In recent years, the Pac-10 has made a habit of scheduling tough out of conference games to raise its profile. Because of the weak national perception, the Pac-10 needs to use these games to showcase its teams and earn some respect in the polls. However, there is one huge caveat to these games: the Pac-10 needs to win them. Aside from USC, who hasn’t lost a regular season non-conference game since 2002, the conference hasn’t faired particularly well. A year ago, the conference suffered bad losses to Wake Forest (Stanford) and Boise State (Oregon). Let’s take a look at who each team scheduled and rank them in terms of difficulty.
1. Oregon State: v.TCU in Arlington, v.Louisville, @Boise State
The Beavers’ non-conference slate is brutal. In fact, it may be the most challenging one in the country. The game in Arlington is essentially a road game. TCU and Boise State will most likely open the season as top-5 teams. Despite the fact that Oregon won the conference last season, they struggled mightily in Boise to open the season. Oregon State is notorious for starting sluggishly and is likely to suffer the same fate. It certainly doesn’t help that they have to break in a new quarterback. Coach Riley’s team will be 1-2 heading into conference play.
2. UCLA: @Kansas State, v.Houston, @Texas
UCLA dispatched Kansas State a year ago in Pasadena, but it wasn’t easy. In 2010, their home game against Houston will be a tough one. The Cougars will likely have a top-25 ranking. Led by Case Keenum, Houston bolsters one of the most prolific passing attacks in the country. The Bruins will have a tough time keeping pace in what should be a shootout. Add in a trip to Austin, and UCLA is staring down the barrel of a gun. Texas is a top-10 team that made the title game a year ago and has high expectations once again.
3. Washington: @BYU, v.Syracuse, v.Nebraska
Provo is never a comfortable venue to visit. The Cougars upset Oklahoma last season at a neutral site and went 11-2. While much of the talent from last year is gone, BYU will be a tough out. Syracuse continues to rebuild under second year coach Dough Marrone. Enter Nebraska, who will likely begin as a top-10 team. The Huskers offense found its groove in the Holiday Bowl with a 33-0 shutout of Arizona. The Blackshirts will swarm on defense and keep the Huskies’ hands full. Washington has a huge advantage playing at home, where it put a scare in LSU last season. The big upside to a tough out of conference schedule: Heisman hopeful Jake Locker will have a plethora of opportunities to showcase his talents.
4. Arizona: @Toledo, v.the Citadel, v.Iowa
The oven just beeped signaling the Wildcats’ cupcakes are ready. Arizona will be on ESPN for their game with Toledo, but that game and the one with the Citadel won’t bring back memories of Appalachian State storming Ann Arbor. After those two scrimmages, Arizona faces a battle with Iowa, the Hawkeyes offense is stellar, with Ricky Stanzi returning to lead the charge at quarterback. Iowa will be highly ranked when they visit the ‘Zona Zoo. Last year, Arizona fell to Iowa by the count of 27-17. With an improved offense, the Wildcats have a very good chance to spring the upset.
5. Arizona State: v. Portland State, v.Northern Iowa, @Wisconsin
Dennis Erickson is looking to pad his record and save his job by placing two easy wins on the schedule early. However, he will have to earn his paycheck when he takes the Sun Devils to Camp Randall. Wisconsin is the darkhorse to win a very strong Big 10. The Badgers have a stout, physical defense that will stifle an uninspired Arizona State attack. On offense, Wisconsin’s physical, grind-it-out style will clash with one of the best defenses in the Pac-10. A win is improbable, but it would be a huge step forward for the Pac-10, which is in the midst of rebranding and trying to expand exposure.
8. California: v.UC Davis, v.Colorado, @Nevada
Despite the hype put forth by some Aggies I know, California’s game against UC Davis will be laughable. The Golden Bears will be playing reserves by the start of the second half against this FCS team. Cal will get a look at future conference opponent Colorado as well. Coach Dan Hawkins may not be around to see his school join the Pac-12. The Buffaloes are terrible and won’t present a challenge. However, Cal is on upset alert when the travel to Reno. The Wolfpack have a potent offense and are the clear number 2 in the WAC behind Boise State. Even so, Cal should be able to pull through against an inferior team.
9. Washington State: @Oklahoma State, v.Montana State, @SMU
Oklahoma State isn’t the contender it was just a year ago. Only seven starters return and this team will be very young and inexperienced. Both the offense and the defense will deal with growing pains. Montana State is an FBS team that the Cougars should handle. A year ago, Washington State’s only win came against SMU. The Mustangs have since gelled under June Jones and the Cougars won’t be able to handle the trip to Dallas, but it should be a very competitive game. Luckily for Wazzu, the non-conference schedule isn’t very challenging. Unfortunately, the team isn’t very talented. A win against Montana State may very well be the only one of the campaign.
10. Oregon: v.New Mexico, @Tennessee, v.Portland State
New Mexico and Portland State define the term “bodybag game”. Neither team stands a chance coming to Autzen to take on the formidable Ducks. New Mexico dwells in the cellar of the Mountain West while Portland State isn’t even in the FCS. UCLA, with its anemic offense, was able to go into Knoxville and defeat a Tennessee team that isn’t very talented. Even though Tennessee is in the SEC, they aren’t a quality opponent. Many laugh at Lane Kiffin for going 7-6 there a year ago, but I would be surprised if they surpass that mark this year.
While its hard to root for rivals on Saturdays, out of conference games are a chance for fans of all Pac-10 schools to bond. It is in the best interest of all schools to see their conference foes run the table and present a strong front against the rest of the nation. Good luck to all teams (yes, even Stanford). May you carry the Pac-10 flag with pride.
-The most important non-conference games for the conference’s image are:
Oregon State v. TCU
Oregon State @ Boise State
UCLA @ Texas
Washington v. Nebraska
Arizona v. Iowa
Arizona State @ Wisconsin
Oregon @ Tennessee