Gold: The 5 easiest Pac-12 nonconference schedules of 2023
Yesterday, I covered the sadists, the masochists, the Pac-12 programs that have chosen to throw caution to the wind. The ones who loaded up the gauntlet before the gauntlet.
Did Colorado know TCU would be coming off a title game run and that Nebraska would have reeled in one of the top minds in college football?
Did Utah have to load up Florida and Baylor in back-to-back weeks?
Five Pac-12 teams decided to book the bigs.
But another 5 Pac-12 squads decided to kick off their bowl hopes with soft schedules that drastically up their odds.
Here is a look at the easiest nonconference schedules in the league…
Oregon State: at San Jose State, vs. UC Davis, vs. San Diego State
If they can get through a tough Week 5 home game against Utah, the Beavers should be well on their way to a potential 10-0 start before running into the PNW powers that are Washington and Oregon to end the regular season.
They certainly won’t have much trouble with one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country.
Unlike UCLA, which travels to Snapdragon Stadium for a battle with SDSU and also opens against a Coastal Carolina squad coming off a 9-4 season, Oregon State gets the Aztecs at home after opening with two winnable games.
San Jose State is an emerging program under Brent Brennan, but Jonathan Smith has the Beavers farther along than the Spartans, who have jumped into the second tier of the Mountain West, along with SDSU.
UC Davis, meanwhile, has finished with a winning record for a second straight year for the first time under Dan Hawkins, going 6-5 last year. The FCS playoff contenders are looking for their third berth under Hawkins (2018, 2021).
UCLA: vs. Coastal Carolina, at San Diego State, vs. North Carolina Central
Last year, the Bruins faced easily the worst collection of nonconference competitors they’ve ever played, fattening their record with wins over Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama.
This year’s slate is better, but not drastically.
Coastal Carolina is coming off 3 straight bowl bids and a 31-7 record the last 3 years under Jamey Chadwell (and interim bowl coach Chad Staggs), but Chadwell has moved on to Liberty and has since been replaced by Tim Beck. The Chanticleers are a bit of a question mark this year, but unquestionably better than last year’s opener, Bowling Green.
Likewise, playing at SDSU won’t be a breeze, even if the Bruins own a lifetime 21-1 mark against the Aztecs. That lone win? The last time the two teams met, back in 2019. That was Year 2 of the Chip Kelly era, when the Bruins hadn’t fully bought into his system, but they’ve made strides the past two years while SDSU has plateaued a bit.
Week 3 another unique opportunity for UCLA to play host to a HBCU opponent in North Carolina Central, following last year’s 45-7 win over Alabama State.
Arizona: vs. Northern Arizona, at Mississippi State, vs. UTEP
You say this is easy, but the again, the Wildcats lost to their neighbors to the north, 21-19, in 2021.
But this is a very different Arizona football team from that woeful 1-11 team, Jedd Fisch’s first in Tucson. The Wildcats have drastically improved on both sides of the ball, and they are gunning for their first bowl game in years. They won’t take NAU lightly. And they can’t, not with talented former Cal quarterback Kai Millner transferring to Flagstaff to become the Lumberjacks potential starter.
The Cats’ Week 2 opponents certainly have no questions at the quarterback position with Will Rogers back in the saddle for the Bulldogs. Rogers is one of the best passers in SEC history, and he’ll be looking to feast on an Arizona defense that has struggled against the pass. Last year in a 39-17 win over Cats, Rogers had 313 passing yards and 4 touchdowns with 1 interception.
UTEP presents another feasting opportunity for the Cats. The Miners are just 17-40 under Dana Dimel and coming off a 5-7 season.
Cal: at North Texas, vs. Auburn, vs. Idaho
Cal is mighty lucky it has 2 winnable nonconference games, because the Bears have perhaps the most difficult conference schedule of any Pac-12 squad.
The Bears have games at Washington, Utah, Oregon and UCLA, plus home games against USC and Oregon State. Yikes.
Before that gauntlet begins, Cal needs to start building momentum in Game 1 against the Mean Green, who averaged better than 40 points in their 7 wins. Then comes new-look Auburn and head coach Hugh Freeze, which needs an offensive overhaul after winning just 5 games. No SEC teams are easy wins, but this might be a good year for the Bears to catch the Tigers.
This might not be a great time to catch Idaho, as the Vandals found a promising young had coach in Jason Eck. Eck led Idaho to a 7-5 mark and a berth in the FCS playoffs, its first 1995 after an FBS stint from 1996-2017.
Stanford: at Hawaii, vs. Sac State, vs. Notre Dame
Troy Taylor gets a chance to get the train rolling early in his debut season with the Cardinal, including a Week 2 matchup with a familiar face.
Stanford opens with a winnable game an always interesting matchup at Hawaii, where they’ll have to adjust their weekly routine from the very start. The Warriors are coming off a 3-9 season in Timmy Chang’s first season at the helm, and it’ll be fun to see if the Warriors have taken to his style a bit more in Year 2.
Then comes Sac State, where Taylor went 30-8 in 3 seasons. Defensive coordinator Andy Thompson took over the reins, so Taylor will have the added chore of out-scheming someone who knows his playbook.
Up next is the big reality check, Notre Dame. The Cardinal pulled off a shocking 16-14 win in South Bend last year, and you can bet the Irish are fired up to return the favor. Notre Dame only lost once more the rest of the season, while Stanford only won one more game. It could be a brutal introduction to the rivalry for Taylor.