Schedule favors trip to the Pac-12 title

(Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

Ranking and dissecting a football team while trying to predict the future is a complex task with a lot of potential for error.

“Preseason rankings are like dialogue on Baywatch, you need them to keep the show going, but they don’t mean anything to anyone except nerds,” Oregon offensive lineman Mark Asper said on ESPN’s SportsNation.

Although it may only be significant to the “nerds,” the Arizona State Sun Devils are ranked in the preseason with the actual rank varying throughout the several different lists.

There is a lot of hype for the Sun Devils. They are favored to win the inaugural Pac-12 South and are expected to play in the Pac-12 Championship game on Dec. 2.

This is not too far-fetched after analyzing the schedule.

With the Sun Devils playing seven of their 12 games in Tempe, the schedule stacks up nicely for ASU.

Although the Pac-10 had two teams in BCS bowls a season ago, the Sun Devils will also benefit from a schedule that only features two teams that finished 2010 in the AP top 25, and neither of those schools are in ASU’s division.

9/1 UC Davis

It is a bit unusual for the Sun Devils to open the season on Thursday night, but this game is a must win.

No opponent should ever be taken lightly, but the Sun Devils would really need to mess up if they were to lose to the Aggies of the Great West Conference.

UC Davis was 5-6 last season and lacks the talent to compete with ASU on paper.

9/9 Missouri

This is clearly the first test of the season for ASU.

Although it is a non-conference game, the Missouri game will reveal a lot about the 2011 Sun Devils.

Since the game is on ESPN, it is likely the Sun Devils will elect to don their new black uniforms for the first time.

The eyes of the country will be in Tempe and the Sun Devils will have a great opportunity to prove they have improved and learned how to win close games.

9/17 At Illinois

Another tough test and another statement game, this time on the road.

Road games are always tougher and the Sun Devils should have their hands full in Champaign, Ill.

The Illini are coming off a 7-6 season and although they are not among the Big 10’s elite, they are a noteworthy opponent and will be assisted by the home crowd.

9/24 USC

USC is arguably the best team in the Pac-12 South. They are full of talent and speed and are also led by talented quarterback Matt Barkley.

Due to NCAA sanctions the Trojans cannot participate in the post season this year meaning they will not be able to play in the Pac-12 Championship game regardless of their record.

While any division game will be important in the upcoming season, a loss to USC would not be devastating to the Sun Devils as the Trojans place in next year’s standings is irrelevant.

10/1 Oregon State

The Oregon State Beavers are coming off a disappointing season similar to that of the Sun Devils. Two years ago the Beavers were one win from the Rose Bowl, yet last season they missed out on a bowl game entirely.

The Sun Devils lost a heart breaker to the Beavers a year ago, but Oregon State will be without Jacquizz Rodgers, who was a huge part of their offense the past three seasons.

10/8 At Utah

It is unclear as to how the Utes will fare in their first year in the conference.

Utah finished 10-3 in Mountain West Conference last year, but struggled down the stretch where they exposed their vulnerabilities.

This will be an important game for the Sun Devils as the Utes are in the Pac-12 South and will be competing with the Sun Devils and Wildcats for the division crown.

10/15 At Oregon

The Sun Devils will certainly have their hands full as they travel to Eugene, Oregon.

Not only have the Oregon Ducks won the past two conference championships, they are also undefeated at home during the past two seasons and have two Heisman trophy contenders on their offense.

The Sun Devils only lost to the Ducks by 11 last season but Oregon is a different team at home.

ASU will be the underdogs in this game, but an upset victory would be a huge statement game as well as provide them with a lot of momentum.

10/29 Colorado

After two consecutive road games and a bye week, the Sun Devils will return home to face Pac-12 newcomer Colorado.

The Buffaloes will be in their first year in the conference and in the first year with a new coaching staff.

The Buffaloes are not a powerhouse, but they are not a doormat either. Colorado is a solid team, but it is always tough to adapt to a new coaching staff. There will likely be a learning curve and the Sun Devils should be able to win this game.

11/5 At UCLA

Last year, Brock Osweiler’s coming out party came against the Bruins.

UCLA has had quarterback struggles in years past and does not expect to contend for a Pac-12 title in 2011. This will be a division game for the Sun Devils, rendering it a bit more important than most.

The Sun Devils should be favored in this game, but ASU has proven in years past that they are capable of letting winnable games slip away.

11/12 At Washington State

Despite Washington State’s noticeable improvement over the past year, they are still a team the Sun Devils should beat.

Jeff Tuel has made some strides for the Cougars at quarterback, but he is one player and the Cougars are still rebuilding.

Washington State will certainly sneak up on a team or two this year, and while Sun Devil fans would be disappointed if the Cougars pulled off the upset, it would not necessarily kill ASU, as Washington State is in the North division.

11/19 Arizona

This may be the most meaningful game of the season for the Sun Devils and not just because it’s against hated rival UA. This home game has the potential to decide the Pac-12 South champion.

The Wildcats will return senior quarterback Nick Foles, who is projected to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country next season.

Sun Devil fans may not want to hear it, but UA is a good team that is certainly talented enough to win the division.

The Wildcats and ASU are expected to be very close in the standings and there is a high probability this game will determine who plays for the inaugural Pac-12 Championship.

11/25 Cal

The 2010 ASU football season was defined by close losses.

However, ASU’s loss to Cal a year ago was anything but close.

The Golden Bears manhandled the Sun Devils 50-17 in what was clearly ASU’s worst loss of the season.

Jeff Tedford-coached teams are always a mystery. They seem to play good at home while struggling on the road. They also play well for a few consecutive weeks and then struggle for a few weeks.

The constant inconsistency makes Cal a tough team to project, but the game will be in Tempe and should favor the Sun Devils.