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Pac-12 Football: How the schedule will shape the fate of the Pac-12 South

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The Pac-12 South race is razor thin, so who did the scheduling gods smile upon?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There is little doubt that the Pac-12 South is one of (if not the) best divisions in college football. The Arizona schools have won the division the past two years, however UCLA, USC and even Utah are close on their heels.

In 2015, the USC Trojans, finally free of sanctions, are the favorite to represent the division in the Santa Clara. However, UCLA returns a lot of talent on both sides of the ball as does ASU and Arizona. Utah, a team that beat UCLA in Pasadena last season, is also right there in the division.

Back when the Pac-12 was the Pac-10, the league used a balanced schedule to determine a champion. This meant that every team played the nine other teams in the conference (the Big 12 uses this formula currently). However, now the conference uses an unbalanced schedule, teams play the five other teams in their division plus four teams from the opposite division.

Because of this, some teams get off easier than others. Whether they miss a top team from the other division or they play a favorable home schedule, some teams have a tougher road to the Pac-12 Championship than others. Let's take a look at the road to Santa Clara for the five contenders in the Pac-12 South.

USC

2015 Pac-12 Road Games - Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, California

2015 Pac-12 Home Games - Stanford, Washington, Utah, Arizona, UCLA

2015 Pac-12 Teams Missed - Washington State, Oregon State

Pros: USC will play three Pac-12 South contenders at home, including rival UCLA. The Pac-12 South favorite will be tested early in the season, with games against Stanford, ASU, Notre Dame and Utah before Halloween. USC only has two key Pac-12 games away from home, Arizona State the first weekend in October and Oregon the second to last weekend of the season.

Cons: USC catches a bad break with the teams they miss in 2015, as the Trojans would be heavy favorites against both Washington State and Oregon State. Because of this, the Trojans are the only team in the South that has to play Oregon, Stanford and California. Utah is the only other team in the Pac-12 South that has to play Oregon on the road.

UCLA

2015 Pac-12 Road Games - Arizona, Stanford, Oregon State, Utah, USC

2015 Pac-12 Home Games - Arizona State, California, Colorado, Washington State

2015 Pac-12 Teams Missed - Oregon, Washington

Pros: The Bruins do not have to play Oregon or Washington, two of the more talented teams in the Pac-12 North. UCLA also gets Arizona State at home, however it is early in the season when they will still be breaking in a new starting quarterback.

Cons: There is not a lot to like about this schedule if you are Jim More Jr. The road slate of Arizona, Stanford, Utah and USC is absolutely brutal. From the South, the Bruins host Arizona State and Colorado and out of the North they get Washington State and Cal in Pasadena. The good news for UCLA is they miss Oregon, however that is about the only good news.

Arizona

2015 Pac-12 Road Games - Stanford, Colorado, Washington, USC, Arizona State

2015 Pac-12 Home Games - UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, Utah

2015 Pac-12 Teams Missed - Oregon, California

Pros: Like the Bruins, the Wildcats do not have to play Oregon in 2015. The Wildcats also miss California, who many see surprising this season in the North.

Cons: Also like UCLA, the road schedule is very difficult, as Arizona has to play at Stanford, USC and Arizona State. A trip to Washington won't be easy either. The last four games for the Wildcats: Washington, USC, Utah, Arizona State.

Arizona State

2015 Pac-12 Road Games - UCLA, Utah, Washington State, California

2015 Pac-12 Home Games - USC, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arizona

2015 Pac-12 Teams Missed - Stanford, Oregon State

Pros: The Sun Devils miss two teams that have given them fits in recent years. Stanford, the last few years except last year and Oregon State, who upset the Sun Devils in 2014. The Sun Devils also get USC, Arizona and Oregon in the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium.

Cons: For the first time in two years, ASU has to face Oregon. The toughness of the road slate is underrated. Salt Lake City and Pullman are not easy places to win and the trip to Cal the final weekend of the season has let down game written all over it.

Utah

2015 Pac-12 Road Games - Oregon, USC, Washington, Arizona

2015 Pac-12 Home Games - California, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Colorado

2015 Pac-12 Teams Missed - Stanford, Washington State

Pros: Utah has been looking up at the other Pac-12 South contenders since entering the league. The Utes have been good for one road upset a year, look for that USC game on Oct. 24 or the Arizona Wildcats on Nov. 14 for this season's upset. The Utes also miss Stanford and a potentially surprising Washington State team.

Cons: Road games against Oregon, USC, Washington and Arizona won't do the Utes any favors. Even though Utah has proved it can beat good teams on the road, Rice-Eccles Stadium is a tough place to play and the only Pac-12 South contenders to see it in 2015 are Arizona State and UCLA.

Final Breakdown: The Sun Devils seem to come out with the easiest road to the Pac-12 Championship Game. The toughest test will be against USC, but getting the Trojans, Arizona and Oregon at home helps the Sun Devils out. ASU fans, don't sleep on Utah or Washington State when the Sun Devils travel north.

The two teams with the toughest road are Arizona and UCLA. Both the Bruins and the Wildcats have five road conference games. Arizona has to visit Stanford, USC and Arizona State (perhaps the three best teams in the league) and UCLA has to travel on the road to Stanford, Arizona State, Utah and USC.

As far as USC goes, the Trojans have a favorable home slate, however they are the only Pac-12 South contender to have to play both Oregon and Stanford.