The best thing about the Pac-10 is that it plays a true round-robin with only three, usually strong, non-conference games.
The worst thing about the Pac-10 is that is plays a true round-robin with only three, usually strong, non-conference games.
Ask the coaches.
While the Pac-10 produces a "true" champion, there are plenty of reasons to question the scheduling philosophy. The unbalanced schedule means nine conference games. Half of the league is playing four conference home games and five away games. That puts more pressure on getting just the right mix of three non-conference games. Six Pac-10 teams will be playing I-AA teams this season. Arizona State is playing two. USC gets a 13th game this season by playing in Hawaii and is still playing seven road games.
That means there are plenty of land mines out there for the contenders and a chance for the Pac-10 to drop off the national title radar this season. Even with the loss of Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon will be favored. The Ducks, though, still have to travel to USC and Oregon State as well as Tennessee in the non-conference.
If the Pac-10 expands -- a decision is coming soon -- it probably will have to abandon the round-robin scheduling format. It might not be such a bad thing to add a winnable non-conference game and drop a conference game that could ruin your season.
Game of the year: (non-conference) Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 27. There are other tasty games (UCLA at Texas, Oregon State at Boise, Oregon State vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas), but it's never bad to go with tradition.
Neither the Irish nor the Trojans will likely be favored to win any championships this season. That's hardly the point. There's a new coach on each side in this game for the first time since 1941 (Sam Barry and Frank Leahy). USC's current winning streak over Notre Dame (eight) is a game more than Lane Kiffin has won (seven as a college coach). Brian Kelly tries to bring the zone read option to a program that is searching for an identity.
Heismans are won and souls are crushed in this game. You have to watch.
Game of the year: (conference) Oregon at Oregon State, Dec. 4. The Civil War reached new heights last season when the Ducks were featured on a Thursday night in their road to the Rose Bowl. It's hard to describe the intensity in this game but when it makes an impression on the Big Ten commissioner who know it's special.
"The games that were regional became national," said Delany speaking about the BCS has been able to highlight certain games. "Once they got me to watch Oregon-Oregon State, they got me to watch other games."
Team on the spot: Arizona State. Three years ago the Sun Devils actually won a share of the Pac-10. Since then, they are 9-15. Only six of those victories have come against BCS conference schools. Dennis Erickson's star has faded fast. No one is expecting the Sun Devils to do much this season. With two I-AAs on the schedule (Portland State and Northern Arizona), a bowl is a must isn't it?
Toughest non-conference schedule: UCLA. It's all about momentum. In his third season, Rick Neuheisel has to have it. By the first week of October he could lose it.
An 0-4 start is a definite possibility. There are no breathers in the non-non which is broken up by an early conference opener in the second week against Stanford at the Rose Bowl.
I dare any team to try this September schedule in consecutive weeks:
Sept. 4 -- at Kansas State. The improving Wildcats came within a game of winning the Big 12 North last season. Under Bill Snyder at this point they are capable of beating anyone outside the top 10. UCLA needs to mature in a hurry on offense. If it doesn't in this game, it could be another lost season.
Sept. 11 -- Stanford. This was supposed to be an off field before it got switched for television. (Stanford was originally scheduled for Oct. 16) At least the Bruins get the Cardinal at home before (perhaps) the Pac-10's best quarterback, Andrew Luck, can get on a roll.
Sept. 18 -- Houston. This is the real WTF? Houston beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State on its way to a 10-win season last year. Case Keenum sure as heck isn't going to be intimidated by the Rose Bowl. This is a pick-'em at best, a Houston victory if Keenum heats up. This is the beginning of a two for one and gives the Bruins some face time in Texas, but wedged in where it is ... tough, tough, tough.
Sept. 25 -- at Texas. More face time in Texas but this is not the game you need at this time. Mack Brown has promised that the offense will become more physical this season. The Bruins better muscle up on D coming off meetings with Luck and Keenum.
Easiest non-conference schedule: Arizona State. As mentioned, Portland State and Northern Arizona kick off the season. That means the Sun Devils will have to win seven this season to go to a bowl game. It can count only one I-AA against bowl eligibility.
Reality sets in the next week at Wisconsin.