Pac-12 schedule notes, analysis

The Pac-12 released its official 2013 schedule Thursday, and as usual some teams have a tough road ahead of them.

First, there's California, which plays Northwestern and Ohio State in its nonconference schedule, and then faces Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, UCLA, USC and Washington. All of those teams could be ranked in the preseason, and Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford could all be in the top five.

Then there's Arizona State, which plays Wisconsin and Notre Dame (Cowboys Stadium) in its nonconference schedule. The good news for the Sun Devils is missing Oregon.

At this point, with Stanford and Oregon again expected to lead the conference, the red-letter date is then Thursday, Nov. 7, when the Ducks visit Stanford. It's hard to imagine that game won't have major conference and national implications.

With rivalry games, there's some good news. They all will be played over the last two weeks of the season. Further, the Pac- 12 Championship Game will be played on Saturday, Dec. 7, instead of a Friday night, as it has been the previous two years. It also will be on ESPN or ABC, instead of Fox.

Hits and misses area always important. We previously published the schedule rotation here. But here are the highlights:

  • If we are allowed to posit Oregon and Stanford as the conference frontrunners, it's reasonable to take note of which teams miss them: Arizona (Stanford), Arizona State (Oregon), Colorado (Stanford) and USC (Oregon). No team misses both, as Utah did the previous two years.

  • Speaking of the Utes, the schedule ramps up a bit: They play Stanford at home and visit Oregon. But that's not as tough as UCLA, which plays both on the road.

  • And, apologies in advance to Colorado, but if we are allowed to posit the Buffaloes as the conference's weakest team, then it's reasonable to point out the teams that miss them: Stanford and Washington State.

  • USC has five home games and misses Washington and Oregon. It's a schedule that suggests a potential bounce-back season.

And here are some more notes on the schedule:

  • It features a nonconference slate of 15 games versus teams that participated in bowls following the 2012 season, with four against nonconference opponents who participated in BCS bowls, and that doesn't include Ohio State, which went unbeaten.

  • Five teams play five home conference games: Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, USC, Utah and Washington.

  • Arizona State plays Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 5, the first of three Pac-12 games with the Fighting Irish. USC is at Notre Dame on Oct. 19 and Stanford plays host to the Irish on Nov. 30.

  • The season opens Thursday, Aug. 29, as USC visits Hawai’i and Utah hosts Utah State.

  • The opening week of the season also features key nonconference matchups: UCLA hosts Nevada, Washington State visits Auburn, California hosts Northwestern and Washington hosts Boise State as it re-opens Husky Stadium.

  • The schedule features six games on five Thursday night dates, most notably Oregon at Stanford on Nov. 7, a potential top-five battle which we're ready to predict could garner the highest ratings any Thursday night ESPN game has received.

  • The schedule’s three Friday dates feature USC at Oregon State on Nov. 1, Washington at UCLA on Nov. 15, and the Apple Cup and Civil War games the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 29.