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Ranking the Pac-12’s Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2019

The Pac-12 has been at the bottom of the power 5 conference rankings for the past couple of years.  While Washington has been able to maintain a spot among the top in the country, the rest of the conference has been a disappointment.  While there may be a “west coast bias”, there is no doubt the level of play has dropped. The 2019 season offers a tremendous opportunity for the conference as a whole, and some big chances for a few programs.  The majority of the league will play 10 power 5 opponents, while some will play 11. This is different then a lot of schools across the country who enjoy 2 or 3 “cupcake” games. Here, we rank all of the Pac-12 schedules for the 2019-20 college football season.

1. Stanford Cardinal

Aug. 31 vs. Northwestern

Sept. 14 at UCF

Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame

Stanford could potentially play the most difficult non conference slate in the country.  Starting the year with Northwestern will be a very tough test. The Wildcats return a lot from a team that went to the Big 10 title game, and are expected to improve in 2019.  Notre Dame played in the CFP last season, and while they may not be able to match that success, they are still a top tier team in college football. Sandwiched between those games is a trip to play UCF, one of the most difficult places in the country to get a win in the past few seasons.  Stanford has their work cut out for them, but has a chance to make a big time statement before conference play gets going.

2.  USC Trojans

Aug. 31 vs. Fresno State

Sept. 14 at BYU

Oct. 12 at Notre Dame

USC has seen the magic of the Pete Carrol era diminish over the previous few seasons.  One thing that has not changed, is there a willingness to go out and schedule. This year is no different, as they play some games that many teams would shy away from.  Fresno State is coming off the best season they have had in school history, and will be eager to play big brother in the Coliseum. BYU has not been at their best, but is a very difficult place to get a win.  An early road game to the Cougars will be a very difficult game for a young USC team. Going on the road to Notre Dame is obviously one of the most difficult non-conference games in the country, and will make for a great test before the conference slate picks up.  USC has a solid returning team and a schedule like this gives them a chance to put together a solid resume.

3.  UCLA Bruins

Aug. 29 at Cincinnati

Sept. 7 vs. San Diego State

Sept. 14 vs. Oklahoma

The Chip Kelly era has not gotten off to the start that many people were hoping, and he is firmly on the hot seat entering this season.  With that being said, they did him no favors with this non-conference schedule. The recruiting class has left a lot to be desired, and there is a good chance they are sizeable underdogs in all 3 of their key early season games.  Cincinnati has a loaded roster, with enough talent to win the AAC this season. San Diego State has been better than UCLA for several years now, and will be eager to prove they are still one of the best in the Mountain West. After those very difficult tests, they will run it back with Lincoln Reilly’s Oklahoma squad.  It is hard to imagine how UCLA will slow them down in any way, and there is a good chance we see UCLA open the season 0-3 before heading to Washington State to open conference play.

4.  Oregon Ducks

Aug. 31 vs. Auburn

Sept. 7 vs. Nevada

Sept 14 vs. Montana

Oergon has seen their program fall from the upper echelon the past couple seasons.  This year, however, there is a lot of optimism about the program. With Justin Herbert leading this offense, there is a chance they could make a run to the CFP.  Playing in the Pac-12, they will need to make sure they take care of business in the non-conference. The real difficulty here will come in week 1, as they will take on Auburn at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.  If they are able to come out on top vs. a high profile SEC school, it will be a great step for them in achieving the lofty goals that have been set. Not to be overlooked, Nevada is a very good program who is very hard to prepare for.  The “Air Raid” offense is difficult to prepare for, and could be a let down spot following the game vs Auburn.

5. Colorado Buffaloes

Aug. 30 vs. Colorado State (Denver)

Sept. 7 vs. Nebraska

Sept. 14 vs. Air Force

Colorado plays a very unique non-conference schedule, something that could be very difficult for the Buffs.  They open the season with in state rival Colorado State, another team that will be fired up to start the year vs. “big brother”.  They then play another rival in Nebraska, who is getting a lot of hype going into the second season under Scott Frost. After back to back rivalry games, they then play air-force and the quick moving triple option.  It will be a very difficult test for coach Mel Tucker to get his guys prepared for them all.

6.  California Golden Bears

Aug. 31 vs. UC Davis

Sept. 14 vs. North Texas

Sept. 21 at Ole Miss

While many people may not see this as too difficult, Cal faces a few very difficult tests to start the season.  UC Davis is not the team you want to see, as they are one of the FCS level’s elite programs who return a wealth of talent from a quarterfinal finish.  They then move on to play the favorite in CUSA, North Texas. The Mean Green have one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Mason Fine, and will provide a very difficult test for the Cal defense.  A road game to The Grove to play Ole Miss finishes off the conference slate for Cal, another team with an explosive offense and playmakers.

7.  Washington Huskies

Aug. 31 vs. Eastern Washington

Sept. 14 vs. Hawaii

Sept. 21 at BYU

This is another schedule that is much more difficult than it appears on paper.  While they do not play any power 5 teams, it does not mean it is any easier. Eastern Washington played for the FCS championship last season, and almost beat the Huskies back in 2014.  They will be eager to get another chance, and have the talent to get the job done. Hawaii is a bowl team from last year and returns Cole McDonald, one of the better returning qbs in the country.  A road game at BYU is never going to be easy, especially considering the similar play styles of the programs.

8.  Oregon State Beavers

Aug. 30 vs. Oklahoma State

Sept. 7 at Hawaii

Sept. 14 vs. Cal Poly

Opening the season with Big 12 foe Oklahoma State is one of the most difficult games for any team in the Pac-12.  There defense will need to be locked in early as the Cowboys always possess one of the top offenses in the nation.  They then take on Hawaii, but unlike Washington, they make the long trip to the island for there game. Mcdonald is really hard to stop at home, and will be another early test for the Beaver defense.  While Cal Poly doesn’t have the talent of the Beavers, they play a difficult style as they are very run dominant. After the first 2 games of the season facing explosive passing styles, it could offer a very difficult challenge.

9.  Arizona Wildcats

Aug. 24 at Hawaii

Sept. 7 vs. Northern Arizona

Sept. 14 vs. Texas Tech

Arizona faces the same early challenge as Oregon State, as they make the long journey to play Hawaii.  There is sure to be a lot of points in that game, and will get to see Khalil Tate and Cole Mcdonald put on an early season show.  They get a nice bye week before they play Northern Arizona, which shouldn’t present to many issues. They then take on the Raid Raiders in what will be the first big game for new coach Matt Wells.  You can count on him having his guys ready for the occasion and will be a big challenge for Kevin Sumlin and the WIldcats.

10.  Utah Utes

Aug. 29 at BYU

Sept. 7 vs. Northern Illinois

Sept. 14 vs. Idaho State

Starting the season with the Holy War vs BYU is going to be a big challenge for this Utah team.  They outperformed many people’s expectations last season, and due to that will have a little more pressure to perform.  They escaped with a win last year, and you can guarantee that BYU has been waiting for a chance to get some revenge. Northern Illinois was one of the best in the MAC last year, and expect them to continue rolling this year.  If there is any let down after BYU, the Huskies will pounce.

11.  Arizona State Sun Devils

Aug. 29 vs. Kent State

Sept. 6 vs. Sacramento State

Sept. 14 at Michigan State

Arizona State should see little issues in the first 2 games of the season.  They are a talented roster, and Coach Dungy is a well known motivator who should make sure they don’t have a let down.  Week 3 should be a fun one, as he takes his bunch into East Lansing to take on Big Ten power Michigan State. They upset the Spartans last year in a fantastic finish, and you can count on the Spartans being ready to pay them back.  This might be the most interesting game on the whole Pac-12 non conference schedule, and could indicate if Dungy is ready to coach in the big games.

12.  Washington State Cougars

Aug. 31 vs. New Mexico State

Sept. 7 vs. Northern Colorado

Sept. 13 vs. Houston (Houston)

Washington State has a very friendly start to the season.  New Mexico State and Northern Colorado are vastly inferior in talent, and shouldnt be an issue for Leach’s squad.  Sept. 13 will be one of the most fun games to watch, however, in the Pac-12 schedule. Houston and Wash St. have similar styles, which both involve the ball flying around and scoring a lot of points.  The Cougars were in the hunt for the CFP last season, and while that may be tough to duplicate, a win here would be a great step.

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