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Monday, March 1, 2010
Ranking the Pac-10's nonconference schedules

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

While many BCS conference teams hide from tough competition and try to schedule their way to artificially inflated success-- hey look! seven wins! -- the Pac-10 has rarely taken the easy road with scheduling.

And 2010 might be as challenging a nonconference slate as the conference has played.

Try this on:
So how do these nonconference schedules rank in terms of difficulty?

The top-three here are brutal. No. 5 through nine were extremely close in terms of difficulty.

1. Oregon State
Sept. 4 TCU (Cowboys Stadium)
Sept. 18 Louisville
Sept. 25 at Boise State

Verdict: Two top-10 teams on the road (TCU and Boise State) and a third vs. an AQ conference foe. Moreover, its remains a fairly thankless task to play the elite teams of the non-AQ conferences. While TCU and Boise State might be every bit as good as, say, Texas or Alabama next year, a loss to the Horned Frogs and/or Broncos won't be treated the same by pollsters as one to the Longhorns or Crimson Tide.

2. UCLA
Sept. 4 at Kansas State
Sept. 18 Houston
Sept. 25 at Texas

Verdict: Two road games vs. Big 12 teams, including top-10 Texas. And who really wants to play Houston and QB Case Keenum, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate?

3. Washington
Sept. 4 at BYU
Sept. 11 Syracuse
Sept. 18 Nebraska

Verdict: A top-10 team (Nebraska) and a road game at top-25 BYU. And Syracuse was good enough to beat Northwestern and Rutgers last year.

4. USC
Sept. 2 at Hawaii
Sept. 11 Virginia
Sept. 18 at Minnesota
Nov. 27 Notre Dame

Verdict: The Trojans have played tougher nonconference schedules -- where's the marquee national game here? -- but they get extra credit for playing four instead of three and two on the road. Also, three of four are vs. AQ conference teams.

5. Washington State
Sept. 4 at Oklahoma State
Sept. 11 Montana State
Sept. 18 at SMU

Verdict: Two tough road games. SMU welcomes back 17 starters from a team that won five of its last six games -- including a bowl win -- last year. And the Mustangs figure to be perturbed about the way they lost in Pullman last fall.

6. Arizona
Sept. 3 at Toledo
Sept. 11 Citadel
Sept. 18 Iowa

Verdict: The Wildcats should be able to handle the first two, though strange things can happen on the road. Iowa should be one of the leaders in a very strong Big Ten next year.

7. Stanford
Sept. 4 Sacramento State
Sept. 18 Wake Forest
Sept. 25 at Notre Dame

Verdict: Two AQ foes, one on the road. Still, Cardinal may be favored in all three games.

8. Oregon
Sept. 4 New Mexico
Sept. 11 at Tennessee
Sept. 18 Portland State

Verdict: New Mexico and Tennessee are rebuilding, so the Ducks should roll through this slate. But, of course, you never know what's going to happen in front of 100,000 fans in the Deep South humidity.

9. California
Sept. 4 UC Davis
Sept. 9 Colorado
Sept. 18 at Nevada

Verdict: The dangerous game here is the trip to Nevada, which welcomes back 18 starters from an eight-win team, including nine back from the nation's No. 2 offense.

10. Arizona State
Sept. 4 Portland State
Sept. 11 Northern Arizona
Sept. 18 at Wisconsin

Verdict: When the Sun Devils lost their game with San Jose State to Alabama, they couldn't find any other FBS foes to fill the gap. Ergo, a schedule that includes two FCS foes, which will require them to win seven games to become bowl eligible. The Badgers offense will be a good match for a good Sun Devils defense.