Third in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see what we said about 2009 road schedules here).
Don't be surprised if ... winning on the road (or not) becomes the linchpin for reaching positive expectations (or not).
Every Pac-10 team lost multiple games on the road last year, but Oregon was the only conference team that lost only one conference road game. Help me out here: Who ended up going to the Rose Bowl?
Heading into 2010, Washington is widely seen as a team ready to make a big jump. That jump will have to come on the road: The Huskies were 0-5 away from the friendly confines of Husky Stadium last fall.
Unlike 2008 -- see above -- there were plenty of important road wins last year, Stanford's shocking blowout victory at USC being the most notable. But Arizona also won at USC, Oregon State won at California -- as did USC -- Cal pulled an upset at Stanford and Oregon wouldn't have won the conference without a comeback, double-overtime win at Arizona.
As for the nonconference road schedule, the Pac-10 should at least match last year's .500 record (5-5) on the road (total doesn't include Washington State's "neutral site" game with Notre Dame in San Antonio). In fact, 8-6 makes the most sense as a prediction.
But winning on the road in conference play is what gets a team to the Rose Bowl or provides the touchstone for a quality bowl berth. Or any bowl berth.
Arizona and California only play five total road games. Everyone else plays six, other than USC, which plays seven with a 13-game schedule. Oregon State, Washington State and UCLA each play two nonconference road games.
It's not hard to finger a critical "at" here and there on each team's schedule.
Arizona: What are the odds that the Wildcats will be in the thick of things if they win at Stanford on Nov. 6? High.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils need to build confidence, but the first-half schedule isn't ideal for that, and not just because of the Sept. 18 visit to Wisconsin. Three consecutive conference road games from Oct. 2 to Oct. 23 (Oregon State, Washington and California) figure to set the ultimate trajectory of the season.
California: If the Bears cap a 4-0 start with a win at Arizona, it seems likely they will be a factor in the conference race.
Oregon: As far as nearly every preseason prediction is concerned, Oregon's visit to USC on Oct. 30 is the conference game of the year.
Oregon State: Forget obsessing over whether the Beavers can steal one on the road vs. TCU or Boise State. The turning point of the season figures to be consecutive road games at Arizona and Washington on Oct. 9 and 16.
Stanford: The Cardinal returns from Notre Dame, tosses clean underwear into a duffel bag and then heads to Oregon on Oct. 2.
UCLA: Are the Bruins back? November visits to Washington and Arizona State will be telling.
USC: Sure, everyone remembers the last time the Trojans went to Oregon State. But the Oct. 9 trip to Stanford should reveal what the 2010 Trojans' deal is well before that Corvallis tangle.
Washington: The opener at BYU will be illuminating because the Huskies haven't won on the road since November 2007.
Washington State: The Cougars play three of their first five on the road. Stealing a win in any of the three might indicate the first steps of a program climbing out of the morass.
With seven teams featuring veteran quarterbacks this fall, expect there to be some impressive road wins. As for the new starters? We shall see and we shall see before we get too far into October.