The best way to measure one conference up against another is to look at non-conference. The 2022 Pac-12 non-conference schedules are all over the place. In what is often considered the weakest of the Power 5, non-conference games can help to establish the Conference of Champions® as a legitimate power.
In this series, we will continue to look at each team’s out-of-conference slate and rank them based on difficulty. There are some teams who have serious gauntlets. Other teams have a cakewalk. Despite its uncertain future, the Pac-12 remains a Power 5 conference…for now.
The Hardest Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules
Oregon: @ Georgia, vs Eastern Washington (FCS), vs BYU
Oregon had quite the year last year. The Ducks swept their non-conference schedule and none was bigger than going into Columbus and taking down Ohio State. They entered the penultimate week with just one loss (Stanford, in overtime) but lost to Utah twice in three weeks. It looks like Oregon is back to what they were but they’ll have to get through the hardest Pac-12 non-conference schedule.
Bo Nix transfers into Eugene from Auburn and is ready to take over. In his three years, he’s amassed 7,251 yards and 39 touchdowns through the air and 869 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. His first game? At the defending champs, Georgia. Well, it won’t be a true home game for Georgia but Atlanta, Georgia is a little closer to the Bulldogs than it is the Ducks, as is SEC custom.
The other tough non-conference game of note is BYU. The Cougars are running a schedule with all kinds of opponents and are looking to improve upon its (10-3) mark from a year ago. Jaren Hall is the real deal and can lead this team to its third straight 10-win season for the first time since they went independent.
USC: vs Rice, vs Fresno State, vs Notre Dame
— CWEB (@cweb) July 20, 2022
As the second head of the monster that broke college football this summer, USC is going to look very different this year. New coach, new quarterback, new hype, new everything. The Trojans finished just (4-8) last year, dropping two of its three non-conference games.
Caleb Williams and seemingly half of the 2021 Oklahoma team come into Southern California ready to ball out for coach Lincoln Riley. Against Rice, they should not have much trouble. It’s not until Week 3 when the Trojans face off against Fresno State and one of the best Group of 5 quarterbacks, Jake Heaner. The Bulldogs won 10 games last year, something USC hasn’t done since 2017.
Finally, as is the case with two other Pac-12 non-conference schedules, USC gets to face off with the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame sure looks like it’ll be good this fall. They have an incredibly difficult schedule as it is but if they can roll into this Rivalry Week matchup with just one or fewer losses, a College Football Playoff berth may be on the line.
Stanford: vs Colgate (FCS), @ Notre Dame, vs BYU
The Stanford Cardinal clock in with the third most difficult Pac-12 non-conference schedule with their matchup of the two best independent teams. Last year, led by quarterback Tanner McKee, Stanford won all of three games, one of which was out-of-conference.
McKee is heading into this year with some legitimate NFL Draft hype. With a strong year, he could challenge the top quarterbacks of the class. Stanford gets to run it back with Notre Dame for the 21st year in a row and 25th time overall. As stated before, Marcus Freeman’s team is looking to challenge for a CFP spot this year.
Also stated before, BYU is looking good yet again. This will be the final year of BYU’s independence, so they are going to want to get rolling into the Big 12 with some momentum.
Utah: @ Florida, vs Southern Utah (FCS), vs San Diego State
“Cameron Rising is an instinctive and tough quarterback that is a gamer. He is poised with enough mobility to buy time, work off-script, and scramble for chunks of yards.” — @TheJoeMarino#FrontOffice33 | #NFLDraft | #GoUteshttps://t.co/Zzfp8kSotC
— The Draft Network (@TheDraftNetwork) July 24, 2022
Last year, the Utah Utes were one of the hottest teams heading into bowl season. After dropping two of their first three games, Utah made the switch at quarterback to Cam Rising who led them to their first-ever Pac-12 title.
First off, why is Utah not playing BYU? Rivalry games should be yearly, regardless of conference. Either way, Utah gets to travel to The Swamp for the first game of the year. Florida may not be the cream of the crop in the SEC right now, but they still possess plenty of talent that will give the Utes trouble…as we saw in the Rose Bowl.
One of those losses last year was to San Diego State in overtime. Utah gets to run it back with one of the top Group of 5 programs. Could this be a permanent fixture in the newly-formed Pac-12 or will Utah bolt for the Big 12?
Arizona: @ San Diego State, vs Mississippi State, North Dakota State (FCS)
Arizona was among the worst Power 5 teams last year, winning just one game. They were swept in their three non-conference games, beat just Cal, and dropped its fifth in a row against Arizona State. This fall, Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura will battle to be the next face of the Wildcats with a pretty difficult schedule.
Playing at San Diego State will not be an easy task, as we’ve stated above. Transfer quarterback Braxton Burmeister is going to step in where Lucas Johnson left off. Hosting Mississippi State will also be difficult for the Wildcats. The Bulldogs are led by Will Rogers and you can never count out the Mike Leach offense.
Possibly one of the only FCS teams that could strike any kind of fear into a P5 program is North Dakota State. The Bison have won nine of the last 11 FCS National Championships. That’s no fluke. The Bison will add Arizona to the ranks of P5 teams who lose to FCS programs.
Colorado: vs TCU, @ Air Force, @ Minnesota
Colorado needs a new leader in the backfield with Jarek Broussard leaving. Fortunately for the Buffs, Alex Fontenot has played that role before — and is ready to do so again.@nikkiedwardsss breaks down the Buffs’ RB situation:https://t.co/0dzHVk2OMT
— CUSportsReport (@CUSportsNation) July 22, 2022
Finally, the Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffs won just four games last year and only one was out-of-conference (and it was an FCS team). They very nearly beat Texas A&M, however. This year, Colorado loses stud running back Jarek Broussard to Michigan State via The Portal but they’ll be just fine with Alex Fontenot toting the rock.
The Big 12 matchup that wasn’t: Colorado vs TCU. The two programs passed each other like ships in the night between 2011 and 2012. This will be the first time to two will face off and the Horned Frogs have Max Duggan and his 7,353 scrimmage yards and 60 total touchdowns in his career.
Air Force is a tough out for just about anyone. That triple-option offense has plenty of people believing that the Falcons can take the Mountain West this fall. Lastly, Minnesota is a better team than what people may think. Before Mo Ibrahim’s injury, the Gophers were taking it to Ohio State in the first game of the year. He had 163 yards and two touchdowns before his third-quarter injury. He’s going to be good this year.
The Possibly Another Conference’s 12
The Pac-12 has been considered the weakest of the Power 5 for years now. Even with the ACC being a one-horse race for the better part of a decade, the Pac-12 has not been worth staying up for #Pac12AfterDark. With USC and UCLA bolting for the Big Ten and rumors that four or more schools will leave for the Big 12, what’s next?
Mid-American: Easiest; Hardest
Conference-USA: Easiest; Hardest
Mountain West: Easiest; Hardest
Sun Belt: Easiest; Hardest
American Athletic: Easiest; Hardest
Pac-12: Easiest; Hardest
Big 12: Easiest; Hardest
ACC: Easiest; Hardest
SEC: Easiest; Hardest
Big Ten: Easiest; Hardest
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