18 College Football Teams Whose Schedules Are Harder Than We Thought

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIOctober 18, 2012

18 College Football Teams Whose Schedules Are Harder Than We Thought

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    The first half of the 2012 season was full of surprises. From South Carolina's demolition of Georgia to the Oregon Ducks pitching a shutout to the Arizona Wildcats, the season has yet to disappoint in any given week.

    At the beginning of the season, things looked pretty clear. USC was going to knock off either LSU or Alabama in the national championship roughly one month after Matt Barkley won the Heisman. That would end the SEC's streak at six-straight national championships and serve as the reward to the Trojans who had sat under sanctions with no postseason over the last two years.

    Now, in Week 8, there are teams in the BCS Standings that were not even supposed to be there. Heck, even some of the ones that were expected to be there were expected to be up to 21 spots lower.

    From easiest to hardest, here are the 18 college football teams whose schedules are all harder than we originally thought they would be.

18: Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State came into the season with a schedule that featured the Oklahoma Sooners, West Virginia Mountaineers and the Texas Longhorns as the most daunting teams.

    Now that the season has begun sorting out the preseason rankings, Kansas State's schedule has gotten a little tougher.

    While the Mountaineers have suffered a loss, and the Longhorns have basically imploded, two teams that were not ranked in the preseason emerged as quality opponents of the Wildcats: Iowa State (BCS No. 24) and Texas Tech (BCS No. 17).

    Note: Kansas State beat Iowa State 27-21 in Week 7.

    The Wildcats have a brutal road game against the deeply-cut Mountaineers this week, but no downhill stretch between WVU and Texas. Even the post-RGIII Baylor Bears aren't the pushover everyone expected them to be.

    Kansas State entered the season with a tough schedule. Iowa State, Texas Tech and Baylor have just made that schedule much tougher. Not only do the teams affect the schedule by being better than anticipated, these "surprise" teams have just taken all the slack out of the Wildcats' entire 2012 lineup.

17: UCLA Bruins

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    UCLA has suffered two losses since the beginning of the season. One was to Oregon State and the other to in-state rival California.

    Originally, when the Oregon State Beavers took down the Bruins, it was assumed that UCLA had suffered one of the worst losses possible in the Pac-12.

    A few weeks later, the Beavers sit eighth in the BCS. Suddenly, UCLA's loss doesn't look nearly as bad as it originally did. That may not help at all with BCS contention, but that close game with the Beavers may help win a slightly better bowl in the postseason.

    Unfortunately, for the Bruins, nobody knew the Beavers were that good at the end of September, so it's still technically a loss to an unranked opponent.

16: Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    While the Raiders had the normal Big 12 schedule to contend with coming into the season, there is still one surprise left that raises the difficulty of the schedule quite a bit.

    Kansas State sits at fourth in the BCS after entering the season at No. 22, and Tech will face the Wildcats in Week 9.

    The Red Raiders have a tough stretch of ranked teams that they are in the middle of fighting through. A Kansas State squad that's 18 spots higher than anticipated is definitely a good reason for concern.

    The bonus is that, if Tech should win out, a Big 12 title is pretty likely. All the Raiders would need is for Oklahoma to take a second loss.

15: Wisconsin Badgers

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    Wisconsin drew the short straw this year when it scheduled the Oregon State Beavers. The Beavers had an impressive defensive showing in Week 2 and defeated the Badgers 10-7.

    Not only did the Beavers surprise Wisconsin, but Nebraska was a more difficult game than expected as well. The Badgers fell to the Cornhuskers by three points, too.

    Add undefeated Ohio State to the mix, and the Badgers have a much tougher schedule than anyone expected. About the only thing going for Wisconsin this year is the fact that Michigan isn't on the schedule.

    The only way the Badgers and the Wolverines could clash is in the Big Ten Championship in December.

14: USC Trojans

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    USC entered the season with the potential to play in the Rose Bowl. USC's chances for the national title game were very high until Stanford made it clear that it had USC's number in Week 3.

    USC has one opponent that has defied all odds by climbing from an unranked position in the preseason AP Poll to fifth in the BCS. That is Notre Dame.

    Notre Dame has ridden its second-ranked scoring defense to a 6-0 start, something the Irish haven't done since the 2002 Gator Bowl run.

    What was once supposed to be an easily winnable game for the Trojans has already turned into a loss for the comparable Stanford Cardinal. While USC will get the Irish at the end of the season, the Trojans may be dreading that game as much as any other match this season.

    One thing is already for sure: If the Irish continue playing as they have, they will be a top-15 team by the time USC hosts them on rivalry weekend. Plus, that will be one of the last chances for Barkley to make an NFL draft statement.

12: Tie—South Carolina Gamecocks and Georgia Bulldogs

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    The Georgia Bulldogs were supposed to have a schedule that was easy enough to basically walk into the SEC title game in Atlanta even if they lost to South Carolina.

    The other powers in the SEC east have SEC west powers on their schedules, and that was supposed to launch Georgia into that coveted slot in Atlanta.

    Well, Florida decided to throw a stick in the spokes of these teams' hopes by defeating the LSU Tigers. Florida wasn't supposed to be anywhere near "back." The Gators were ranked No. 23 in the preseason AP Poll.

    They entered the BCS rankings at No. 2. That's a league-leading 21-spot jump that affects every team they play, especially the teams that were originally supposed to beat them fairly easily.

10: Tie—Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan and Michigan State have two "jumpers" in common on their schedules that make things a lot rougher than originally expected. In fact, both of these teams have already logged losses to one of those teams.

    That was Notre Dame. We have already covered Notre Dame's role in strengthening the schedules of its opponents, so there's no need to prove that Notre Dame is awesome again.

    The other jumper on these schedules is Ohio State. The only team in the Big Ten that hasn't taken a loss yet is Ohio State. The Buckeyes, though ineligible for the postseason, are already making it known throughout the conference that they are going to dominate in the future.

    If anyone in that conference wishes to disagree, please feel free to do so...any minute now...no? Okay. Urban Meyer is only going to make things worse as the years roll by.

    With Purdue, Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan left on the schedule, Ohio State looks pretty good to be the last team standing in the nation's most disappointing conference. The Buckeyes hope this is a sign of things to come. If not, this was a heck of a year to be sanctioned out of the postseason.

    Michigan and Michigan State are the recipients of a much tougher schedule than expected thanks to the Notre State Fighting Buckeyes.

9: Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas entered the season with one major question to be answered: What's going to happen to the Hogs? Were they going to be a potential national championship contender, or a complete washout?

    The only thing everyone was sure about was that the Hogs' schedule was brutal with Alabama and LSU. At least the Hogs were going to have home-field advantage against both national powerhouses.

    Enter Mississippi State, Rutgers and Louisiana-Monroe. Louisiana-Monroe showed up with determination that no one really saw coming and took the Razorbacks down in overtime.

    Rutgers, who sits at No. 15 in the BCS, had to wait for Alabama to get out of the way before taking on Arkansas. The Scarlet Knights obliged and handed a reluctant Arkansas team yet another loss.

    Arkansas has every intention of winning as many games as possible, and the only real team standing in its way from here on out was supposed to be LSU.

    Mississippi State begs to differ, and looms ahead of the 'Backs all undefeated and ranked. What makes it worse for the Hogs is that Mississippi State is sandwiched between the South Carolina and LSU games.

    Arkansas will have a very tough time with that stretch, and the three surprisingly difficult teams of the year have made its schedule absolutely brutal.

7: Tie—West Virginia Mountaineers and Texas Longhorns

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    West Virginia entered the season as a highly anticipated addition to the Big 12. After losing both Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, the conference needed someone to step in and help assuage the loss of those two programs.

    The Mountaineers came in from the Big East and were actually expected to be a contender for the Big 12 title. Oklahoma was the only Big 12 team ranked more highly in the preseason polls than West Virginia.

    West Virginia is still more than capable of earning the conference title, but the 'Eers have shown that they have almost zero defense. Yes, it would be worse not to put their defense on the field at all, but not that much worse.

    Texas is in the same boat as West Virginia, except people actually thought Texas had defense worth watching. This was even more true before the loss of Jackson Jeffcoat for the season. When everyone found out that the Texas defense was a smidge overrated, they joined the ranks of West Virginia in terms of conference title hopes.

    However, both teams face one other major hurdle: there are two teams on both schedules that weren't supposed to be real contenders.

    Whoops. These guys didn't get the memo. Kansas State, at No. 4, is 18 spots higher than its preseason 22nd spot. Texas Tech is currently 17th after being unranked in the preseason editions.

    Those are two teams that were expected to do well, but not nearly as well as they have done so far. In fact, Texas Tech already destroyed West Virginia 49-14. While these two schedules were already expected to be rough, they get progressively worse from week to week as Texas Tech and Kansas State just keep winning games that they're supposed to lose.

4: 3-Way Tie from the SEC

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    The LSU Tigers, Tennessee Volunteers and Texas A&M Aggies all play (or have already played) the same two shockingly highly ranked teams out of the SEC: Mississippi State and Florida.

    Florida, as already mentioned earlier in the show is ranked 21 spots higher than it was in the preseason poll. Mississippi State, though it hasn't faced a top-ranked SEC power yet, has performed a head-turning 6-0 through Week 7. That says a lot about a team that's usually looking for its sixth win in November.

    LSU and Texas A&M have already lost to Florida. Tennessee has lost to both Florida and Texas A&M, but none of the losses was regarded as something that was even remotely acceptable. Florida was still supposed to be mired in a post-Tebow/Meyer era rebuild and Mississippi State was still supposed to be one offense short of a legitimate SEC team.

    Again, someone forgot to tell them about that and they've just been winning without even caring whose reputation they hurt. Good for them.

    LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M already had a brutal schedule simply by being in the SEC. The fact that two middlers have risen up to join the elite ranked of the Week 8 undefeated teams just makes these schedules more brutal. The quality of the teams and the fact that there is now little rest between major games is a huge change from the way things looked in Week 1.

2: Tie—BYU Cougars and Stanford Cardinal

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    Both BYU and Stanford have Notre Dame on their schedules. So did USC, so what gives? Why are these two teams this highly ranked on the difficulty list while USC was way back toward the beginning?

    Because BYU and Stanford also both face the Oregon State Beavers. The Beavers join Notre Dame as one of the most highly underrated teams in the nation as of Week 8.

    Oregon State led the season off with an upset of the Wisconsin Badgers. Then they upset the UCLA Bruins in Week 4. After that, it was tough to really believe that Oregon State could even be an underdog until at least the Stanford game.

    Oregon State proved to us all that it is legitimately planning to contend for the Pac-12 title game. As each week adds another tick to the "win" column, it gets easier to believe that Oregon State isn't going anywhere for a while.

    Stanford and BYU have far-from-easy schedules, but the Notre Dame/Oregon State issue makes them completely brutal at exactly the wrong time.

1: Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma was one of the letdown teams as far as preseason rankings went, but has quite successfully maintained itself in striking distance of the national championship. Yes, the Sooners need help, but they are more than capable of inclusion in the BCS title game should other teams ahead of them take key losses.

    The issue with Oklahoma is that its schedule is both a blessing and a curse. Oklahoma is the only team to face three "jumpers" this season. Those jumpers aren't just any teams, either, they are Kansas State, Texas Tech and Notre Dame.

    The good news for Oklahoma is that it already defeated Texas Tech and lost to Kansas State. Those teams affect the strength of schedule, but cause no worry to the Sooners as they are in the past.

    At the beginning of the year, Oklahoma's schedule looked rather difficult to maneuver, but gave no indication that it would include two teams that would hit the BCS Top Five at some point during the season.

    Oklahoma's schedule has become seemingly more brutal than the Notre Dame schedule was supposed to be.