The Pac-12 has not been kind to the Bears. Ever since the Bears entered the conference in 2011, they’ve been draped with one difficult circumstance (playing in a ballpark for a year) after another (a murderer’s row schedule).
According to Sagarin, Cal had the tenth toughest schedule in 2012, and it rose to 4th in 2013. Cal will again have to earn their wins this season, facing a difficult schedule that Football Outsiders considers a top ten schedule in difficulty in the country.
This will be a slightly easier schedule, but not by much. Our home date against Ohio State is now a home date against BYU in a game we could be little motivated to play in post-Big Game. Our home date against Northwestern has now turned into a road contest in Evanston. Our home non-conference game is easier while beating Northwestern becomes slightly more difficult.
Our home game against Oregon is now a neutral site Friday night contest in Santa Clara which will be packed with roving Ducks. Cal (along with Stanford) will again play both USC and UCLA (the double whammy caught up with the Cardinal last November to dash their national title hopes).
Unfortunately, we can’t even use the strength of schedule as a real excuse for our struggles. Stanford finished with the toughest schedule in the country in 2013 according to Sagarin and had a top 25 route in 2012. They ended up winning the Pac-12 both years anyway.
There is a definite argument to be made that playing tough schedules builds tough teams. Oregon cruised their way through mid-October without a scratch, then crumbled when they faced the toughest part of their schedule. Stanford bruised their ways to win over Oregon, UCLA, Notre Dame, brushed off their tough losses, then dominated Arizona State to reach the Rose Bowl.
However, with the college football playoff coming in hand, there’s a lot of concern for the Pac-12 to always send a playoff team, and whether the selection committee will factor in strength of schedule into their calculus for sending a team to the playoff.
Some questions to consider in the comments.
1) Should Cal reconsider playing USC & UCLA every year, or do they ride out this tough road and hope the worm turns quickly? Both the Trojans and Bruins generally finish in the top three in their division every season, so the Bears are essentially scheduling themselves out of a far more winnable game most years when the schedule rotates. Might it make sense to go back to the table with Stanford and rethink how many times they play one another each season?
2) Does Cal schedule too harshly on their non-conference slate? Texas is coming the next two years. The Bears will have a road game coming against BYU in 2017. Chris Ault will come out of retirement for the tenth time to lead Nevada in a few years, and San Diego State is pesky as can be. Should the Bears think about scheduling occasionally tougher?
3) Does playing difficult opponents help Cal's players develop in the long-run? Or does it hurt their confidence to a point that it becomes demoralizing?