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Scheduling imbalance gives some Pac-12 South teams an edge

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Various studies have shown that home teams in college football own a distinct advantage, whether that's due to sleeping in their own beds, adrenaline produced by supportive crowd noise, or the fact good teams tend to play more home games -- see all those late-season patsies that visit SEC stadiums. Home teams win more than 60 percent of the time. That shouldn't and probably didn't surprise you.

It also shouldn't be surprising, seeing it's a mathematical fact, that playing a nine-game conference schedule, as the Pac-12 does, creates annual schedule imbalances. Some teams play five home games and four road games. Others get stuck with one more road game than home game.

Finally, it also shouldn't be too surprising that the past three Pac-12 South Division champions shared a common characteristic with their schedule imbalances: Arizona in 2014, Arizona State in 2013 and UCLA in 2012 each played a five-to-four home/road split with their conference slate.

Every little advantage matters in the hotly contested South. Only the Sun Devils, with a two-game lead over UCLA and USC, won the division by more than one game.

So, you might wonder, which contending South teams -- apologies to Colorado, but it is not included here -- play five home conference games this coming fall and which do not?

Arizona State, Utah and USC each play five home conference games, while UCLA and Arizona play only four. It's reasonable to see the Sun Devils, Utes and Trojans owning an advantage heading into what should be an extremely tight race where every advantage is precious.

And yet we'd advise fans of these five teams not to start either celebrating or shaking their fist at the heavens. For one, these five teams combined to go 13-9 in road Pac-12 games last year, compared to 17-6 at home. UCLA, in fact, went 4-0 on the road and 2-3 at home, so the Bruins might be counterintuitively grinning about five road trips, while Utah, 1-3 at home and 4-1 on the road, might wonder what the MUSS is up.

Wait.... there's more!

For one, you can't talk about the Pac-12 without talking about Oregon, and that's not just because Ducks fans are always telling us that. It's because the Ducks have been the conference's most consistently good team since 2009, and there's no reason to believe they won't be good again next year, even without that Hawaiian fellow behind center. In fact, the distance between Oregon and any other North Division contender this season feels as wide as it has been since expansion, though some have a sneaking suspicion that counting Stanford out will prove to be a mistake.

Arizona and UCLA don't play Oregon, so advantage Wildcats and Bruins, though of course the Wildcats won their last two regular season games against the Ducks. Utah and USC play at Oregon, which is typically an inhospitable place to play, though of course the Trojans upset the Ducks 38-35 in 2011, their last visit to Autzen Stadium. Arizona State plays host to the Ducks on Oct. 29.

Finally, there's the insensitive issue of teams that are the opposite of Oregon, teams that don't project highly in the Pac-12 pecking order in 2015. With all due respect, three teams will be consensus picks to end up at the bottom of the conference: Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State.

Obviously, the five South contenders each play the Buffaloes. Arizona and USC play in Boulder, the other three play host to the Buffs. That could be viewed as an edge to the Wildcats and Trojans, as you'd probably rather be on the road against a lesser team than against a nationally ranked one, though some coaches might disagree, countering upset specials happen on the road when visiting teams believe they are going to win easily.

As for Oregon State and Washington State, USC doesn't play either, meaning its North misses this fall appear to be the least advantageous, at least from a preseason perspective. Utah misses Washington State and plays host to Oregon State, while Arizona State visits Washington State and misses Oregon State, which stunned the Sun Devils last year. Arizona and UCLA play both, with UCLA's visit to Oregon State being the only one of the four on the road.

Conclusions?

It would seem USC's 5/4 home/road split is canceled somewhat by playing Oregon and not playing Oregon State and Washington State, just as Arizona and UCLA offset their 4/5 home/road split by missing the Ducks and playing both Oregon State and Washington State. Arizona State and Utah split the difference with four road games, a matchup with Oregon and an either/or with Oregon State and Washington State.

In other words, there doesn't appear to be a decisive scheduling advantage for any of the South contenders, at least from a preseason perspective. We are, however, reserving our constitutional right to foment dissatisfaction about some sort of scheduling conspiracy from the Pac-12 office later in the season.

What's clear is all five will play rugged schedules, even though Arizona again went the milquetoast route with its nonconference slate. ESPN.com rates all five as playing among the nation's 13 toughest schedules, with UCLA ranking No. 1, Utah No. 2, USC No. 4, Arizona State No. 10 and Arizona at No. 13.