The Pac-12 is going to be very difficult in 2012. Not only will the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona St. Sun Devils be feeling the effects of coaching staff overhauls, but they'll also be playing in a conference that will arguably be the toughest in the nation outside of the SEC.
Just take a look at the latest pre-preseason rankings from ESPN. Not only are four teams ranked in the top-21, but three are in the top-11. Hardly the soft schedule a Wildcat and Sun Devil fan would be hoping for next year.
According to ESPN's newest top-25, the USC Trojans are ranked No. 2 entering the year. The Trojans had previously been ranked first but dropped a bit after spring practice. The Oregon Ducks were ranked 4th and the Stanford Cardinal came in at No. 11, both teams who are members of the north division. The Washington Huskies also made an appearance at 21.
The Wildcats and Sun Devils both missed the list and it's hard to imagine either school being ranked in the preseason.
As for Arizona, the 'Cats will face Oregon and Stanford on the road early in the season. They'll face USC and UW on back-to-back weekends in October. That's four teams in ESPN's top-25 within a stretch of about seven weeks. Yikes.
The Sun Devils catch a bit of a break this year, playing only the Trojans and Ducks. Both of these games will take place on the road in 2012.
Despite the tough schedules, a football fan has to be encouraged by the level of play the Pac-12 is reaching. Given the new TV deal and the stadium renovations going on all across the conference, we can look forward to a new brand of west coast football for years to come.