Don't be surprised if... road schedules

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Eleventh in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.

Don't be surprised if ... road schedules play a critical role in sorting out the conference as well as its national perception.

Around midseason last fall, Arizona coach Mike Stoops pointed out an interesting factoid. His Wildcats win at UCLA on Sept. 20 was the best conference road victory to that point.

No offense to UCLA, but the meat of his observation was no one was notching quality wins on the road. And Stoops knew this as well as anyone, considering his team gagged in the fourth quarter at Stanford.

At season's end, the competition for "Best Road Win" only improved slightly. Oregon State won at Arizona. Oregon won at Oregon State. That's about it.

The Pac-10 finished the season 19-38 on the road in 2008, and that's still 19-27 if the 0-11 combination of Washington and Washington State are dropped.

Stanford was one win from bowl eligibility last year, but it went 1-6 on the road -- heck of a year to have seven road games, eh? -- that lone victory coming at Washington.

California was a perfect 7-0 at home but 1-4 on the road. And remember everybody won at Washington or Washington State.

USC and Oregon were the top dogs in 2008, but three of their four combined losses came on the road.

Anyone wonder how the final national measure of the 2008 season might be different if the Beavers, who began the season 0-3 on the road, had run out of the Coliseum tunnel on Sept. 25?

Let's look forward.

If the Pac-10 wants to make an early statement about the quality and depth of the conference, it's going to have to win on the road: Oregon at Boise State; USC at Ohio State; UCLA at Tennessee; Stanford at Wake Forest; California at Minnesota; Arizona at Iowa; Arizona State at Georgia; Washington at Notre Dame.

If USC wants to win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 championship, it's going to have to beat its top competition on the road: at California on Oct. 13; at Oregon on Oct. 31.

And if the Trojans are to again insinuate themselves into the national title hunt, they're going to need those two nonconference road games, too.

There are some reasons for optimism. Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Washington each play seven home games. For Stanford and Arizona State -- teams potentially on the bubble for bowl eligibility -- that could prove critical.

As for the Ducks, their schedule stacks up the best.

If Oregon manages to record a season-opening win at Boise State -- certainly no gimme on the blue turf -- thereafter it gets what appear to be its biggest tests all at home: Utah, California, USC and Oregon State.

As previously stated, the Pac-10 blog is leaning toward California as the top potential foil for USC. That's what welcoming back 17 starters from a nine-win team that notched wins over a top-10 team and another top-25 team in 2008 will get you.

But the Bears could make the Pac-10 blog look bad before the calendar flips into October. They visit Minnesota on Sept. 19 and go to Oregon the following weekend. Fail one or both road tests, and the national interest in the Trojans visit on Oct. 3 could be severely muted.