The way a team takes a step up from mediocre to good is learning to win on the road. Of course, it helps to have a manageable road schedule.
What follows is a ranking of the Pac-10 road schedules, from hardest to easiest.
Couple of points: Playing just five road games almost automatically makes a team's life easier, even if those road games are difficult, just as playing seven makes life more difficult, even if those opponents are fair-to-middling.
Second, playing Washington State on the road this season substantially drops a schedule's degree of difficulty, even if said game is in November when things are chilly in Pullman.
(A good place to look at schedules side-by-side is here.)
1. Arizona State (6 home, 6 road)
at Wisconsin, at Oregon State, at Washington, at California, at USC, at Arizona
Comment: A very, very tough road schedule. The Sun Devils figure to be underdogs in each of these games. What's more, from Sept. 18 to Nov. 6, they play five of seven on the road. They will need to be road warriors in 2010 in order to earn bowl eligibility.
2. UCLA (6 home, 6 road)
at Kansas State, at Texas, at California, at Oregon, at Washington, at Arizona
Comment: Obviously, the visit to Texas is a toughie. And none of the four conference games -- recall the Longhorns are in the Big 12 -- are gimmes. In fact, the Bruins look like underdogs in each. The good news is there are five home conference games as a counterbalance.
3. Oregon State (6 home, 6 road)
at TCU, at Boise State, at Arizona, at Washington, at UCLA, at Stanford
Comment: We all know about the nonconference schedule: two top-10 teams on the road. But what about the conference slate? Well, none of these are gimmes but note who's not a road foe: Oregon and USC. If the Beavers are who we think they are, going 3-1 on the road in the Pac-10 is conceivable.
4. Washington (6 home, 6 road)
at BYU, at USC, at Arizona, at Oregon, at California, at Washington State
Comment: No gimmes here -- Washington State is a rivalry game, which is never a gimme. Would Huskies fans take 3-3 here if offered? Or would having a talented,veteran like Jake Locker at quarterback make one think the Huskies won't be as bothered by road games as other teams?
5. Oregon (6 home, 6 road)
at Tennessee, at Arizona State, at Washington State, at USC, at California, at Oregon State
Comment: This is a good reason to pause over making Oregon a clear favorite in the Pac-10. It plays its likely top-two rivals (USC and Oregon State) for the conference crown on the road. And Cal is certainly no patsy at home.
6. Stanford (6 home, 6 road)
at UCLA, at Notre Dame, at Oregon, at Washington, at Arizona State, at California
Comment: Schedule sorta falls in the middle, eh? At Oregon is never easy, but if you are bullish on the Cardinal they should go at least 3-3 on this slate.
7. USC (7 road, 6 home)
at Hawaii, at Minnesota, at Washington State, at Stanford, at Arizona, at Oregon State, at UCLA
Comment: It's never easy to play seven road games, period. The Trojans should be OK in the nonconference games, but after the visit to Pullman, the road slate is tough -- Stanford and Arizona beat the Trojans last year and Oregon State did so in 2008.
8. Washington State (6 home, 6 road)
at Oklahoma State, at SMU, at UCLA, at Stanford, at Arizona State, at Oregon State
Comment: It's tough for a young team trying to take a step forward to open with two tough nonconference road games. And, in their current condition, no game, home or away, appears to be a gimme for the Cougars. Still, if some pieces fit together for the Cougs, there might be a win or even two on this road slate.
9. California (7 home, 5 road)
at Nevada, at Arizona, at USC, at Oregon State, at Washington State
Comment: Cal fans should be encouraged by this schedule, particularly playing only five games away from Memorial Stadium. That said, the ultimate success of the Bears season probably hangs on the final three games, all at home: Oregon, Stanford and Washington.
10. Arizona (7 home, 5 road)
at Toledo, at Washington State, at UCLA, at Stanford, at Oregon
Comment: If you're looking for a reason the Wildcats might remain in the top-half of the Pac-10, this schedule is a good one. They should be clearly favored in two or perhaps three of these games and going 4-1 is not ridiculously optimistic. What's more, Arizona has open dates before the visit to Oregon on Nov. 26.