September: USC's first month of the year features a very steep ramp after home dates against Arkansas State and Idaho. The Trojans get a week jump on Pac-12 play when Stanford comes to town September 19. Their first road game follows in Tempe against Arizona State. The last time USC went to Phoenix, they left their coach on the tarmac of LAX upon their return. The Trojans have been blown out the last two times they've visited Frank Kush Field, and this game features two teams with very real Playoff and Pac-12 Championship aspirations. Both teams return Senior quarterbacks in Cody Kessler and Mike Bercovici, so expect the scoreboard to once again light up the Tempe sky. Trojan fans will know by the month's end whether or not the annual over-abundance of talent meets the annual over-abundance of hype.
October: USC has a bye week to start the month before playing the fourth home date in the first five games. Washington comes to town on a Thursday, and then the Trojans return to Saturdays with a Prime Time Showdown in South Bend. The competition gets no less rugged when the Trojans return to face Utah in the Coliseum. The home-heavy first half of the season may lack for a quantity of road games but it certainly does not lack in quality. Few teams in the Pac-12 have two tougher initial road games in 2015. USC closes out October on Halloween in Strawberry Canyon. The Trojans have had some scares over the years in Berkeley, but this game really shouldn't be close. It'd take a severe meltdown by the USC defense to come up short during this year's installment of the Weekender. Conversely, Utah likely doesn't have the offense to come into the Coliseum and win, so really this month all comes down to that Saturday in South Bend.
November: The Trojans close with three very difficult games to close out 2015. As can be said of many teams in the Pac-12 this year, the quality of the schedule is certainly Playoff caliber if they go out and win the games. The month kicks off with a home date against Arizona, after which USC gets its one breather of the month. USC goes to Boulder, where the chill and the following week might set this up as a trap game if I had a higher estimation of Colorado's talent. The Trojans should have emptied the benches by the fourth quarter in this one, which is good because depth is going to matter the following week. For the first time since their 2011 win in Eugene, USC goes over the river and through the woods to face the Ducks. That game was the biggest win in the Lane Kiffin Era, and would occupy the same spot on Steve Sarkisian's resume should the Trojans manage to escape Autzen with a victory. USC plays both Stanford and Oregon, so the odds are good that the Trojans will have a hand not only in the fate of the Pac-12 South but also the winner of the Pac-12 North as well. The Battle for the Victory Bell concludes USC's 2015, as their Seniors will attempt to beat UCLA for the first time and in so doing end a three-game losing streak to the Baby Bears.
Toughest Home Game: Sept. 19 vs. Stanford
Toughest Road Game: Nov. 21 @ Oregon
Biggest Trap Game: Oct. 24 vs. Utah
Nice Break: Five of their first seven games are at home.
Tough Break: Every other year, the Trojans get UCLA and Notre Dame back to back, so they are used to a challenging close to a season. However, a road trip to Eugene leading up to the season finale is asking quite a lot, even of the most talented team in the conference.
Verdict: The games against UCLA and Arizona are even bigger because those schools skip Oregon this year. That being said, this is one of the tougher schedules in the league when you factor in the trip to Notre Dame, a roadie matched only by Oregon's trip to East Lansing for non-conference difficulty.
September: Two biggies bracket two softies in the opening quartet of games for Utah. They welcome Jim Harbaugh and Michigan into Rice-Eccles Stadium to start the season, and then Utah hosts Utah State before traveling to Fresno State. They close the month in Eugene to start Pac-12 play against the Ducks. Michigan is likely to be ranked to start the year, which means a victory over the Wolverines would give Utah a chance to have a number next to it when they play Oregon. Regardless, this is a tough start to the season for the Utes, who remain uncertain at quarterback and will be breaking in their eighth offensive coordinator in eight seasons.
October: Utah gets its bye week before welcoming Cal and Arizona State to Salt Lake on consecutive weekends. The Utes' defense faces serious challenges with both, but the fact that Arizona State could be caught looking ahead to Oregon may work in the Utes' favor. Rice-Eccles is as daunting a road venue as there is in the Pac-12 outside of Eugene, so the Utes wouldn't need too much of an advantage to fork Sparky. The Utes' one road game of the month is against USC, so Utah will have its hands full trying to get more than two wins this month. They close with an invasion from Beaver Nation. Utah's physical style should have it in most of its games, but if they are going to contend in the Pac-12 South they are going to have to defend their home field and win at least three of four during October.
November: November begins with trips to Seattle and Tucson for games against the Huskies and Wildcats. Utah has proven to be far less formidable on the road, and with the SC and Oregon games standing as likely losses, these two are road games that are winnable and probably mandatory if the Utes are to entertain any higher level bowl aspirations. Kyle Whittingham's squad ends the season with home dates against UCLA and Colorado. Clearly, the penultimate game is going to be a stiffer challenge than the finale, and November concludes what is essentially a fair and balanced schedule for the Utes.
Toughest Home Game: Oct. 17 vs. Arizona State
Toughest Road Game: Sept. 26 @ Oregon
Biggest Trap Game: Sept. 19 @ Fresno State
Nice Break: Closing Conference play at home.
Tough Break: Opening conference play in Eugene.
Verdict: The Utes will probably find enough wins on this slate to be in the postseason, but contending in the Pac-12 South is going to mean winning two of three at Eugene, Los Angeles, or Tucson. Utah's not going to be favored in any of those games. The opener against Michigan should tell us a great deal about just how good Utah is going to be this year, pending the establishment of a starting quarterback by opening day.
September: The Huskies begin 2015 with a trip to Boise State to play Coach Chris Peterson's old team on the blue turf. The emotion and the true road venue combined with the fact that the Husky QB starter will be making his first start makes this a pretty tough opening act for Washington. They can be forgiven for playing two softies in Seattle after that. The UW gets Sac State and then Utah State in Husky Stadium before welcoming Cal Lakeside to open Pac-12 play. The Huskies would be advised to rack up as many W's as possible during this manageable month because what follows is possibly the most difficult six-game stretch of any Pac-12 team.
October: After a bye week to start the month, the Huskies travel to Los Angeles to face the Trojans on a Thursday night. Ten days later they get Oregon at Husky Stadium. A trip to Stanford follows and then Washington hosts Arizona on Halloween night.That is just a brutal month. The most winnable game may be Arizona, but only because it's a home game. Washington will not be favored in any of these games, so any number of wins this month would be an impressive feat barring bad injury luck to their opponents. In fact, that underdog status may be the best thing Washington has going for it. For instance, Stanford will be coming off consecutive home games against UCLA and Arizona, so the Huskies may have a chance to catch the Cardinal slipping depending on how those games go. That's about the best hope they have in October, and November doesn't initially let up on the Huskies either.
November: Washington hosts the rugged Utah Utes to start November and then they travel to Tempe to play Arizona State. They then get a trip to Corvallis to play Oregon State before closing the season with the Apple Cup. Clearly the back end of the month offers the Huskies a better chance to find wins, but the concern is that after the previous six game stretch the Huskies may have had the fight beat out of them as the season draws to a close.
Toughest Home Game: Oct. 17 vs. Oregon
Toughest Road Game: Nov. 14 @ Arizona State
Biggest Trap Game: Sept. 19 @ Utah State
Nice Break: Three straight winnable home games after the road opener in Boise.
Tough Break: Those four straight against USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona. Just brutal, and no bye week splitting that stretch up either.
Verdict: A team not projected to do much damage got no breaks with the schedule this year. If there's any good, it's the relatively soft start after the Boise trip. For a team breaking in a new QB, hopefully a chance to get his feet wet before heading into the deepest waters of the Pac-12.
Washington State Cougars
September: The Cougars definitely ease into 2015 with three games, two home dates, and a bye week in the first month. Portland State and Wyoming bracket a trip to New Jersey to play Rutgers in week 2 and that's it for the month. Washington State will be breaking in a new quarterback so this sets up as ideally as possible for a team not projected to threaten much in the Pac-12 North.
October: The September stroll gives way to a long, punishing October during which the Cougs will play five games with only two of them coming at Martin Stadium. Washington State opens Pac-12 play in Berkeley in a game that may literally see 120 passes. They then go to Eugene for a date with Oregon, and needless to say, that doesn't project as an enjoyable trip for the Cougars. Oregon State offers a respite of sorts at home for WSU before the Cougars are sent right back out to the desert to play Arizona.The month culminates with a Halloween home date to play Stanford. Two wins in this month would be a major achievement for Washington State. More than two wins means the Pirate has taken a commanding lead in the race for Pac-12 coach of the year.
November: This month ends up as essentially a compromise between the cakewalk September and the merciless October. WSU hosts Arizona State to kick off November and then head down to Pasadena for a date with UCLA. After enduring those two tests, the end to the season is a lot more workable for the Cougars. They get Colorado at home and then travel to Seattle to finish the season in the battle for the Apple Cup. Should there be anything left of Washington State, those last two games offer a chance for the Cougars to finish the season with some momentum.
Toughest Home Game: Oct. 31 vs. Stanford
Toughest Road Game: Oct. 10 @ Oregon
Biggest Trap Game: Nov. 21 vs. Colorado
Nice Break: September.
Tough Break: October.
Verdict: If everything goes right in September, WSU would need three wins to get to bowl eligibility. Oregon State and Colorado at home stand as potential wins, meaning the Apple Cup could very well have postseason implications for the Pirate's crew. That's a best case scenario, however. More likely is that this team maxes out at five wins, but settles for three or four.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!