At one point during the 2023 season, its final in the Pac-12 Conference, Arizona faced five consecutive ranked opponents and six of seven. The Wildcats may end up having only two ranked foes on the 2024 slate, based on way-too-early rankings, and only one in Big 12 play.
The UA’s first Big 12 schedule was officially released Tuesday, and while it will have its challenges it overall looks to be a relatively manageable slate. Especially for a team that is projected to bring back the bulk of its starters from a squad that won 10 games for just the fourth time in school history and finished 11th in the final Associated Press Top 25.
Two of Arizona’s four conference road trips are to the state of Utah, and both will happen in the first half of the season, before it starts to get really cold up there. The other road trips are to Orlando (UCF) and TCU (Fort Worth) in November.
In other words, no frigid late-season visits to places like Ames, Iowa or Morgantown, West Virginia.
It will be Arizona’s first trip to UCF, which it has never played in football, while the lone visit to TCU came in 1999. The Wildcats last went to BYU in 2007, losing 20-7, and haven’t won in Provo since 1975 when both teams were in the Western Athletic Conference.
Arizona’s last win at Utah was in 2014, with the last three visits all double-digit losses.
There are no back-to-back road games, at least not without a bye in between, as the conference opener Sept. 28 at Utah comes two weeks after visiting Kansas State in a non-league game. Nine of the other 15 schools in the Big 12 play road games in consecutive weeks, seven doing so in league play.
The last time the UA didn’t play back-to-back weeks on the road was 2012.
The double bye weeks, which last happened in 2019, also makes the schedule more navigable. The first, in Week 4, gives Arizona a break before conference play (and between arguably the two toughest road games) and the second, in Week 11, comes after visiting UCF in what is the Knights’ annual “Space Game.”
As for the quality of the opponents, Arizona’s nine Big 12 foes (not including Kansas State) went a combined 51-61 in 2023 compared to 61-54 for its last slate of Pac-12 competition. West Virginia had the best record of any team on the upcoming conference games, the same as Kansas State, while Utah (8-5), Texas Tech (7-6) and UCF (6-7) were the only other teams to qualify for a bowl game.
Arizona misses Oklahoma State, which won 10 games, played in the Big 12 title game and finished 16th in the final AP poll, as well as nine-win teams Kansas and K-State in league play. They could meet in the conference championship, which is set for Dec. 7 at AT&T Stadium (aka JerryWorld) in Arlington, Texas.