Pac-12 Football: Every Team's Toughest Road Game in 2014
We're continuing our journey toward the start of the Pac-12 football season (under 100 days!) by taking a look at one of the most critical components to a successful team: road performance.
With all the pageantry of the sport that includes raucous home environments and shaky nerves for road teams faced with a key third down late in the fourth quarter, playing away from the friendly confines of your team's supporters can be difficult.
But you can't be anything more than average without being able to win on the road. Some teams will catch a break and not have to face more than one ranked opponent away from home. Others, as is the luck of the draw, will face several.
We're looking at the most difficult road game of 2014 for every Pac-12 team.
All info via espn.com
Toughest Road Game: At Oregon—Thursday, Oct. 2nd
Can you say revenge?
That will be the name of the game for the Ducks when the Wildcats visit Eugene this fall, though you probably won't hear that word coming from anyone outside the media.
Still, the last time Rich Rodriguez and his men traveled to Autzen they ran down the tunnel with a national ranking in tow and left as the sole proprietors of a 49-0 spanking.
If the Wildcats can get good quarterback play and avoid mistakes early on, they'll have a shot. But this could be a statement game for Marcus Mariota and company. When you consider that it will be the first trip to Eugene for Arizona's starting quarterback, you can understand why the October visit north will be the season's toughest.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Toughest Road Game: At USC—Saturday, Oct. 4th
Arizona State faces a relatively easy road slate in 2014, all things considered. Trips to Washington, rival Arizona and perhaps even Oregon State could all be considered tough. But we're going with another revenge game, one that will take place at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Awaiting the Sun Devils will be first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and the USC Trojans. You might recall it was last year's thumping in Tempe that immediately led to Lane Kiffin's firing. The offense was okay in that game, but the defense was putrid.
Adding to the gravity of this contest will be the fact that both teams should be vying for the south division title at season's end. A win could mean the difference between a trip to the Bay for the conference championship and a viewing spot at home on the couch.
The Trojans aren't the scariest team to play on the road, but they'll provide the toughest challenge to the Sun Devils away from home in 2014.
California Golden Bears
Toughest Road Game: At USC—Thursday, Nov. 13th
Much like Arizona State, Cal caught a break with its schedule in 2014. Unfortunately, Cal wasn't very good regardless of where it played last fall. The Bears lone win came at home against Portland State, and it was a tight contest throughout.
We're going with USC once again for one simple reason: the Bears were dead last in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game in 2013, and the Trojans know how to throw the football. Arizona was also considered, but the Wildcats are breaking in a new quarterback, and, despite a bevy of wideouts, Rich Rodriguez always uses a heavy dose of run game.
Sarkisian, on the other hand, will let the Cody Kessler to Nelson Agholor connection work its magic. Then there's the matter of Cal's lone strength—its passing game—being tested against a secondary that contains cornerback Josh Shaw and safeties Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay III.
The Bears won't find any matchup easy next season, but the trip to Los Angeles should be particularly troublesome.
Toughest Road Game: At Oregon—Saturday, Nov. 22nd
The last time Colorado played in Autzen Stadium, it fell behind 56-0—at halftime. It was as ugly a game as you'll find in college football, and there isn't much reason to think this time around will be entirely different.
The Buffaloes are much better than their 2012 selves, but the defense just doesn't have the kind of athletes you need to keep up with the pace of Oregon's offense. On the other hand, Colorado's passing threat isn't at the level it needs to be to threaten a solid secondary like the one we expect to see from the Ducks.
Even if this game does manage to stay close into the second quarter, do the Buffs really have the horses to keep it that way? In what could be a coming-of-age game for quarterback Sefo Liufau, look for Mike MacIntyre's team to come out fired up for this one.
Unfortunately, the talent gap remains vast, and the trip to Eugene will be the most difficult journey of the season for Colorado.
Toughest Road Game: At UCLA—Saturday, October 11th
This was the easiest selection of them all because, while Oregon will face Michigan State, Stanford, Washington and Arizona, all of those games are being played in Eugene. A trip up the road to Corvallis should prove tricky, but not as much as the venture south into southern California.
That will take place partway through the month of October and will result in a game between the Ducks and the UCLA Bruins. All signs point toward this being the breakout season for Jim Mora's squad. He has a dynamic quarterback in Brett Hundley, a talented offensive line and potentially one of the best defenses in the country.
The Rose Bowl isn't known for getting particularly loud, but this is a Bruins team that hung tight at Autzen last season. In fact, it was 14-14 at halftime and well into the third quarter before Oregon stormed away with 28 unanswered points.
Had that game been played in Pasadena, who knows what the result would have been. In any case, UCLA is the most talented team Oregon will face in the Pac-12, which makes its road trip to face the Bruins the most difficult one of the year.
Oregon State Beavers
Toughest Road Game: At Stanford—Saturday, October 25th
The one thing Oregon State knows how to do with quarterback Sean Mannion at the helm is pass the ball. Last year, it was wide receiver Brandin Cooks bringing home the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver, and it was Mannion who threw for over 4,500 yards.
But this year's squad will be without Cooks, and, when it heads to Palo Alto to take on Stanford, the situation could turn into a dicey one. The Cardinal boast one of the best secondaries in the country led by Jordan Richards, Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons, and Richard Mullaney is the only proven threat at receiver for Mike Riley and company.
On the plus side, the Beavers took Stanford down to the final play of the game in 2013 before taking the loss. Perhaps Riley and his staff figured out some answers, and they'll be able to utilize that knowledge again.
However, no game against Stanford has been easy in the past five seasons. The trip to the Bay Area will provide Oregon State with its toughest road game of the season.
Toughest Road Game: At Oregon—Saturday, Nov. 1st
Can you say revenge? (Part 2)
In 2013, it was the Stanford Cardinal who ended Oregon's shot a national title game by embarrassing the Ducks on national television and jumping out to a 26-0 lead. Mark Helfrich's squad stormed back to make it interesting, but anyone who watched the game knows how it all went down.
The Ducks harp on taking things one day at a time, but if there's one team they're already preparing for, it's Stanford. The crowd will be louder than ever, and the Pac-12 north title could very well be at stake once again.
Can Stanford punish the Ducks up the middle once again? Will the defense put the clamps on Marcus Mariota for a third year in a row?
Both of those questions are waiting to be answered, and, if Stanford wants a shot at a third straight conference title, the Cardinal will have to earn it in Eugene.
Toughest Road Game: At Arizona State—Thursday, Sept. 25th
UCLA has the great pleasure of not facing Oregon, Stanford, USC or Arizona on the road in 2014. With a matchup against Texas technically labeled as a neutral-site contest, this pretty much leaves Arizona State as the only difficult road game remaining.
Washington may also provide some difficulty, but they have a lot to prove on offense in year one of the Chris Petersen era, and the Bruins defense should be outstanding. With Arizona State, the Sun Devils can hit you in a number of spots.
They can go for the home-run with speedster D.J. Foster rushing or catching the ball out of the backfield. They can go ball control with solid route running and sure hands by wide receiver Jaelen Strong. They can also go misdirection by letting Taylor Kelly take off and make things happen with his legs.
It will be the complete challenge all wrapped up into a single afternoon for UCLA, which makes the trip to Tempe the toughest of 2014.
Toughest Road Game: At UCLA—Saturday, Nov. 22nd
USC has a fairly difficult road schedule in 2014, with trips to Boston College, Stanford and Arizona, but it's the rival Bruins who should provide the stiffest challenge to Steve Sarkisian and company away from the Coliseum.
Last fall, we saw Brett Hundley lead his team to a 35-14 victory over the Trojans even after USC looked to be on the rebound following a big win over Stanford. The Bruins were better in all phases and will look to firmly establish dominance of the area with a third straight win.
Given that no one will need to use their airline miles to attend this one, you can expect plenty of Trojan supporters in attendance. But this has turned into a fierce rivalry as of late with UCLA's resurgence and USC's downturn.
Optimism is high in both camps, and it's arguably the biggest game on each team's schedule. That makes it the hardest road game for USC, even with a trip to Palo Alto early in September.
Toughest Road Game: At Stanford—Saturday, Nov. 15th
You'll notice the "revenge" theme popping up again and again throughout this piece, but there's just something about serving up some cold, hard payback in front of your home crowd.
Utah shocked everyone when it knocked off Stanford in 2013, but, in order to make it two straight over the reigning conference champs, they'll have to do it on the road.
The Utes also play at UCLA, but it's the payback factor that makes Stanford a bit more challenging. After all, it was Oregon that knocked Stanford off in 2010 and 2011, which prevented the Cardinal from potentially playing for a pair of national titles. David Shaw's team then let forth a built-up vengeance that has served to eliminate the Ducks from conference contention the past two seasons.
This may not have the same allure as Oregon-Stanford, but the Cardinal will still be looking for payback, and to a struggling Utes offense that has to face Stanford's defense, we can only say "good luck."
Toughest Road Game: At Oregon—Saturday, October 18th
Because who else would it be? The Washington Huskies have lost 10 straight to the Ducks, a fact which their friends to the south will happily mention whenever they get a chance.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota had perhaps his best game of the 2013 season in Seattle in front of a national audience, and there's no reason to think he won't do the same thing with the green and yellow-clad fans at his back.
Furthermore, there will be a quarterback for Washington playing his first game in Autzen Stadium. That's the second time we've mentioned this particular challenge, but, over the years, there haven't been many youngsters able to tame the Autzen roars.
The battle will look extremely one-sided before it begins, but Chris Petersen has pulled off miracles before. Regardless of where you put his team's chances of winning at, it's easily the Huskies' most difficult road game of the season.
Washington State Cougars
Toughest Road Game: At Stanford—Friday, Oct. 10th
The same logic used to select Stanford as Oregon's State's most difficult road game is going to be applied here as well. The Cougars like to throw it—early and often—and the Cardinal are poised to field one of the better secondaries in the nation.
That alone should make the trip to Palo Alto extremely challenging for Washington State. But when you compare the game to the other contests away from home, the pick is even more obvious.
There's Nevada, Utah, Oregon State and Arizona State, and it's hard to imagine Mike Leach not finding a way to rip those defenses apart. We're not predicting four Cougar victories, but those games don't look as foreboding for Washington State.
Stanford absolutely smashed the Cougars in 2013, and they'll be looking to do the same thing next fall in their own backyard.