Tougher schedules for ASU, UCLA and Utah

We've been talking a lot about the battleground that will be the Pac-12 South in 2013. With four teams boasting legitimate claims to win the division -- Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC -- the South is going to be a lot of fun to watch play out.

Part of that is because of the increased difficulty in schedule for a few of the teams. ESPN Insider/contributor Phil Steele recently looked at five teams in college football that have significantly tougher schedulesInsider next season -- and three of the teams he mentions hail from the Pac-12 South: ASU, UCLA and Utah.

With one of the stoutest defensive lines in the league -- maybe the country -- the Sun Devils figure to be right in the mix. But a challenging nonconference schedule will test them early. Here's Steele's take on the Sun Devils:

Last season, despite being one of the most inexperienced teams in the country (just eight returning starters), the Sun Devils took advantage of facing four backup quarterbacks in their first four weeks, leading to an eight-win season. But now things are much more difficult.

It starts with one of the tougher nonconference slates in the entire country. In 2012, the Sun Devils played Illinois and Missouri, which combined to go 7-17. This season, they pick up Wisconsin and Notre Dame, two teams that went a combined 20-7 in 2012.

The Bruins, the defending division champs, won't give up the crown without a fight. But adding Washington and Oregon to the equation -- plus some tough road trips -- will make repeating challenging. Here's Steele's take:

In nonconference play, the Bruins will travel to Lincoln to play Nebraska. As far as Pac-12 opponents, Washington State and Oregon State are off the schedule, but they're replaced by their much tougher in-state counterparts, Washington and Oregon. In the Pac-12's uneven nine-game conference schedule last season, UCLA played five home games (four away), but in 2013 it plays four home games (five away). UCLA also has arguably the toughest back-to-back road games of any team in the country this season, playing at Oregon and Stanford in consecutive weeks. Finally, the Bruins will have to play at crosstown rival USC, who is still smarting from last season's loss.

The Utes are still a bit of a question mark with holes to fill on the defensive line and plenty of question marks on offense. It's not going to get any easier as they welcome Stanford and Oregon for the first time since joining the conference. Writes Steele:

In 2013, the Utes have to play the Ducks, Cardinal and also have key games in Pac-12 South play against USC and Arizona on the road. In terms of nonconference play, the final game in the Holy War rivalry (for now) against BYU will also be played on the road. Overall, the Utes go from playing just two top-25 teams in 2012 to playing two possible top-five teams this upcoming season, along with an additional seven teams that won seven or more games in 2012.