With summer flying by and only 40 DAYS until the Cougs and the rest of the Pac-10 kick of the 2008 season, I thought we’d take a peek at how the conference schedules look this year.
There are a couple things that jump out at me when I look at the 2008 Pac-10 schedule. First is that the non-conference schedules are looking tougher than in years past. That’s not to say that every school’s schedule is loaded with tough matchups – there are still some real softies on tap – but overall, I’d say the Pac-10 has stepped up the level of non-con competition.
From a purely Coug perspective, I also see that not only is WSU the only Pac-10 team with 13 regular season games, but we’re also one of only two conference teams (Stanford is the other) with only one bye-week. First of all, where was the 13th game during the Brink era? Seems to me that another easy ‘W’ or two over the last four years would have put us in at least one bowl game…
An astonishing SIX Pac-10 teams – all with a 12-game schedule – have THREE bye-weeks, yet we’re running our boys through a 13-game season with only one week off? I don’t get it. Three teams play an 8-week stretch with no bye. WSU and Stanford open up the season with eight straight; and USC plays eight in a row after they start the season with two games in the first four weeks. Oh yeah, these guys are supposed to go to school and get good grades too. No problem…
Based on my scientific formula involving eye-balling the schedule after five Kokanees, here’s how I rank the Pac-10 school schedules from easiest to toughest, with a few observations about each teams’ biggest games thrown in for good measure…
10) Arizona. UofA probably has the softest non-con schedule in the Pac this year, opening up with Idaho and Toledo at home, before traveling to Albuquerque to face the Lobos. They also get most of their tough conference games at home (Cal, USC, OSU and ASU).
The Wildcats have a VERY good chance at starting off their season 6-0 before facing Cal at home on October 18th. If they can get past the Golden Bears - which is also very doable – it will set up a huge game with USC before they finish out their schedule with four games in the last six weeks. With an offense that’s looking like it could be a juggernaut, Uof A could be poised for a huge year and a victory over USC would make them a legitimate BCS candidate, despite their weak non-con schedule.
Other big games: @ Oregon on 11/17; and vs. ASU on 12/6. (WSU 11/8, in Pullman)
9) Stanford. The Smart Kids start off with two conference games (Beavs at home followed by a trip to Tempe on 9/6 before a pretty soft 4-game stretch featuring TCU, San Jose St, UW and Notre Dame. If the plucky Cardinal can manage a victory in one of the first two, they could very-well parlay that start into a respectable season – especially considering the fact that they get tough conference games vs. OSU, UofA, and USC at home this year.
After knocking USC out of the National Title game last year, their matchup against the Trojans in Palo Alto on 11/15 will be interesting. Can they hold serve or will they get steam-rolled?
Despite the USC plotline, the key game to their season looks to be their matchup @ Notre Dame on 10/4. The Irish will surely be a motivated team this year, so a win on the road in South Bend could give Stanford the confidence they need to make it through their last six conference games with some fight.
Other Big Games: @Oregon on 11/8; and @ Cal on 11/22. (WSU 11/1, in Palo Alto)
8) Cal. We’re already splitting hairs on who has the weakest schedule because in all fairness, Cal’s schedule is not soft by any stretch. They go out of conference against the Big 10 and the ACC – but it’s Michigan State and Maryland that they’ll face off against – certainly not the best those two conferences have to offer. The non-con schedule is capped off by Colorado State.
Cal is one of the aforementioned 3-bye-week teams so they lose toughness points for that. They get MSU, ASU and Oregon at home. Cal has the look of a middle-of-the-Pac team to me, so the games vs. MSU and at Maryland should actually be very competitive from a matchup standpoint.
After last year’s second-half nose-dive, the one way Cal can get voters back in their corner is with a big win over ASU at home on 10/4. This will be especially true if they manage to win their first four games – and if ASU can beat UGA on 9/20. This would set up an early-season matchup of unbeatens. Even if this scenario does not come to pass, this game shapes up as Cal’s first big test of the year.
Other Big Games: @UofA on 10/17; @USC on 11/8; and @OSU on 11/15. (WSU 9/6, in Pullman)
7) Washington State. The Cougs score big points for 13 games in 14 weeks. Not many teams can (or should have to) pull that off. The toughest non-con game appears to be the opener in Seattle against Oklahoma State but trips to Baylor and Hawaii won’t be gimmes either. Portland State at home on 9/20 (my birthday, by the way…) is the one slam-dunk on the Cougs’ schedule this year. Five of nine conference games will be played in Martin Stadium, including tough ones against Oregon, USC and UofA.
For a team with hopes of a BCS Bowl game at the end of the year, it’s always best to lose a game early as opposed to dropping one late in the season. The Cougs don’t fall into that category this year, so in my opinion, no game is bigger than the first game of the Paul Wulff regime. With hopefully 60,000+ Cougar fans packed into noisy Qwest Field in Seattle, the Cougs and Coach Wulff have a tremendous opportunity to “announce their presence with authority.” A victory over Oklahoma State would provide a huge shot of confidence to the team, the university administration, and the boosters.
Other Big Games: vs. Oregon on 9/27; vs. USC on 10/18; and @ Hawaii on 11/29 (is this our “Bowl Game”?)
6) Arizona State. Despite the fact that the Sun Devils once again have scheduled Mrs. McBoob’s Alma Mater, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, as well as UNLV this year, their non-conference schedule gets a big boost from their huge matchup with Georgia on 9/20. Three bye-weeks make up for the fact that they go on the road for five conference games, including USC and UofA.
I’d venture to guess that ASU will be picked #2 in most of the pre-season Pac-10 polls, so their matchup with the Trojans on 10/11 in Compton could very well be THE game of the year in the Pac-10. With both teams playing HUGE non-conference games before they meet, this game could also have National Championship -let alone Pac-10 title - implications.
Other Big Games: @OSU on 11/15 (Erickson returns to yet another of his former whistle stops): and @ UoA on 12/6. (WSU 11/15, in Tempe)
5) Oregon State. A trip to Happy Valley to play Penn State on 9/6 is the highlight of the Beaver’s non-con schedule. They’ll also battle Hawaii at home and Utah in Salt Lake City. Their schedule is almost ideal in terms of bye-week placement. They have a progressive build-up: Three weeks on; one week off; four weeks on; one week off; and then 5 weeks on to finish the year.
What could be one of the more entertaining games of the year is the 9/25 home date against USC. The Beavs start out with two on the road before taking on Hawaii for their first home game of the year – hardly an opponent to get real excited about. That game is followed by an off-week, so the team and their fans should be ready to explode on a Thursday night when the Trojans come calling.
Of course, if the young Beavers are not yet ready for prime time, the biggest and most important game on their schedule will be their last – against the Ducks in Corvalis on 11/29. This has been an extraordinarily entertaining series to watch over the last several years and with both teams fighting for likely bowl berths, it won’t disappoint.
Other Big Games: vs. ASU on 11/1; and @ UofA on 11/22. (WSU 10/11, in Corvalis)
4) Oregon. The Fightin’ Phil Knights’ non-conference schedule includes Utah St., Purdue and Boise State. While they have to travel to a possibly steamy Lafayette, IN to face the Boilermakers on 9/13, they get the other two at home. Five of their conference games are on the road, including key matchups against USC and ASU, as well as the Civil War against OSU.
If the Ducks are to remain among the conference elite this year, they’re going to have to earn it – and it should be entertaining to watch. They start off the season with seven-straight games before their first of two byes. The week off is well-timed, as they travel the following week (10/25) to Tempe for a big game against the Sun Devils. If they’re able to get through the first seven games at no worse than 5-2 and then pull off an upset in the desert, they’ll be in great shape. They’ll have to avoid a letdown the following week at Cal before what should be a bit of a grudge-match against UofA in Autzen. They then get another bye before the Civil War on 11/29 in Bean Dip Stadium.
Other Big Games: @UW on 8/30. (WSU 9/27, in Pullman)
3) UCLA. I’m ranking UCLA this high based on a very tough opening three weeks of non-conference games. They have Fresno State and Tennessee at home, followed by a trip to Provo to face BYU. Their conference schedule is a pretty even split with tough games on the road against UofA, OSU and USC; and roadies at Oregon, Cal and ASU.
With their major injury concerns, UCLA could be in for a tough few weeks to start the season. After their first three, they get a bye before opening up Pac-10 play with Arizona in Pasadena. If they make it to that bye-week without adding to their injury woes, they have a chance to get healthy and score a big win that would be a great way to start off their conference schedule.
The Bruins’ 12/6 matchup with USC is the game that I’m keeping my eye on late in the year. UCLA may not yet have the horses to run with the Trojans, but Neuheisel should have his team fired up.
Other Big Games: @ Oregon on 10/11; and @ASU on 11/28. (WSU 10/4, in Pasadena)
2) USC. As if they needed the help, USC is another one of the Pac-10’s 3-bye-week teams. They actually ease into the season, with each of their first two games followed by a week off. Of course, when those first two games include an opening week 6-hour flight to Virginia and a possible #1 vs. #2 matchup with Ohio State, perhaps they’ll have earned the rest.
The battle vs. the Buckeyes is one of the most anticipated matchups in all of college football this year. The winner of that game will be an immediate favorite for the National Title game. Of course, even though the loser will have no more room for error, this game will be played early enough in the season that they could still rebound for a shot at the national championship if the stars align.
While this is obviously the most important game on USC’s schedule, if you’re a fan of the Pac-10, you also have to be wringing your hands, waiting for the first contest between Handsome Pete and Slick Rick. Call it Ego Bowl I. As much as I love to hate these two, there’s no denying the fact that Neuheisel’s presence in Westwood will breathe some life back into what has become a very stale rivalry.
Other Big Games: vs.ASU on 10/11; @UofA on 10/25; and vs. Notre Dame on 11/29. (WSU 10/18, in Pullman)
1) Washington. If the puppies are anything but 0-3 heading into their week 4 bye, it’ll be reason for celebration on Montlake. A trip to Autzen Stadium is no way to start your year – especially if you’re a despised rival. That game is followed by tough non-conference games at home vs. BYU and Oklahoma. UW also gets Notre Dame at home on 10/25, arguably rounding out one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the nation, let alone the Pac-10. The conference schedule doesn’t get any easier, as there are trips to Arizona, USC, Pullman and Cal on tap.
If there’s a swing game on the UW schedule, it’s their matchup with Oregon State in Seattle on 10/18. This game follows the second of two early-season bye-weeks, which follows a tough trip to face UofA in Tucson. If they win this one, they may have a chance at respectability. If they lose, their chances for a six-win bowl-eligible season are likely gone.
Other Big Games: @USC on 11/1; and @Cal on 12/6. (WSU 11/22, in WINTERY Pullman)
Top 10 Games of 2008 – Pac-10 Style
Top 10 Games of 2008 – Pac-10 Style
1) Ohio State at USC. 9/13. Early-season game with major implications on the National Championship. Simply put: the NCAA needs these types of games in order for the BCS to work.
2) Georgia at Arizona State. 9/20. Another early-season, non-conference matchup of likely top-10 teams. This is one of those “How legit is the Pac-10?” games. If the Sun Devils and Trojans can win these first two games, it will give the conference two top-5 teams and the spotlight will be shining on the west coast for the rest of the fall.
3) USC at UCLA. 12/6. There are definitely more important games, with bigger conference and national implications but if you’re a fan of the Pac-10, you should be champing at the bit for this one. Ego Bowl I is hopefully just the first of many battles between Pete Carroll and Rick Neuheisel in La-La Land. Nothing would be better for the conference and west-coast football in general, than a return to significance for the UCLA program and a bitter, heated rivalry between these two schools.
4) USC at Arizona. 10/25. I believe this will be a matchup of 7-0 Uof A and 6-0 USC. This will be the 5th conference game for both schools and the winner will hold their own destiny on the way to the conference championship.
5) Arizona State at USC. 10/11. I want to believe that this will be a great game but I have a hard time buying stock in ASU. I think they’ll lose to Georgia which will actually provide a lot more motivation for Erickson and Co. A second loss in their first six games would mean that they’d have to run the table for a BCS bid and they’ll still have six conference games to get through after this one. If the Devils are for real, the outcome of this game will have a huge impact on the national and conference landscape. If not, they’re just another Pac-9 team, and USC is in a league of their own.
6) Arizona State at Arizona. 12/6. This will be the game that decides 1st place in the Pac-9 (second place in the Pac-10) this year. I’ve never really paid much attention to this rivalry and I’m sure that’s pretty much the case for anyone outside the state of Arizona - but it will mean something this year and should be a shootout. This will be the closest thing to an arena league score as you’ll ever see on grass.
7) Oregon at Oregon St. 11/29. This game has become the conference’s best in-state rivalry game over the last several years and is always entertaining. This year, I expect a middle-of-the-Pac OSU team gunning to knock the Ducks out of Sun Bowl contention.
8) USC at Oregon State. 9/25. This is the first conference game for both teams. The thing I love about it is that it’ll be played on a Thursday night, which should make for a liquored-up crowd and rowdy atmosphere in Corvalis. If the Beavers can ride the emotion and energy generated by their fans and stay close, it could be very interesting.
9) Arizona at Oregon. 11/15. There’s no better game day atmosphere in the Pac-10 than Autzen Stadium, and Arizona will be the biggest test for the Ducks in Eugene this year.
10) Oklahoma State at Washington State. 8/30. Obviously, this is the homer in me but this is a very big game for WSU and Oklahoma State. The Cowboys and their fans are undoubtedly counting this game in the win column already so they really can’t afford to lose it. The Cougs on the other hand, are embarking on the first season of a rebuilding process and expectations are relatively low. A loss would surprise no one but a victory in Paul Wulff’s first game as head coach would be monumental.