Ducks, Cardinal to battle
June 28, 2013
2013 PAC-12 North - Schedule Outlook
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.
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.
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 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.