A&M Aggies to start the campaign, in the second of a home-and-home series. A thrilling overtime loss at College Station will be on the minds of the Bruins as they hope to get the year off with a bang. Hopefully another good game here leads to more home-and-home Pac-12/SEC matchups.
Following the date with aTm, UCLA will host Hawaii, in what should be a tune-up before making the trek to Memphis. All three opponents went bowling in 2016, with Hawaii notching the only victory. Memphis was able to also get a victory against Houston to close out the regular season
4] Arizona State Sun Devils
Todd Graham has some continuity in Tempe, as the Devils will start off with a lower G5 opponent and then take on better sides. New Mexico State should be an easy win for the Devils, afterall, they went 3-9 a year prior. San Diego State is retruning a decent amount of starters after a 11-3 campaign and a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Houston, including a win over Cal.
Texas Tech should provide another highlight reel game, though, hard to see it matcing Kellen Ballage’s 8 touchdowns at Sun Devil Stadium and a 68-55 final line.
5] Stanford Cardinal
Stanford takes over the trip to Australia to start the year as they will face off against, who are coming off a decent 7-5 season in the Conference-USA. Clearly, the opponent shouldn’t be much of a challenge for the Cardinal, however, the grueling trip might be a cause of concern. Following the trip down under, the Cardinal travel to Southern California and take on the San Diego State Aztecs, in what should be an early season indicator.
Capping off the non-conference slate, Stanford has a home date with a Fighting Irish side who look to get back to playing Notre Dame football.
6] Oregon Ducks
Starting off with a cupcake home match against Southern Utah, the Ducks follow it up with a home-date against a solid Cornhusker side before thy go to Wyoming and a 7k elevation to take on a physical side.
7] Washington State Cougars
Hosting a Big Sky school for the third straight year, and the Cougs should end the two game losing streak against an abysmal Montana State side. Boise State comes to town followed by Nevada a few weeks later.
8] Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State travels to Colorado State in Week 0, christening the Rams new stadium in what should be an adrenaline filled Colorado State side before hosting Portland State. Minnesota comes to town after, with PJ Fleck at the helm, in what should be another tenacious rodent battle.
9] Utah Utes
Home dates against North Dakota and San Jose State sandwich the Holy War trip to Provo as the Utes only have one decent game on their slate against Brigham Young. Six straight victories over their rivals, the Utes can’t afford a slip up.
10] Arizona Wildcats
Rich Rodriguez may be on the hot-seat in Tucson, and with a relatively simple non-conference, he may be able to buy himself more time. Northern Arizona comes to town to start off the year, in a much needed tune-up before the Houston Cougars come to town, the marquee match-up for the Wildcats. A trip to UTEP follows before conference play kicks off.
11] Washington Huskies
Once again, the Huskies weak non-conference slate will be criticized if they end up in the discussion for a CFP slot, and who won’t disagree? The toughest match-up is a road game at Rutgers, who is coming off a 2-10 season with little hope for improvement. They then host one of the FCS’ best in Montana and a Fresno State side in shambles. Expect the Huskies to put up a ton of points to try to take attention away from the weak opponents.
12] Colorado Buffalos
Colorado State, Texas State and Northern Colorado seems like a schedule for a FCS side, if not a gutsy D2 side. Not one that just finished in the Top 25 and is coming off a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. Considering Colorado scheduled cupcakes in hopes to just make a bowl game, they will be halfway to their goal when confernece play start.