The Pac-10 has a reputation of playing the best out-of-conference (OOC) schedule in the country. In my journey around the Big Six, I have found a whole lot of weak schedules, along with a few good ones.
The current structure of the BCS rankings encourage teams to find the easiest OOC games in order to inflate their records to win the beauty contest that the BCS championship game.
This disease is slowly taking over the Pac-10 as well.
The Pac-10 plays the fewest OOC games each year, only 30, due to its round-robin format. The Pac-10 is also the only conference to play nine conference games, which in turn gives the Pac-10 more losses. This has put the Pac-10 schools at a severe disadvantage compared to other conferences, making it less likely to have more highly ranked teams and BCS berths.
The Pac-10 has received the fewest BCS berths of any conference, and everyone knows that USC will not get into the title game unless there is absolutely no way to prohibit it. I have written elsewhere about how the BCS gives the Pac-10 nothing it did not have before it joined.
In fact, the BCS has taken away the Pac-10 advantages, such as getting the Big Ten champion at the Rose Bowl, giving the opportunity to pound Ohio State to other conferences.
The Pac-10 OOC schedule is slowly becoming like much of the other Big Six conferences, with a bit of garbage here and there.
1. Southern California
San Jose State, at Ohio State, at Notre Dame
USC has dominated the Pac-10 for the last seven years, but before Pete Carroll’s arrival, USC had been down for a long time. Since Carroll came to Los Angeles, USC has ruled, sometimes with defense, sometimes with offense, and sometimes with both.
For all of that, USC has only two national championships, as the Trojans have watched as other teams—many of which that take the cupcake route to the BCS—play for the BCS title.
It is unlikely that USC will return to the BCS title game anytime soon, even though it has been, is, and will be the best team in college football. The Pac-10 created a self-inflicted wound by going to the nine-game conference schedule.
Only four teams have gone undefeated in Pac-10 play since 1989, and going to the round-robin has made an already difficult task almost impossible. But then again, nobody ever accused the Pac-10 administrators of being smart.
USC does not rebuild—it reloads. With talent at every position and on every level, USC is the No. 1 farm team for the NFL.
Yes, the defense lost a lot of talent, but it will still be one of the best in the country. The Trojans will have a new quarterback, but which one? Does not matter? They will all be NFL starters anyway—and at least none of them have an active statutory rape case.
Pete Carroll is the best coach in college football—well, except when he designed the defense to face Vince Young.
The Spartans of San Jose State came out of the gate last year at 6-3, before Dick Tomey’s team had a three-game sweep in the wrong direction.
Tomey, the former coach of Arizona during the Desert Storm defense days, had the nation’s 21st-ranked defense last year and three defensive players drafted. SJSU returns seven starters on that side of the ball, but the Spartans need to find an offense to support that good defense. It's not a great OOC game, but it's a lot better than a Sun Belt team or an FCS school.
Last year, the Buckeyes blamed their loss to USC on Beanie Wells’ injury.
No, the Trojans just kicked their butts.
This year, in one of the top OOC games of the season, USC goes to the Ohio State University to demonstrate why the Trojans are truly great.
Pryor is excellent, but can he actually take on the USC defense? I doubt it.
Notre Dame might as well be a Pac-10 squad this year, as it is playing four Pac-10 teams. The Irish might be BCS bound or back to the gutter, and nobody really knows where Charlie Weis’ team will end up.
This game is truly one of the great traditions in college football and the hallmark of what is truly great in the sport. No other rivalry in college sports really has the same power and prestige.
At Boise State, Purdue, Utah
The Ducks think that they can "quack" open the BCS door this year, behind a high powered-running attack. First-year coach Chip Kelly, the offensive coordinator that turned Oregon into a ground-pounding juggernaut, takes over from one of the most successful coaches in college football.
The Ducks will be looking to avenge its close, early season loss to Boise State, as well as aiming to take the Pac-10 crown away from USC. The defense is solid against the run, and the quarterback issues should be totally resolved.
Going to the Smurf Turf to start the season, the Ducks look to avenge last year’s loss to Boise State. Looking back at the game, it is clear that Oregon suffered due to problems at quarterback, but the Broncos were also really good last year.
This year’s edition of Boise State should be just as good or better, although it will be missing Fiesta Bowl hero Ian Johnson.
Everyone is looking forward to this game starting the college football season off with a bang.
Purdue challenged Oregon unexpectedly last year. This year, Oregon is better, and Purdue is not. While this game is Oregon’s only BCS OOC game, it really is the easiest of the three games. Amazing.
Utah will likely still be continuing the longest winning streak in college football when it comes to Autzen Stadium. Utah has played Oregon 25 times over the years. In the last 20 years, the teams have met six times, splitting the series.
The Utes have to almost completely rebuild on offense. While most of the defense returns, it is missing three NFL draft picks. New quarterback Corbin Louks is not much of a passer, but he is an excellent runner.
Oregon should win this game, but it might be closer than at first glance.
LSU, Idaho, at Notre Dame
Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
While the Huskies have become the joke of college football due to Willingham, it was not that long ago that UW challenged for a national title. But UW has not been ranked since 2003.
New head coach Steve Sarkisian hopes to change all that, bringing the winning ways of USC to the Pacific Northwest. Since Sarkisian is the smarter of Norm Chow’s two protégés (he did not take the Raider job like Lane Kiffin did), as well as a successful college quarterback at BYU, look for this program to come back to prominence in the coming years.
The Huskies return with superstar quarterback Jake Locker, who missed most of last season, to guide the offense. Sark has also brought in Nick Holt, who was the defensive coordinator for the South Carolina, to run that side of the football.
The Huskies will win at least two games this year, and UW may get close to .500 if Locker stays healthy.
When LSU comes to Seattle, the game should be over early. LSU looks like it will be back in the hunt for an SEC West title following a down year. At least Tiger fans can enjoy a different sort of pregame atmosphere.
There is almost no way to play a worse team then the Idaho Vandals in FBS games. Dennis Erickson, who had coached there in the 1980s when Idaho was still a FCS school, returned for the 2006 season, claiming he just wanted to build a program and have a low-pressure position.
Idaho might actually be good right now if he had stayed, instead of heading to Arizona State the next year. Washington will win this game.
Notre Dame will have little pressure in this game, unless Sarkisian actually turns UW around quickly (unlikely) and Weis screws up royally again (more likely). At least the Huskies fans can enjoy taking in the history at South Bend.
At Wake Forest, San Jose State, Notre Dame
Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh has not been able to get a winning season, but he has secured some important wins, including USC and Cal in 2007 and Oregon State in 2008.
Stanford has depended upon a strong running game, but the defense fails to stop almost anyone outside of Washington State.
Harbaugh will likely leave if the team finds any success, which is not really likely.
Wake Forest rocked the ACC world for a little while, but it is now is a declining program. Even so, Stanford should struggle to win here on the road.
San Jose State is the third team in the San Francisco Bay area, but it is usually behind the two other schools. As mentioned above, the Spartans play good defense and hope to find offense this year, and Stanford should look out for the possible upset here.
Notre Dame has entered into a regular series with Stanford, and since 1988, the teams have only failed to meet in 1995 and 1996. Stanford has not won since 2001, and this should be an easy win for the Irish at the end of the season.
5. Arizona State
Idaho State, Louisiana-Monroe, at Georgia
Veteran head coach Dennis Erickson is the king of the quick rebound. He arrived in Tempe two years ago and put together a 10-3 season.
Last year’s Sun Devil team was a massive disappointment. A top 15 team going into the season, ASU was upset by UNLV to ruin its season.
This year, the Sun Devils have lowered the schedule even more, having two cupcakes to play along with SEC power Georgia. ASU should go 2-1 in its OOC schedule, meaning it needs to go 4-5 in the Pac-10 round-robin play to get to a bowl game.
Neither Idaho State nor Louisiana-Monroe are worthy of a write-up. The only thing going for these cupcakes is that only one is a FCS school.
Georgia is another thing altogether. The Bulldogs may be the best team on this season’s schedule—and no worst that second-hardest game.
Mark Richt’s boys play one of the hardest schedules in the country, and although they lost two first-round NFL draft picks, Georgia may be actually better this year. A Sun Devil win would be absolutely shocking here.
SDSU, at Tennessee, Kansas State
Rick Neuheisel has had only two losing season in his years at Colorado, Washington, and UCLA. Last year, the Bruins started with a quality win over Tennessee before the season fell apart with BYU’s 59-0 thrashing of UCLA.
Former defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker had built a strong defense for the Bruins, especially against the pass. But the Bruins could rarely stop running attacks last year.
Offensive coordinator Norm Chow could only do so much with error-prone Kevin Craft (20 interceptions and only seven touchdowns), who will only see game time if new quarterback Kevin Prince is injured.
Slick Rick should be able to bring the Bruins back to respectability this soon.
San Diego State should be a non-BCS contender. The school is in America’s Finest City, with a vast array of available talent. Of course, the team may need a new home soon, which may not be too bad if the Aztecs could get an on-campus stadium.
New head coach Brady Hoke may actually get SDSU back to where they were years ago. Back in the days of Don Coryell, the Aztecs won 84 percent of their games over 12 years, as he developed what eventually turned into Air Coryell with the Chargers—which is really the true beginnings of the West Coast offense. The Aztec continued to contend until 1996—when they beat OU.
Hoke has brought in former Lobo head coach Rocky Long as his defensive coordinator, so expect the Aztecs to quickly become very good on defense. The offense may improve soon as well, but just do not expect the Aztecs, who almost beat Notre Dame last year, to actually pull the upset over the Bruins.
Last year, Tennessee expected to challenge for the SEC East title. Instead, UCLA ruined the Volunteers’ season.
With an extremely outspoken head coach in Lane Kiffin, Tennessee has entered the news at least. Chow knows more about offensive than almost anyone, and he taught Kiffin everything he needed to get this job. Kiffin brought his dad in to create a Volunteer defense.
UCLA could win this one again, sending the Orange-clad fans into another meltdown.
Bill Snyder has returned to Kansas State, but do not expect him to have success anytime soon. Kansas State is currently challenging for the title of worst Big 12 program with Iowa State and Texas A&M.
While K-State may improve slightly, this team is so far down that it will be hard just to move up to third or fourth in the Big 12 North. Look for a Bruin win.
Maryland, Eastern Washington (FCS), at Minnesota
It is very odd to say that the Cal Bears have huge question marks at quarterback. Jeff Tedford is one of the great developers of quarterback talent, but this year’s team is all about the running game. Running back Jahvid Best is virtually unstoppable and averaged 8.1 yards per carry last season.
Last year, the Bears had two odd losses to the Terps and to Arizona, which stopped a good season from being a great one. Cal looks to challenge USC, Oregon, and Oregon State for the title of top dog in the Pac-10.
Its OOC schedule leaves much to desire, so look for the Bears to cruise through this cakewalk OOC schedule.
Maryland pulled one of the biggest and most surprising upsets of the year when it beat Cal. The Terps started slow out of the gate, struggling with FCS Delaware and losing to Sun Belt Middle Tennessee State before coming back home to beat the Bears. Maybe the Bears lost because it was an early morning game that, when adjusting for three hours of time difference, started about the same time that the Cal players normally woke up.
Memo to Pac-10 teams: Make sure that games on the East Coast are played in the afternoon in the future. he Terps ended up in the middle of the average ACC, with a very bad loss to Virginia in the mix.
Look for revenge to work here, as Best runs over Maryland.
Eastern Washington is another average FCS squad, and Cal should be ashamed. Wasn’t Utah State or New Mexico State available? Or did Cal just not want to pay the money?
Minnesota has been average to bad for most of my lifetime. Last year, the Gophers played one of the very worst OOC schedules in the country with four cupcakes. Those four wins, plus a 3-5 conference record earned the Gophers a chance to get blown away by Kansas at the Insight Bowl. The Gophers open a new stadium this year, so they upgraded the OOC schedule to only have two cupcakes.
The Bears have been known for dropping odd road games, but this game should go off as planned as a Cal victory.
Central Michigan, Northern Arizona (FCS), @ Iowa
Bob Stoops’ brother Mike knows how to coach defenses. OU’s defense has not been the same since he came to Arizona, while the Wildcats have played some of the best defense in the Pac-10.
The problem for Stoops has been getting an offense worthy of his defense. Running a version of the spread has been hit or miss for the Cats, but mostly miss.
Last year’s defense has was great against the pass—very important for the pass happy Pac-10—allowing just 182 yards per game. The problem was that it could not stop the run and teams like Oregon, Stanford, and New Mexico took advantage of this weakness.
Arizona ended last season with a bit of success by beating a depressed BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, which saved Stoops' job. But if the Wildcats have another bad season, Stoops may be asking his brother for a job back in Norman.
Central Michigan is a good MAC program, and quarterback Dan LaFevour is a true NFL prospect. However, CMU has a true MAC defense, ranked past one hundred last season. Expect Arizona to win this one without too much effort.
Flagstaff-based Northern Arizona is a pretty average FCS school. Coming down from the mountains to the Tuscon desert will result in an easy win for Arizona.
Coming off a pretty good season last year, Iowa is a very dangerous Big Ten team. Though they will be without the nation’s leading rushing Shonn Greene, the Hawkeyes will continue to pound the ground with authority. Iowa also has one of the Big Ten's top defenses.
A Wildcat win here would indicate that Stoops finally has it all together and will be very dangerous in the Pac-10.
9. Washington State
Hawaii (in Seattle), SMU, Notre Dame (in San Antonio)
As late as 2003, Washington State was a top national program. Now, it is about as bad any team out there.
If not for nearby Idaho (just a few miles from Pullman) and UW, the Cougars would have gone 0 for the season.
This year, there is little chance for improvement. Last year, Wazzu could not run, pass, stop the run, or stop the pass, and much of this will continue.
The opener against Hawaii in Seattle gives Wazzu one of its two chances for a win. Hawaii is not anything like what it was under June Jones, and may not be again anytime soon. Even so, the Cougars will struggle to get a win.
Former Hawaii coach June Jones has taken on the task on rebuilding SMU, but he has yet to have success. The death penalty has never been applied again in college football, even though numerous programs such as Miami, Florida State, Oklahoma, and most of the SEC outside of Vandy likely should have received it.
For those who don’t remember, SMU was the best team money could buy and the kings of Dallas for a little while. Last year, the Mustangs had only seven students actually attend every home game—outside of the band and the team, of course. Wazzu has a decent chance to defeat this other pathetic program.
Notre Dame, completing this four-game Pac-10 season in a neutral site contest in the vacation capitol of Texas, should have no trouble here unless the team gets lost on the Riverwalk in many excellent bars and restaurants.
It is nice of ND to travel around the country so its fans can see games outside of the Midwest, and it is not as if the Cougars lose much by going to a neutral site game 2,000 miles or so from home. Their fans might have fun, too, going to the Alamo and SeaWorld for Halloween.
10. Oregon State
Portland State (FCS), at UNLV, Cincinnati
Oregon State shocked the world last year with its dominating upset of USC. Mini-RB Jacquizz Rogers ran all over USC, and only a season-ending loss to Oregon stopped the Beavers from going to the Rose Bowl.
Head coach Mike Riley has really built a solid program here, which is amazing given its historically bad play.The Beavers look to challenge again for the Pac-10 crown this season.
OSU should sweep their OOC schedule, but there are two possible pitfalls along the way.
Portland State is an urban commuter school playing FCS ball. They are working hard to upgrade the program and could potentially move up to FBS level in a few years. Jerry Glanville, yes, the Jerry Glanville, was brought in as head coach, but this experiment has not worked out so well yet.
Two years ago, the Vikings shocked San Diego State—well the Aztecs are so bad that this was not too much of a shock)—but the team has yet to go .500, and even Washington State blew them out last year.
UNLV would really like to have a good football team. Even though the stadium is out in the desert 10 miles east of campus, the Rebels are trying to build a real program. John Robinson came in and brought a measure of respectability, with wins over teams like Arkansas, Baylor, Kansas, and Wisconsin. Hey, even I bought season tickets one year while I lived out there.
The Rebels brought in Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator from his Utah Fiesta Bowl team, Mark Sanford, thinking he could build a competitive program. Unfortunately, progress has been slow. Last year, the program went on the rebound, pulling OOC upsets at Arizona State and hosting Iowa State, before crashing under the tough MWC competition.
Led by quarterback Omar Clayton—who has a great life story for anyone looking for something good in college football—and a rock-steady defense, the Rebels look to pull some upsets of the top teams in the conference. An upset of the Beavers in the hot, dry desert would not be completely shocking.
Cincinnati put in an admirable season last year, earning the Big East crown and a BCS berth. Coach Brian Kelly is now considered one of the best in the country and will be in the talk for every major job opening until he leaves. Maybe he’ll get the Michigan job after Rich Rodriguez fails.
The team this year is way down, losing almost the entire defense and having nothing much to celebrate on offense. Look for the Beavers to eat the Bearcats in this one.