This is the first of three articles devoted the Pac-12 non-conference schedule. It'll be broken up into an article ranking the North, then the South, and, finally, the top 10 non-conference games ... although, for me to get to a ranking of the "top 10" games will definitely be a feat ... this year's non-conference schedule has a couple of marquee games, and then a whole bunch of other, shall I say "less than marquee" games. But hey, who am I to criticize the schedule, when the big, bad SEC has been doing this for years.
This particular year, there are only three teams, all of whom are in the South Division, that are not playing a single, FCS foe. That being said, no Pac-12 teams are playing multiple FCS foes this year. The rankings are pretty simple, and argue with them if you want, I ranked the teams solely in terms of the average final CBS ranking, or AP ranking (if they made it to the AP). However, if the team is from the FCS, then I arbitrarily game them a ranking of 129, since there's 128 FBS football teams. I also provided a ranking that took out the FCS team ... just for fun.
Pac-12 North Non Conference Rankings
1. Oregon - Average Rank: 73/48
Oregon plays three non conference games this year against South Dakota (FCS), Michigan State (3), and Wyoming (92). The reason Oregon gets the nod with the toughest non conference game is simply because the Ducks have a showdown with Michigan State. Oregon only has 2 guaranteed wins, and the Michigan State will will tell everybody in the country what Oregon is, or isn't, capable of this year.
2. California - Average Rank: 83/61
This one was a toss-up with Stanford. But, I decided to go with California on this one because they will be playing two solid teams this year in BYU (38) and Northwestern (84). If things go well against Northwestern, the fans in Berkley will all breath a collective sigh of relief. However, if they get blown out, Dykes will be on a very short rope.
3. Stanford - Average Rank: 85/64
Stanford's three games this year are UC-Davis (FCS), Army (108) and Notre Dame (20, and who appears to be the non-conference team of choice this year). I was tempted to put Stanford even lower on this list, until I looked at the three other schedules, since Stanford will have absolutely zero competition before conference play begins. Stanford's game against Notre Dame comes on October 4th, and it should be a stiff test for the Cardinal.
4. Oregon State - Average Rank: 99/86
I know I went against my ranking scheme, but I had to put the Beavers above the Cougs for one reason: the Beavers are playing at least one (FBS) team with a winning record from last year. Oregon State will be playing Portland State (FCS), Hawaii (114) and San Diego State (58). The Aztecs had a winning record last year and are returning their starting QB and a bunch of the offensive and defensive lines.
5. Washington State - Average Rank: 98/84
While I had to think for a little while about where to put the Cougars, there is no doubt as to who was ranked below them ... The Cougs will play Rutgers (76), Nevada (91) and Portland State (FCS). The Rutgers game will most certainly be the stiffest test for Wazzu, and hopefully they don't Coug it like last year's final game. If all goes well, they should be 3-0 when conference play starts.
6. Washington - Average Rank: 115/111
There is no doubt that the Huskies have the weakest non conference schedule in the Pac-12 (this one rival's Alabama's), but hey, at least we'll be 4-0 come conference play. The Dawgs play Hawaii (114), Eastern Washington (FCS), Illinois (94) and Georgia State (125). I don't know what to say other than it will be nice to have over half of our needed wins for bowl eligibility to be under our belts before conference play has started.
The North Division's schedule is weak to be sure. No team is playing more than one non conference game against more than one team ranked in the top 50. This is the new normal, however, as more and more teams and conferences are pushing for bowl eligibility and a shot to play in the playoff.