Nonconference schedule analysis: WCC

This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the A-10, Big East and CAA. Today we head out West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and WCC.


Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (Nov. 16-17 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), at Iowa State (Dec. 1), at Baylor (Dec. 21)

Next-toughest: Utah State (Dec. 5), vs. Virginia Tech (Dec. 29 in Salt Lake City)

The rest: Tennessee State (Nov. 9), Georgia State (Nov. 13), UT-San Antonio (Nov. 21), Cal-State Northridge (Nov. 24), vs. Montana (Nov. 28 in Salt Lake City), Utah (Dec. 8), at Weber State (Dec. 15), Eastern New Mexico (Dec. 18), Northern Arizona (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- If BYU gets through this nonconference slate relatively unscathed, the Cougars could be the clear West Coast Conference favorites entering league play. The gauntlet begins with a matchup against Florida State in Brooklyn and then either Top 25 Notre Dame or A-10 favorite St. Joe's the next day. Going to Ames to face a restocked Iowa State squad won’t be a leisure trip, either. And the Cougars will play Baylor on the road four days before Christmas. Nothing easy for coach Dave Rose’s squad.


Toughest: West Virginia (Nov. 12), vs. Kansas State (Dec. 15 in Seattle), Baylor (Dec. 28), at Butler (Jan. 19)

Next-toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 22-25), Illinois (Dec. 8), at Oklahoma State (Dec. 31)

The rest: Southern Utah (Nov. 9), South Dakota (Nov. 18), Lewis-Clark State (Nov. 29), Pacific (Dec. 1), at Washington State (Dec. 5), Campbell (Dec. 19)

Toughness scale (1-10): 9 -- Gonzaga will prep for WCC play the hard way, too. The Bulldogs will face Kansas State, Baylor, Illinois and Oklahoma State in December alone. Prior to that stretch, they get West Virginia as part of the Tip-Off Marathon and then an average field in the Old Spice Classic (opening with Clemson). But overall, Gonzaga will face five or six teams with the athleticism and talent level to add an "L" to its record, including a trip to Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse for "College GameDay."


Toughest: at Saint Louis (Dec. 22)

Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 22-24), Long Beach Staet (Nov. 29), Ole Miss (Dec. 19)

The rest: Pacifica (Nov. 9), at SMU (Nov. 11), at CSU Bakersfield (Nov. 17), Portland State (Dec. 1), at Northern Arizona (Dec. 5), Morgan State (Dec. 27), CSU Bakersfield (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The WCC will probably be a three-team race between Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s. This schedule suggests that the Lions recognize they’ll need some momentum to take into the rigorous conference slate. The trip to Anchorage opens with a solid mid-major opponent (Oral Roberts), but there's not much going on in that field. Other than a road game at Saint Louis, LMU won’t face any Top 25 squads during the nonconference season, and as a result, they could enter WCC play with a respectable record, few wounds and, perhaps, a little mojo.


Toughest: at Cal (Nov. 13)

Next-toughest: Washington State (Nov. 16)

The rest: at Cal State Northridge (Nov. 9), at Houston Baptist (Nov. 20), UC Irvine (Nov. 24), at Montana State (Nov. 29), at Utah Valley (Dec. 1), UC Riverside (Dec. 5), at Hawaii (Dec. 8), Central Michigan (Dec. 16), vs. Alabama State (Dec. 19 in New Orleans), at Tulane (Dec. 20), Fresno Pacific (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Even for a squad that won only 10 games last season, this is an average schedule. The Waves face Cal on the road in mid-November and then it’s mostly quiet until conference play. Their second-toughest opponent (Washington State) travels to Malibu but might end up being the worst team in the Pac-12. Similar programs often try to schedule win-win games against a Top 25 level squad to boost strength of schedule and secure a shot at a quality win. Not that Pepperdine is dreaming of a postseason berth, but this pedestrian slate doesn’t really give them that chance.


Toughest: UNLV (Dec. 4), at Kentucky (Dec. 8), at New Mexico (Nov. 25)

Next-toughest: at Ohio (Nov. 10), at Washington State (Dec. 1), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)

The rest: Idaho State (Nov. 15), at Montana State (Nov. 18), Portland State (Nov. 21), Lewis & Clark (Nov. 27), Portland Bible College (Dec. 14), CSU Bakersfield (Dec. 17), North Florida (Dec. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Now, this is more like it. Portland, a team that finished 3-13 in the WCC last season, will get paid to play the reigning national champion (Kentucky, in case you hadn’t heard), will lure a Top 25 squad (UNLV) to the Chiles Center, and will compete against plenty of other big-time opponents (Colorado State in the Las Vegas Classic, Ohio, Washington State and New Mexico on the road). That Dec. 14 matchup against Portland Bible College certainly doesn’t define the Pilots’ nonconference matchups. Memo to other schools in a similar position: Nothing wrong with a Hail Mary or two in nonconference scheduling.


Toughest: DIRECTV Classic (Nov. 22-25 in Anaheim, Calif.), at Northern Iowa (Dec. 22)

Next-toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 15), Harvard (Dec. 31)

The rest: Sonoma State (Nov. 10), Eastern Washington (Nov. 18), Cal Poly (Dec. 1), at Drake (Dec. 5), Jackson State (Dec. 11), Pacific (Dec. 19), Rhode Island (Dec. 27), Yale (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- SMC's nonconference path certainly contrasts the one taken by BYU and Gonzaga. Those two schools have slotted multiple contenders. The toughest matchup on Saint Mary’s plate is its home game versus now-depleted Harvard. The tourney in Anaheim is lukewarm this season, although the opener with Drexel is very intriguing. But it’s not like Jackson State and Sonoma State will do much for the Gaels’ résumé.


Toughest: at San Diego State (Dec. 15)

Next-toughest: at Montana (Nov. 24), vs. Oregon State (Dec. 22 in Las Vegas)

The rest: San Diego Christian (Nov. 9), Northern Kentucky (Nov. 14), Cal State Northridge (Nov. 15), Tulsa (Nov. 16), Siena (Nov. 18), at UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 21), at Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 1), at Southern Utah (Dec. 4), Tulane (Dec. 8), Arizona Christian (Dec. 11), vs. James Madison (Dec. 23 in Las Vegas), Morgan State (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- San Diego hopes to turn the corner after another lackluster season (13-18) in 2011-12. This is a solid tuneup for a team in that position. San Diego State is a Top 25 team. Nothing guaranteed against Oregon State in Las Vegas or Montana on the road. The rest of the slate is average. But right now, coach Bill Grier’s team needs wins. A few victories against the handful of BCS schools on his team’s nonconference slate would be a bonus.


Toughest: vs. Stanford (Nov. 9 in Oakland), at Nevada (Dec. 15), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)

Next-toughest: St. John’s (Dec. 4)

The rest: UNC Pembroke (Nov. 5), Cal State East Bay (Nov. 13), American (Nov. 19), Columbia (Nov. 24), Montana (Nov. 30), Pacific (Dec. 8), Holy Cross (Dec. 18), Dominican U (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- San Francisco is rebuilding after multiple players decided to transfer this offseason. That fact only enhances the difficulty within the team’s nonconference schedule. The Dons open up the Diamond Head Classic with a matchup against San Diego State. They’ll face Stanford, Nevada and St. John’s, too. All of those games could be lopsided losses for USF.


Toughest: at Saint Louis (Nov. 14), at Duke (Dec. 29)

Next-toughest: Utah State (Nov. 28), at Pacific (Dec. 15)

The rest: Simpson (Nov. 10), USC Upstate (Nov. 20), Utah Valley State (Nov. 21), Eastern Washington (Nov. 23), UC Santa Barbara (Dec. 1), Pacific Union (Dec. 8), at San Jose State (Dec. 11), Cal Poly (Dec. 17), Alcorn State (Dec. 21), SMU/Wagner (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Last season, Santa Clara finished WCC play with an 0-16 record. So this is the right schedule for the Broncos. Heavy hitters Duke and Saint Louis will be good barometers as Santa Clara preps for matchups against the WCC’s best. The rest of the nonconference schedule features a multitude of winnable games. And if you finish 0-16 in any league, tasting victory -- regardless of the competition -- is essential. And this schedule gives Santa Clara a chance to do that.