Can the Pac-12 rebound in 2022?
Taking an early look at Pac-12 non-conference schedules to see if the West Coast can avoid another ugly season.
A stat that still honestly astounds me from last year: The Pac-12 went a collective 16-25 against non-conference opponents. That’s despite playing 9 games against FCS opponents (7-2) and 18 games agianst G5 teams (6-12). I don’t think I need to explain why a 3-11 record vs. other power 5 conference teams is bad.
Some of it was pretty extreme bad luck (the conference was a collective 1-14 in non-conference games decided by 8 points or less) and some of it was circumstantial (Utah figuring out their QB situation after losing to SDSU and BYU).
But no amount of massaging can make 16-25 look good. It’s the kind of performance that hurts marketing, ticket sales, and recruiting.
The number one thing the Pac-12 can do to fix this issue? Field better football teams. But the conference could probably stand to schedule a little smarter. Hosting elite FCS teams like Montana? Not smart. Going on the road to BYU and San Diego State? Not smart.
So, are we poised for a bounce back? Let’s start forcasting:
at San Diego State
vs. Mississippi St.
vs. North Dakota State
. . . what was Arizona thinking? Playing in San Diego has been a terrible idea for most Pac-12 teams, but scheduling North Dakota State?! I think 1-2 is probably the most likely result from this slate, but unless Arizona is vastly improved, 0-3 is much likelier than 2-1.
vs. Northern Arizona
at Oklahoma State
vs. Eastern Michigan
Arizona State scheduled the kind of buy games that Arizona should be scheduling, and they should easily grab two wins even after their transfer exodus. But hard to see them winning in Stillwater after losing so much talent. 2-1 seems quite likely.
at Air Force
. . . I get that it’s in-state, but why are you scheduling a road game at Air Force? Honestly, Colorado might be an underdog in that game, as Air Force is currently the toughest academy program. Minnesota on the road is a likely loss, but TCU (Hey Sonny!) is beatable in Boulder if Colorado is competent.
at Georgia (lol Atlanta as a ‘neutral’ field)
vs. Eastern Washington
If Oregon is at all close to as good as they expect to be, they should roll over EWU and handle BYU with relative ease. But did we see anything from how the Ducks handled Utah and Oklahoma at the end of last year to think that they’re ready to take on Georgia in Georgia?
vs. Boise State
at Fresno State
vs. Montana State (in Portland for some reason?!)
Talk about low upside, high downside. Montana State fresh off an FCS title game loss, is exactly the kind of of FCS team you should never schedule, and OSU throws in two high end mountain west teams including a road game to boot. I like a lot of what Jonathan Smith has done in Corvallis but this is a schedule that sets him up to fail.
at Notre Dame
BYU and Notre Dame are both way better than Stanford, but at least they were smart enough to schedule a non-threatening FCS team. This isn’t really the point of this article, but I do want to spread the good word that Stanford is gonna be BAD this year unless Tanner McKee stays healthy and plays at a Heisman level for a full season.
vs. Bowling Green
vs. Alabama State
vs. South Alabama
Honestly one of the weakest scheduling slates I’ve ever seen; two of the weaker G5 programs you could find and an FCS school, all at home. I guess it’s good that UCLA is all but guaranteed to go 3-0 to start the season but I don’t think anybody will be fooled. Did UCLA have somebody back out of a scheduling agreement, because as much as I’d love to make fun of the Bruins, they usually schedule one or two solid opponents.
vs. Fresno State
vs. Notre Dame
I’m going to predict a 2-1 record from these three games. While I think that Lincoln Riley is absolutely going to turn USC back into a playoff contender, I think it’s going to take a year for him to fix that defense, so USC will probably drop the Notre Dame game. And boy would it be funny if Jeff Tedford finally got his revenge after so many close misses since 2004?
vs. Southern Utah
vs. San Diego State
With what Utah has coming back you’d really back them to handle Southern Utah and SDSU without a problem, right? Which leaves a road game against Florida. The Utes should be better than Florida, but better teams than Utah have wilted in the swamp before. That might be the most important game for the Pac-12’s general reputation. Although, last year showed that winning the marquee game (Oregon over Ohio St.) doesn’t matter if your conference loses every other game of note.
vs. Kent State
vs. Portland State
vs. Michigan State
Washington really should be 2-0 going into an intriguing game against Mel Tucker’s Spartans. MSU is probably the better team but home field advantage could erase that gap. Another key swing game for the Pac-12’s reputation.
vs. Idaho State
vs. Colorado State
Really hard to see how Wazzu has the horses to beat Wisconsin on the road. Meanwhile, ISU and CSU were both bad for their levels, so the Cougars are very likely to finish 2-1 outside of conference play.
vs. UC Davis
at Notre Dame
Ah, the Bears. Cal has a schedule that’s very similar to ASU, Oregon, and Wazzu - two on-paper easy wins, and one on-paper loss. Notre Dame has been very, very good at home since 2017, which makes sense for a team that’s spent the last 5 years generally being fringy-playoff levels of good. Maybe a coaching change disrupts that equilibrium, but Cal will be heavy underdogs for a reason.
When I went through the entire list of games and tried to peg odds, I came out with something along the lines of a 21-15 Pac-12 record in non-conference games, which would be a big step up from the 16-20 record the Pac-12 put up last year. There’s still plenty of bad schedule (WHY ARIZONA AND OREGON STATE, WHY?!) but in total there are fewer dangerous BYU/Mountain West games than prior seasons.
On the downside, I don’t see many games vs. other power conference teams where I’d favor the Pac-12 team. Washington will have a shot hosting Michigan State, USC will have a shot hosting Notre Dame, and Utah is good enough to win at Florida, but the Pac-12 has limited opportunities to impress against high level opposition and most of those games don’t look favorable entering the season.
The probable result: better than last year, but not good enough to generally change the perception of the conference.
Michigan backed out of a home and home series with UCLA this fall and next. The Bruins would have had a better schedule had that not happened.
Tell me if I'm crazy.
Arizona - 3-0 Unfortunate for us, but I think they'll surprise this year
Arizona State - 2-1 Where they will suffer is Conference Play
Colorado - 0-3 I cant definitively say they'll win any of these games
Oregon - 2-1 Lets be real, the game against Georgia is not neutral
Oregon State - 2-1 They will beat one of Fresno or Boise, not both
Stanford - 0-3 I hate Stanford too much to give them any wins
UCLA - 3-0 They better not embarrass the conference
USC - 3-0 They will be one of the better teams, even if a little overrated
Utah - 3-0 Utah beating Florida would make my week honestly
Washington - 3-0 They will probably bounce back after disappointing last year
Washington State - 2-1 Their QB is the real deal.
California - 3-0 on our way to the National Championship.