College football is not only about being good. It's about scheduling.
So let's look at how the Pac-12 schedules stack up, starting with the South Division (*-denotes FCS team; toughest nonconference game bolded):
Nonconference slate: Aug. 30 -- UNLV (7-6); Sept. 6 -- at UTSA (7-5); Sept. 13 -- Nevada (4-8)
Pac-12 misses: Oregon State, Stanford
Road games (5): at UTSA, at Oregon, at Washington State, at UCLA, at Utah
Bye weeks: Sept. 27 (before Thursday game at Oregon); Oct. 18 (before game at Washington State)
Skinny: The Wildcats are in a dead-heat with Colorado for the most favorable schedule in the Pac-12. The nonconference slate is soft, though a trip to UTSA might be tricky, as most road games are. The conference misses are favorable, as Stanford is a top-10 team and the Beavers are a likely bowl team. The Wildcats play five conference home games; USC and Arizona State play four. As for the byes, Oregon and Washington State share them so that boon is neutralized. If the Wildcats can go 3-0 in the nonconference slate and split their conference road games, they have a good shot at eight or even nine wins.
Nonconference slate: Aug, 28 -- Weber State (2-10)*; Sept. 28 -- at New Mexico (3-9); Nov. 8 -- Notre Dame (9-4)
Pac-12 misses: California, Oregon
Road games (6): at New Mexico, at Colorado, at USC, at Washington, at Oregon State, at Arizona
Bye weeks: Sept. 20 (before Thursday game vs. UCLA); Oct. 11 (before visit from Stanford)
Skinny: The visit from Notre Dame, which the Sun Devils had to fight to retain as the Fighting Irish tried to opt out, gives the nonconference slate some grit. You'd think ASU would be hungry for revenge after it turned in a curiously flat performance against the Irish last season in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The trip to New Mexico is a bit odd. Each of the road conference foes will be seeking revenge after getting blistered in Tempe last season. Missing Cal, at least based on last season, is the worst miss for a South team, but that is balanced by missing Oregon, probably the best miss. UCLA is also off before that critical matchup, but the Sun Devils' bye before facing Stanford could provide an advantage -- as well as extra rest and recovery after a tough game at USC. The Sun Devils played the nation's toughest schedule in 2013, and this one might be only a slight step back.
Nonconference slate: Aug. 30 -- Colorado State (8-6), game in Denver; Sept. 6 -- at Massachusetts (1-11); Sept. 20 -- Hawaii (1-11)
Pac-12 misses: Stanford, Washington State
Road games (5): at UMass, at California, at USC, at Arizona, at Oregon
Bye weeks: Oct. 11 (before visit to USC); Nov. 15 (before visit to Oregon)
Skinny: The question is whether Colorado can claw its way to six wins from this schedule. It's not completely unreasonable to be optimistic. The opener against a rising Colorado State program is critical, as a win there likely secures a 3-0 record in nonconference games. Missing Stanford is good, particularly for a young team trying to regain its footing. The trip to UMass can't be completely overlooked because the Buffaloes have been so awful on the road the past few years. Will byes before road trips to USC and Oregon potentially alter the outcome of those games? We're guessing no. Still, this is a favorable slate, upon which the Buffaloes should take another step forward in their rebuilding.
Nonconference slate: Aug. 30 -- at Virginia (2-10); Sept. 6 -- Memphis (3-9); Sept. 13 -- Texas (8-5), at Arlington, Texas
Pac-12 misses: Oregon State, Washington State
Road games (6): at Virginia, at Texas, at Arizona State, at California, at Colorado, at Washington
Bye weeks: Sept. 20 (before Thursday game at Arizona State); Nov. 15 (before USC)
Skinny: UCLA is a favorite in the Pac-12 South and a national title contender, and if it gets to the College Football Playoff playing against this schedule, it will have earned its spot in spades. While Virginia has been struggling, it is an ACC team playing at home. Texas will be looking to make a statement in its home state in Charlie Strong's first season. Therefore, the nonconference schedule should be considered above average in degree of difficulty. The Pac-12 misses are not ideal. UCLA and Stanford are the only two conference teams to miss two teams that have almost no shot for a preseason ranking. The good news is, though there are six road games, only four come in Pac-12 play. The Bruins and Sun Devils both have a bye before their big matchup. The bye before facing USC is slightly countered by the Trojans playing at home against California on Thursday, Nov. 13.
Nonconference slate: Aug. 30 -- Fresno State (11-2); Sept. 13 -- at Boston College (7-6); Nov. 29 -- Notre Dame (9-4)
Pac-12 misses: Washington, Oregon
Road games (6): at Stanford, at Boston College, at Arizona, at Utah, at Washington State, at UCLA
Bye weeks: Sept. 20 (before Oregon State); Nov. 8 (before Thursday game at California)
Skinny: As usual, USC has a tough schedule, but the Pac-12 rotation of misses does provide a boost. The nonconference schedule is rugged, perhaps the Pac-12's toughest, with three solid-to-good teams that played in bowl games a season ago, though the opener against Fresno State won't be as worrisome with QB Derek Carr in the NFL. Having Notre Dame in L.A. also helps. The misses are very advantageous. Oregon is a good miss because it's a top-five team, but Washington also is ideal because it would have invited the storyline of "Steve Sarkisian versus his old team," which would have been a potential distraction. Six road games, including five in the Pac-12, is a burden. At Stanford in week two is a big early matchup, and the Trojans upset the Cardinal a season ago. The bye before Oregon State comes after consecutive road games, including a trip east to Boston, so it is of some benefit. In terms of the South outlook for the top contenders, the Trojans have an easier schedule, at least from a preseason perspective, than UCLA and Arizona State.
Nonconference slate: Aug. 28 -- Idaho State (7-6)*; Sept. 6 -- Fresno State (11-2); Sept. 20 -- at Michigan (7-6)
Pac-12 misses: California, Washington
Road games (6): at Michigan, at UCLA, at Oregon State, at Arizona State, at Stanford, at Colorado
Bye weeks: Sept. 13 (before visit to Michigan); Oct. 11 (before visit to Oregon State)
Skinny: Utah had the two best misses -- Oregon and Stanford -- its first two years in the Pac-12, but that's in the past. Of course, the Utes beat Stanford last season, so who knows. As it is, this is one of the three of four toughest slates in the conference. Fresno State is no slouch, and a trip to Michigan is never easy. Missing Washington is pretty good, but missing Cal is not. There are six total road games, including five in conference play, one more than 2013. The bye week before Michigan is ideal, but the bye week before Oregon State is matched by the Beavers. After seeing this slate, some BYU fans might be sympathetic why the Utes are taking a break from the rivalry series. The challenge is whether their are six wins here to get the Utes back to the postseason. Other than the opener with Idaho State, no week is a gimme.