Our multi-part early look at Pac-12 football in 2020 begins with an assessment of the schedules — a development made possible by actually having the, um, schedules.

The conference waited until mid-January 2020 to release the lineups for the fall of 2020, but the delay was worth it, in our view.

The overall balance in degree-of-difficulty is the best we can recall.

Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to The Seattle Times through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group. Wilner has been covering college athletics for decades and is a voter in the basketball and football AP polls, as well as the Heisman trophy. He shares his expert analysis and opinions on the conference for the Pac-12 Hotline.

Notes on the ranking below:

1) I did not include the open dates because only one team — Washington — has a excessive stretch of play:

The Huskies are off in late September, then play nine consecutive conference games.

Everyone else draws an open week in the middle portion of the season or has two weeks off.

Advertising

2) We weighed three factors in determining SOS: nonconference opponents (and location), conference road games — both the quantity and quality — and the cross-division schedule.

Ranked weakest-to-toughest.

12. Washington State

Non-conference: at Utah State, Houston, Idaho

Pac-12 home: Cal, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington

Pac-12 road: Oregon State, Stanford, Colorado, UCLA

Misses: USC and Arizona

Toughest stretch: vs. Oregon (Nov. 21), vs. Washington (Nov. 27)

Comment: The path to the postseason couldn’t be any more manageable for first-year coach Nick Rolovich. The nonconference lineup is soft, the toughest conference games are at home, and the only Thurs/Fri game is the Apple Cup. Sweep the noncons, find three wins in league play, and the Cougars are in, again.

11. UCLA

Non-conference: vs. New Mexico State, at Hawaii, at San Diego State

Pac-12 home: Stanford, Arizona, Utah, Washington State, USC

Pac-12 road: ASU, Colorado, Oregon State, Cal

Misses: Washington and Oregon

Toughest stretch: at ASU (Oct. 10), at Colorado (Oct. 17)

Comment: The Bruins typically play one of the most arduous schedules in the conference, but not in 2020. (SDSU and Hawaii have new coaches, by the way.) The Bruins miss the top-tier North teams, have only four conference road games and make a short trip for their Friday affair (Berkeley). If Chip Kelly can’t get six wins from this schedule, it’s not happening, ever.

10. Arizona

Non-conference: vs. Hawaii, vs. Portland State, at Texas Tech

Pac-12 home: Stanford, Colorado, USC, Oregon, ASU

Pac-12 road: UCLA, Washington, Utah, OSU

Misses: Cal and Washington State

Toughest stretch: vs. USC (Oct. 17), at UW (Oct. 23), vs. Oregon (Oct. 31), at Utah (Nov. 7)

Comment: If not an ideal schedule for a Year Three turnaround under Kevin Sumlin, it’s mighty close. Texas Tech is a B-level test, and the conference road lineup is hardly excessive. The quick turn/long flight for the Friday date in Seattle is the most difficult aspect.

Advertising

9. Arizona State

Non-conference: vs. Northern Arizona, at UNLV, vs. Brigham Young

Pac-12 home: Oregon State, UCLA, Cal, Utah

Pac-12 road: USC, Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Arizona

Misses: Washington and Stanford

Toughest stretch: vs. Cal (Nov. 7), at Oregon (Nov. 13)

Comment: The second-softest nonconference schedule in the conference (behind WSU) combined with a manageable road lineup creates the foundation for a next-level win total. That November stretch, especially with the Friday date in Eugene, will determine ASU’s fate.

8. Utah

Non-conference: vs. Brigham Young, vs. Montana State, at Wyoming

Pac-12 home: USC, Washington, Arizona, Oregon State

Pac-12 road: UCLA, Cal, ASU, Washington State, Colorado

Misses: Stanford and Oregon

Toughest stretch: at Cal (Sept. 26), vs. USC (Oct. 2)

Comment: Another Power Five-less nonconference schedule for the Utes. Combine the soft noncon with the Oregon miss and a mid-level conference road schedule, and the Utes have another stellar chance to build their resume. USC’s visit is on a Friday. It’s a tough turn for Utah after the trip to Berkeley; the Trojans will have just played at home against ASU.

7. Oregon State

Non-conference: at Oklahoma State, vs. Colorado State, vs. Portland State

Pac-12 home: Washington State, Cal, Arizona, UCLA, Oregon

Pac-12 road: Washington, Stanford, Utah, ASU

Misses: USC and Colorado

Toughest stretch: at ASU (Oct. 3), at Washington (Oct. 10)

Comment: The trip to Stillwater is what elevates OSU’s schedule into the middle tier in degree of difficulty. Otherwise, it’s comparable to those already mentioned. With only four conference road games and a good miss (USC), the Beavers have a chance to build on their momentum from ’19.

6. Cal

Non-conference: at UNLV, vs. TCU, vs. Cal Poly

Pac-12 home: Utah, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, UCLA

Pac-12 road: Washington State, USC, Oregon State, ASU

Misses: Colorado and Arizona

Toughest stretch: at USC (Oct. 10), vs. Oregon (Oct. 17)

Comment: The nonconference lineup is moderately challenging — Cal helps the Rebels open Allegiant Stadium — and the Bears only play four conference road games. Their cross-division misses are teams that, at this point, they would probably prefer to play.

5. Stanford

Non-conference: vs. William & Mary, at Notre Dame, vs. BYU

Pac-12 home: USC, Washington State, Oregon State, Colorado

Pac-12 road: Arizona, UCLA, Washington, Oregon, Cal

Misses: ASU and Utah

Toughest stretch: at Oregon (Oct. 24), vs Oregon State (Oct. 30), at Washington (Nov. 7)

Comment: The Cardinal drew a favorable cross-division schedule, missing two stout South opponents. But the trips to South Bend, Seattle, Eugene and Berkeley make for a heavy lift — not as heavy as last season’s schedule, perhaps, but heavy nonetheless.

Advertising

4. Oregon

Non-conference: vs. North Dakota State, vs. Ohio State, vs. Hawaii

Pac-12 home: Washington, Stanford, USC, ASU

Pac-12 road: Colorado, Washington State, Cal, Arizona, Oregon State

Misses: UCLA and Utah

Toughest stretch: Ohio State (Sept. 12)

Comment: The best that can be said for the Ducks is that their toughest games are at home (exception: Cal). The schedule is both obviously-tough and sneaky-tough at the same time. North Dakota State — the defending FCS champion — is no cupcake. Positioned a week before the Buckeyes, it’s an A-level trap game.

3. Washington

Non-conference: vs. Michigan, vs. Sacramento State, vs. Utah State

Pac-12 home: Oregon State, Arizona, Stanford, Colorado

Pac-12 road: Oregon, Utah, Cal, USC, Washington State

Misses: UCLA and ASU

Toughest stretch: at Oregon (Oct. 3), vs. OSU (Oct. 10), at Utah (Oct. 17)

Comment: Combine Michigan (anywhere) with that conference road gauntlet and the too-early open date (Sept. 26), and first-year coach Jimmy Lake will earn every cent. If Utah’s backslide from ’19 levels is limited, not substantial, then this could end up as the second-toughest schedule in the conference.

2. Colorado

Non-conference: at Colorado State, vs. Fresno State, at Texas A&M

Pac-12 home: Oregon, UCLA, ASU, Washington State, Utah

Pac-12 road: Arizona, USC, Stanford, Washington

Misses: Cal and Oregon State

Toughest stretch: at Stanford (Nov. 14), at Washington (Nov. 21), vs. Utah (Nov. 28)

Comment: The Buffaloes get Oregon and ASU at home, but those are the only breaks. There are no nonconference locks, and the trip to College Station adds a layer of difficulty that few schedules can match. (The Aggies will have a veteran QB in Kellen Mond.) Buffs better get bowl-eligible before that trip to Seattle.

Advertising

1. USC

Non-conference: vs. Alabama (Arlington), vs. New Mexico State, vs. Notre Dame

Pac-12 home: ASU, Cal, Colorado, Washington

Pac-12 road: Stanford, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, UCLA

Misses: Washington State and Oregon State

Toughest stretch: All of it.

Comment: It starts with the Tide and ends with the Irish and includes five conference road games. Even the misses are all wrong. This is next-level difficult for a head coach who will be under intense scrutiny every hour. We applaud USC’s decision to take the Alabama game. Then again, we also applaud Ironman competitors, ultra-marathoners and anyone who attempts to swim the English Channel.