Pac-12 football: Ranking the 2022 schedules; UCLA has easiest in the conference
USC has a near-perfect schedule to begin the Lincoln Riley era and a potential launching pad for program’s return to relevance
Jon Wilner (OCRegister.com) — The Pac-12 last week announced two additional components to the 2022 football schedule, revealing the kickoff times for early-season games and the finalized lineup of weeknight matchups.
For the purposes of this exercise, the latter of the two disclosures was more significant: No assessment of schedule strength is complete without accounting for the logistics of Thursday and Friday games.
Overall, the Pac-12 has 11 dates with Power Five opponents, including Notre Dame (three games), Georgia, Florida and Michigan State.
Three teams won’t play any non-conference road games.
One team doesn’t leave home until October.
Here we go, with schedules ranked from most to least difficult …
Home games (six): TCU (Friday), UCLA, Cal, Arizona State, Oregon, Utah
Road games (six): Air Force, Minnesota, Arizona, Oregon State, USC (Friday), Washington
Pac-12 misses: Stanford and Washington State
Notable nugget: The Buffs face Oregon, USC, Washington and Utah in succession in November. Yikes.
Comment: Every aspect of CU’s schedule is akin to a Category 5 storm, from the absence of non-conference cupcakes to the cross-division misses to the brutal finishing stretch. All this for a team that seemingly would struggle with an average schedule.
Home games (six): Colgate, BYU, USC, Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington State
Road games (six): Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Cal, UCLA
Pac-12 misses: Arizona and Colorado
Notable nugget: Stanford is the only team with a September bye (Week Three), which forces the Cardinal to play 10 weeks in a row. Good luck with that.
Comment: We considered ranking this lineup No. 1, but at least the Cardinal has one cupcake (Colgate). The road schedule is comically difficult (per usual in even years).
Home games (six): BYU, Eastern Washington, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Utah
Road/neutral games (six): Georgia (neutral), Washington State, Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon State
Pac-12 misses: USC and ASU
Notable nugget: The Washington game (Nov. 12) will be played later in the season than any year since 2002 (Nov. 16).
Comment: Our assessment of the schedule starts with the opener against the defending champions, but all of Oregon’s losses to Stanford and derailments in the desert serve to increase the degree of difficulty.
Home games (seven): Mississippi State, North Dakota State, Colorado, USC, Oregon, WSU, ASU (Friday)
Road games (five): San Diego State, Cal, Washington, Utah, UCLA
Pac-12 misses: Stanford and Oregon State
Notable nugget: NDSU has won nine of the past 11 FCS national titles. Consider that game a toss-up.
Comment: This stands as Arizona’s toughest schedule in years with the wrong cross-division misses and no non-conference cupcakes. (Then again, after last season, can anyone be considered a cupcake for the Cats?)
Home games (six): Southern Utah, San Diego State, Oregon State, USC, Arizona, Stanford
Road games (six): Florida, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State (Thursday), Oregon, Colorado
Pac-12 misses: Washington and Cal
Notable nugget: The WSU duel (Oct. 27) will be the Pac-12’s first conference game on a Thursday since Stanford-UCLA in the 2019 season.
Comment: The perfect schedule for a playoff contender, with just enough challenges to satisfy the selection committee but no nasty twists or turns and a revenge game (SDSU) in what might otherwise be a trap situation. The Utes are a 1.5-point favorite at Florida, by the way.
6. Arizona State
Home games (six): NAU (Thursday), Eastern Michigan, Utah, Washington, UCLA, Oregon State
Road games (six): Oklahoma State, Colorado, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Arizona (Friday)
Pac-12 misses: Cal and Oregon
Notable nugget: ASU is the only team that plays four of its final six games on the road.
Comment: Circumstances make the schedule more difficult than it might seem initially: The Sun Devils and their rebuilt roster have three early dates with teams (Oklahoma State, Utah and USC) that should be in the top 15 of the AP preseason poll.
7. Washington State
Home games (seven): Idaho, Colorado State, Oregon, Cal, Utah (Thursday), Arizona State, Washington
Road games (five): Wisconsin, USC, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona
Pac-12 misses: UCLA and Colorado
Notable nugget: The Cougars are the only team that opens conference play with two consecutive home games.
Comment: Nice to see a Power Five opponent on the schedule (for the first time since 2015), but it’s a manageable lineup overall, especially with OSU, Stanford and Arizona making up 75 percent of the conference road schedule.
8. Oregon State
Home games (seven): Boise State, Montana State, USC, Washington State, Colorado, Cal, Oregon
Road games (five): Fresno State, Utah, Stanford, Washington (Friday), Arizona State
Pac-12 misses: UCLA and Arizona
Notable nugget: The Beavers haven’t won a season opener since beating Weber State in 2015.
Comment: Boise State isn’t as daunting as it once was, but Fresno State will be a significant challenge in the Central Valley’s September heat. Add USC and Utah to the early-season schedule, and there is zero room for a slow start for a program that starts slow.
Home games (seven): UC Davis, UNLV, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA (Friday)
Road games (five): Notre Dame, Washington State, Colorado, USC, Oregon State
Pac-12 misses: Utah and ASU
Notable nugget: The Bears face Notre Dame for the first time since 1967 and have not scored more than eight points against the Irish in any of the four previous meetings.
Comment: Combine two non-conference cupcakes with a favorable lineup of conference home games and a critical cross-division miss (Utah), and this schedule should support a postseason push.
Home games (seven): Rice, Fresno State, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Washington State, Cal, Colorado (Friday)
Road games (five): Stanford, Oregon State, Utah, Arizona, UCLA
Pac-12 misses: Oregon and Washington
Notable: USC, UCLA and Washington are the only teams that play all three non-conference games at home.
Comment: A near-perfect schedule to begin the Lincoln Riley era. We wouldn’t call the lineup easy, but the order and locations (e.g., no back-to-back road games) create a potential launching pad for USC’s return to relevance.
Home games (seven): Kent State, Portland State, Michigan State, Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State (Friday), Colorado
Road games (five): UCLA (Friday), Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Washington State
Pac-12 misses: USC and Utah
Notable nugget: Washington doesn’t play its first road game until Oct. 1 (at UCLA)
Comment: Sure, Michigan State poses a first-rate challenge, and the conference road lineup is difficult and there are two Friday games. But the key to our assessment of UW’s schedule is the absence of USC and Utah. Kalen DeBoer couldn’t have asked for more.
Home games (eight): Bowling Green, Alabama State, South Alabama, Washington (Friday), Utah, Stanford, Arizona, USC
Road games (four): Colorado, Oregon, Arizona State, Cal (Friday)
Pac-12 misses: Oregon State and Washington State
Notable nugget: UCLA was supposed to visit Michigan in the fall, but the Wolverines canceled the home-and-home series — and reportedly paid the Bruins $1.5 million to void the contract.
Comment: With three non-conference cupcakes and eight home games, including USC and Utah, the schedule should allow Chip Kelly to build on his 2021 momentum.