The most inviting and daunting aspects of the Pac-12’s non-conference schedules in 2022 are one and the same.
With 11 games against Power Five opponents, including Georgia and Florida, the conference has ample opportunity for a collective show of strength … or repeated displays of weakness.
It won’t take long for the narrative to emerge: The Bulldogs and Gators loom as season openers, followed by Oklahoma State, Mississippi State and Wisconsin on Week Two.
There are only two matchups with BYU next season but a slew against top-tier teams from the Mountain West.
Oh, and the Pac-12 tangles with Notre Dame three times.
Please note: Our ranking prioritizes the overall strength of the three opponents rather than simply the highest-profile matchup on a given schedule. The toughest non-conference schedules are those devoid of cupcakes.
(Links to previous articles on the 2022 Pac-12 season are below.)
Lineup: vs. TCU (Sept. 2), at Air Force (Sept. 10), at Minnesota (Sept. 17)
Comment: A fairly easy call for No. 1 given that CU’s most winnable game is (take your pick) at home against a Big 12 opponent or on the road against a Mountain West team that won 10 games last season. In other words, 0-3 is a distinct possibility.
Lineup: vs. Georgia (Sept. 3, in Atlanta), vs. Eastern Washington (Sept. 10), vs. BYU (Sept. 17)
Comment: The Ducks carry the Pac-12 banner across the Mississippi once again with the not-so-neutral neutral site duel against the defending national champs (and coach Dan Lanning’s previous employer.)
Lineup: at Florida (Sept. 3), vs. Southern Utah (Sept. 10), vs. San Diego State (Sept. 17)
Comment: The Utes make their first regular-season appearance on the national stage since the 2015 victory over Michigan. (Florida visits Rice-Eccles in 2023, by the way.) We considered slotting Utah into the No. 2 position, but Georgia stands as a greater challenge than the Gators.
Lineup: at San Diego State (Sept. 3), vs. Mississippi State (Sept. 10), vs. North Dakota State (Sept. 17)
Comment: Another bruising lineup. And yes, that includes NDSU, which won the 2021 FCS national title and has produced Carson Wentz and Trey Lance. If you’re wondering: Mike Leach’s starting quarterback last season, Will Rogers, is expected back for MSU in the fall.
Lineup: vs. Colgate (Sept. 3), at Notre Dame (Oct. 15), vs. BYU (Nov. 26)
Comment: Good case could be made for this schedule as one of the three most difficult. But Stanford visits Notre Dame every other year and shouldn’t have the same issues with weather that Utah will face in The Swamp. Also, Colgate isn’t North Dakota State. The opener will mark Stanford’s first game against an FCS opponent since the 2018 season (UC Davis), which is highly commendable — and totally insane.
6. Arizona State
Lineup: vs. NAU (Sept. 1), at Oklahoma State (Sept. 10), vs. Eastern Michigan (Sept. 17)
Comment: In degree of difficulty, ASU’s trip to Oklahoma State ranks just below Oregon’s date with Georgia — it’s every bit as challenging as playing Notre Dame or Florida on the road. (The Cowboys won 12 games last season and return quarterback Spencer Sanders.) And Eastern Michigan is no cupcake.
Lineup: vs. Rice (Sept. 3), vs. Fresno State (Sept. 17), vs. Notre Dame (Nov. 26)
Comment: For Coliseum intrigue, we’ll take Jeff Tedford, Jake Haener and the Bulldogs over the biennial date with Notre Dame. But both games are first-order challenges for the Trojans, who have LSU on the schedule in 2024 (in Las Vegas) and then a home-and-home series with Mr. Lane Monte Kiffin and Ole Miss in the middle of the decade.
8. Washington State
Lineup: vs. Idaho (Sept. 3), at Wisconsin (Sept. 10), vs. Colorado State (Sept. 17)
Comment: WSU faces a Power Five opponent in the regular season for the first time since 2015 (Rutgers), and it’s an A-level affair, for sure. The Badgers won nine games last season and should be ranked in the top 25 at the time of kickoff. Colorado State is starting over under coach Jay Norvell, who jumped from Nevada.
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Lineup: vs. UC Davis (Sept. 3), vs. UNLV (Sept. 10), at Notre Dame (Sept. 17)
Comment: The trip to South Bend does not come with a return game in Berkeley — the Bears took the $1.9 million payday (per USA Today) for a one-off trip. The schedule would rate a notch higher except UNLV is a Mountain West bottom-feeder until proven otherwise.
Lineup: vs. Kent State (Sept. 3), vs. Portland State (Sept. 10), vs. Michigan State (Sept. 17)
Comment: It’s a testament to the quality of Pac-12 schedules that a lineup featuring Michigan State and a 2021 MAC division winner (Kent State) rates this low on our board. But location matters, and the Huskies, who host Stanford to open conference play, won’t leave Seattle until October.
11. Oregon State
Lineup: vs. Boise State (Sept. 3), at Fresno State (Sept. 10), vs. Montana State (Sept. 17)
Comment: The Beavers don’t face a Power Five opponent, but they have the next-best thing with two high-level Mountain West programs. Good luck in the Central Valley, where it will be 100 degrees at kickoff and loud enough for five false-start penalties.
Lineup: vs. Bowling Green (Sept. 3), vs. Alabama State (Sept. 10), vs. South Alabama (Sept. 17)
Comment: To be fair, Michigan backed out of a home-and-home series with the Bruins in 2022-23. Also, we support UCLA’s decision to schedule two HBCU programs (Alabama State this year, North Carolina Central next year). But objectively, this is the softest schedule in the conference, by far. With their conference opener at Colorado, the Bruins should be 4-0 when Washington visits on the first day of October.
— My early top-25 rankings for the 2022 season
— Counter-programming: 12 reasons to get excited about the Pac-12 this year
— The top storylines for the 2022 Pac-12 football season
— Projections for the North and South division races
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