In no sport are schedules more important than in college football. Why? For two reasons. First, schedules are unbalanced both between leagues and within them. Second, with only two (soon to be four) teams still competing for the national title after the conclusion of the regular season, college football doesn't usually allow for a team to get hot late in the season (Texas A&M, Stanford) and make a run at the national title.
With the 2012 season now behind us, it's time to look forward to 2013 to see what impact schedules will have on next year's national title race. The likely preseason top four (Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Texas A&M) all appear to have far less bumpy roads to Pasadena than teams such as California, Florida, LSU and Notre Dame.
We've ranked the 50 toughest schedules for 2013. If you're growing weary of a certain program dominating college football, you may not like that the schedule of Alabama is not on this list. Let's dive in.
Big Ten Home Games: Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue
Big Ten Away Games: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Notable Nonconference Games: Bowling Green, Missouri, Navy
Even with eight home games, the Hoosiers still rank in the upper half of the Big Ten in schedule difficulty. Michigan rolls onto the schedule from the Legends Division, as the road schedule is an absolute bear.
However, three winnable conference home games do give the Hoosiers a chance at a bowl game if they can take care of business outside of conference. There's only one layup of the four non-Big Ten games, but Indiana sweeping all four isn't impossible.
ACC Home Games: Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
ACC Away Games: Maryland, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Pittsburgh
Notable Nonconference Games: Ball State, BYU, at Penn State
ACC expansion had little effect on the Cavaliers, as replacing a game at Wake Forest with a trip to Pittsburgh is a wash. Clemson is back on the slate for the first time since 2009, part of a very attractive home schedule at Scott Stadium.
The non-conference quartet will be a challenge, including a revenge game at Penn State after the Wahoos nipped the Nittany Lions, 17-16, last year in Charlottesville. Virginia will need an upset or two to get to its second bowl game in three years.
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss
Notable Nonconference Games: Rice, SMU
The Aggies' schedule is tailor-made for a run at the national title. The non-conference schedule is a joke, and the two crossover opponents are Vanderbilt and Missouri. There's no Florida, Georgia or South Carolina.
The showdown with Alabama comes on Sept. 14, and after that it should be fairly smooth sailing until the trip to LSU in late November. If the Aggies can defeat Alabama again, a loss in Baton Rouge may not eliminate them from SEC or national title contention. Anything short of 7-1 in the SEC will be seen as a disappointment.
Home Games: Boise State, Idaho State, Georgia Tech, Texas, Utah
Away Games: Hawaii, Houston, Notre Dame, Utah State, Virginia, Wisconsin
The Cougars are still looking for one more opponent, as they currently have just 11 games. It's a rigorous slate so far, with six bowl teams, including nasty trips to Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
Season ticket sales should receive a boost, with Boise State, Georgia Tech and Texas all coming to Provo, in addition to the Holy War against Utah. A ninth straight bowl appearance is far from a certainty with this schedule.
Big Ten Home Games: Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue
Big Ten Away Games: Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Notable Nonconference Games: Kent State, vs. Syracuse (East Rutherford, N.J.), Virginia
A surprising 8-4 debut for Bill O'Brien has raised expectations in State College despite scholarship limitations about to take effect. There are only four road games, and two of them are Indiana and Minnesota, so duplicating 2012's win total is possible.
The Nittany Lions aren't beating Ohio State anywhere, so that game might as well be in Columbus. Iowa and Northwestern roll off, with Michigan and Minnesota coming on, a fairly even trade. With the coaching and quarterback transition at Syracuse, 4-0 in nonleague play is doable.
ACC Home Games: Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest
ACC Away Games: Maryland, N.C. State, Syracuse, Virginia
Notable Nonconference Games: Georgia, at South Carolina
With a manageable road schedule, this slate looks better than it actually is. Facing two SEC heavyweights to bookend the season will test a program that has struggled on the big stage in recent years. The Tigers have dropped four straight to in-state rival South Carolina.
Florida State has to come to Death Valley, a series which has been dominated by the home team of late. The ACC going to 14 teams cost the Tigers a home game vs. Duke, instead sending them on a long road trip to Syracuse. Clemson can win the ACC with this schedule, but anything more will be too much to ask.
Big 12 Home Games: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU
Big 12 Away Games: Iowa State, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Notable Nonconference Game: vs. Mississippi State (Houston)
Five conference home games and two cupcakes outside of the Big 12 give the Cowboys the easiest schedules in the league in 2013. Bedlam is in Stillwater, and TCU comes back to Boone Pickens Stadium due to a scheduling quirk from when Texas A&M was still part of the league.
The only nasty road trip is to Texas, but the 'Pokes were victorious in Austin in both 2010 and 2011. To the dismay of head coach and cupcake extraordinaire Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State will open with a high-profile neutral site game when it meets Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium.
Pac-12 Home Games: Oregon, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, California, Colorado, USC, Washington
Notable Nonconference Games: None
The Wildcats are set up for success in 2013 with one of the easiest schedules in the Pac-12. Oregon State and Stanford are off the schedule, with California and Washington State rolling on. Two of the road games are California and Colorado, which both have new coaches.
Key swing games within the South Division against UCLA and Utah are at home. The nonconference schedule is a joke, with a road game at UNLV the toughest of the three games. Even the home game with Oregon comes at a good time—the last of a three-game homestand.
Big Ten Home Games: Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Big Ten Away Games: Indiana, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue
Notable Nonconference Games: Cincinnati, vs. Washington (Chicago)
2012 could not have gone worse for the Illini in Tim Beckman's first season, as the team failed to win a Big Ten game and finished 2-10. Add the on-campus recruitment of Penn State players on the day its sanctions were announced, and Beckman is squarely on the hot seat headed into Year 2.
Unfortunately, the schedule-makers did him few favors. The home games are attractive, but it's hard to find a win in the bunch. Toss-up games with Indiana and Purdue are both on the road. Outside of the league, Cincinnati comes to Champaign in addition to a neutral site game at Soldier Field against Washington.
ACC Home Games: Florida State, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
ACC Away Games: Clemson, Maryland, North Carolina, Syracuse
Notable Nonconference Game: at USC
Steve Addazio's first season in Chestnut Hill isn't set up for success, as the Eagles draw North Carolina and Virginia Tech as crossover opponents. The Notre Dame series goes on hiatus, but replacing the Irish with a trip to USC isn't much better.
On the positive side, the nonconference schedule should allow for three wins against Army, New Mexico State and Stony Brook. Stealing a road win at Maryland or Syracuse is a must if Boston College hopes to end a two-year bowl drought.
Big Ten Home Games: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue
Big Ten Away Games: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern
Notable Nonconference Games: USF, at Notre Dame
Spartan Stadium wasn't very kind to the home team in 2012, as Michigan State dropped five of its final six games there, including all four Big Ten games. This year's home schedule is blah, outside of the rivalry game with Michigan.
Illinois and Purdue replace Wisconsin and Ohio State on the schedule, as Michigan State benefits as much as anyone this year from the Big Ten rotation. The difficult road games will be a challenge. The Spartans will play Notre Dame for the 17th straight season, Sept. 21 in South Bend, before taking a two-year break in the series. The other nonconference games are light.
Pac-12 Home Games: California, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, Colorado, Stanford, Washington
Notable Nonconference Games: at Nevada, Tennessee
Life without Chip Kelly might not be so bad for the Ducks, as a schedule that avoids Arizona State and USC sets up well for Oregon. There's a week off before the showdown at Stanford, and both Oregon State and UCLA come to Eugene.
Nonconference games against Nevada and Tennessee will both be battles of first-year head coaches. Going to Washington is never easy, but going to Colorado almost always is. A fourth straight 12-win season could be in the cards.
Big 12 Home Games: Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech
Notable Nonconference Game: Louisiana-Lafayette
Oregon's Fiesta Bowl victim appears just one slot ahead of the Ducks. Five conference home games and the Wildcats' usual parade of patsies outside of the Big 12 should make life without Collin Klein manageable.
Oklahoma, TCU and a revenge game with Baylor are all in Manhattan, with Oklahoma State and Texas the only road trips to worry about. The 'Cats likely won't repeat as Big 12 champions, but there are still 8-9 wins to be had with this schedule.
ACC Home Games: Boston College, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest
ACC Away Games: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, N.C. State
Notable Nonconference Games: at Northwestern, vs. Penn State (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Life in a new league won't be easy for the Orange, especially with two challenging games away from home outside of the league. Drawing Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh from the Coastal Division isn't great but isn't bad, either.
Syracuse still needs one more game, and an FCS opponent would be preferred. Even the effect of having new opponents come to the Carrier Dome is minimized, as Boston College, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest have all played there at least once since 2010.
ACC Home Games: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia Tech
ACC Away Games: Clemson, Duke, Miami (FL), Virginia
Notable Nonconference Games: at BYU, Georgia
While the Yellow Jackets have to go back to Clemson, ACC expansion did save them from a game against Florida State. Georgia Tech will host Pittsburgh instead. Getting Duke and Virginia on the road is a plus.
Having to go to Miami (FL) won't be easy, but the Jackets can't seem to beat the 'Canes anywhere, so it might as well be on the road. The nonleague schedule is again challenging, with a long trip to Provo in addition to the rivalry game with Georgia. Two FCS opponents mean seven wins are likely needed for a bowl bid.
Big Ten Home Games: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue
Big Ten Away Games: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State
Notable Nonconference Games: at Arizona State, BYU
The conference schedule isn't all that bad, but a rare duo of difficult nonconference games gives the Badgers one of the more difficult schedules in the Big Ten. There's no Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska to deal with, as the Badgers draw Iowa and Northwestern as crossover opponents.
Ohio State is the only one of the four Big Ten road opponents to finish 2012 above .500, but Iowa and Minnesota are both rivalry games. The long trip to Arizona State in September will be tough, especially if it's an afternoon game. New coach Gary Andersen has plenty of challenges in his first year in Madison.
Big Ten Home Games: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State
Big Ten Away Games: Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin
Notable Nonconference Games: at Cincinnati, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame
The Darrell Hazell era begins with three opponents who played in BCS bowls last season, all before the end of September. The Boilermakers draw Michigan State and Nebraska from the Legends Division, losing Michigan and Minnesota.
The opener at Cincinnati is a must-win if the Boilermakers hope to go bowling for a third year in a row. If there's any positive news, it's the back half of the schedule, as none of Purdue's final five opponents played in a bowl last season (although two are Ohio State and Penn State).
Big Ten Home Games: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Big Ten Away Games: Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue
Notable Nonconference Games: at Iowa State, Northern Illinois
The schedule is much more fan friendly than it has been the past two seasons for the Hawkeyes, but it's not exactly conducive to getting back to the postseason after a disastrous 4-8 record in 2012. Ohio State and Wisconsin replace Indiana and Penn State.
Iowa could go anywhere from 4-0 to 0-4 in its Big Ten home games after dropping four of its past five conference games at Kinnick Stadium. If the team can get back to its winning ways, getting Minnesota and Purdue as road games could be a plus.
Big 12 Home Games: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU
Big 12 Neutral Site Game: Texas Tech (Arlington, Tex.)
Notable Nonconference Games: Louisiana-Monroe, at SMU
Art Briles and the Bears did not take as large of a step back as many suspected in 2012 without Robert Griffin III, finishing 8-5, including a rout of Pac-12 South champion UCLA in the Holiday Bowl. Baylor again will have an equal number of home and away games in the Big 12 with the Texas Tech game again at Cowboys Stadium.
Oklahoma and Texas both must come to Waco, where they were defeated by a combined 32 points in 2011. Getting Kansas as a road game is always a plus. Going to Kansas State and Oklahoma State won't be easy after Baylor upset both in embarrassing fashion late last season.
Pac-12 Home Games: Colorado, Stanford, USC, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, California, Oregon, Utah, Washington State
Notable Nonconference Game: at San Diego State
There are only six home games, but three of the five Pac-12 games against 2012 bowl teams are in Corvallis. Stanford and Washington are both revenge games after narrow Beavers losses last season, and USC has lost three straight at Reser Stadium.
The Pac-12 rotation brings Colorado to the schedule in place of Arizona, which is a plus. Oregon State normally challenges itself outside of the league, but this year is surprisingly light, with a trip to San Diego State the most difficult of the three nonconference games.
Big 12 Home Games: Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU
Big 12 Away Games: Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia
Big 12 Neutral Site Game: Baylor (Arlington, Tex.)
Notable Nonconference Game: at SMU
Kliff Kingsbury's return to Lubbock will feature the Red Raiders play a very balanced schedule. For every difficult home game, there is an equally difficult away game. The Baylor game is at Cowboys Stadium, so there are an equal number of home and away games in Big 12 play.
Texas Tech hasn't played a BCS opponent outside of the league since 2003, and it will not do so for a 10th straight season in 2013. The trip to SMU won't be a breeze, but the other two nonleague games will be easy wins.
Big 12 Home Games: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Iowa State, TCU, West Virginia
Big 12 Neutral Site Game: Oklahoma (Dallas)
Notable Nonconference Games: at BYU, Ole Miss
There aren't many breaks for the Longhorns after the opener against New Mexico State. Going to BYU is never fun, and Ole Miss isn't the easy win that it seemed to be at this time a year ago. The Oklahoma game is of course at the Cotton Bowl, where Texas has been blown out by a combined 80 points in the past two seasons.
BYU isn't the only long road trip this season, as the 'Horns also have to go to Iowa State and West Virginia, with the Morgantown visit coming in mid-November. If Texas is anything less than 5-1 after the first six games (NMSU, BYU, Ole Miss, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma), the heat on Mack Brown will be at an all-time high.
Big 12 Home Games: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU
Notable Nonconference Game: vs. Maryland (Baltimore)
The Mountaineers stumbled to a disappointing 7-6 season in their first year in the Big 12 and now must face life without Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. There won't be much of a grace period, as Sept. 7 brings a trip to Oklahoma for the Big 12 opener.
There are only six home games, but Oklahoma State and Texas are two of them. Getting Kansas as a road game is a plus. Back-to-back road games, which started the team's 2012 downfall, occur only once—in late October and early November, with consecutive games at Kansas State and TCU.
Big Ten Home Games: Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State
Big Ten Away Games: Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State
Notable Nonconference Games: Notre Dame, at Connecticut
With no Alabama and games against Notre Dame and Ohio State at home, the 2013 slate is less daunting than 2012 for the Wolverines. The trip to Connecticut completes a home-and-home that began in 2010, while Notre Dame's visit to Ann Arbor could be its last for a while, as the series will go on hiatus after the 2014 meeting in South Bend.
In league play, Illinois and Purdue are replaced by Indiana and Penn State, adding a bit of difficulty. 2013 marks the third of a four-year break in the Wisconsin series. All four road games are losable, even Iowa, which has won three of four against Michigan. Marquee home games against Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ohio State are offset by Akron, Central Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota also coming to Michigan Stadium.
Big 12 Home Games: Kansas, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Notable Nonconference Games: Iowa, at Tulsa
You can't help but love Paul Rhoads, but his 2013 Cyclones will face a difficult road if they hope to qualify for their fourth bowl in five years. There are five Big 12 away games, and two tricky nonconference games, including a third meeting with Tulsa in 54 weeks.
Iowa State always has one big upset in it, and the home game vs. TCU, an unfamiliar visitor to Ames, seems like a prime candidate. Most of the Big 12 title contenders come to Jack Trice Stadium, but that means most of the swing games (Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia) are on the road.
Big 12 Home Games: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas
Notable Nonconference Games: at Rice, Louisiana Tech
A 1-11 debut was a disappointment for Charlie Weis, but not for most outside of the program. The Jayhawks are a long way from making it to a bowl game but need to show some progress in 2013. A 3-0 start in nonleague play is within reach, despite playing two quality non-BCS opponents.
Kansas isn't beating Oklahoma State, TCU or Texas, so those three games might as well be on the road. Home games with Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia give the Jayhawks a chance to get a Big 12 win for the first time since 2010.
SEC Home Games: Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee
Notable Nonconference Games: Clemson, North Carolina, at UCF
Crossover games against the SEC West hurt the Gamecocks in 2012, as having to play at LSU may have cost them the SEC East title. The rotation works in their favor this year, as they draw Arkansas and Mississippi State from the West, while Georgia and Florida both play LSU.
Four of the five SEC teams to miss a bowl in 2012 are on South Carolina's schedule, and three of the four are road games. The Georgia game reverts to its traditional Week 2 date, so a fast start is imperative, with North Carolina and Vanderbilt sandwiching the showdown with the Bulldogs.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, California, Oregon, USC
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, Washington
Notable Nonconference Game: Fresno State
Jon Embree's first season in Boulder had the Buffaloes playing eight games away from home. Mike MacIntyre's debut should be a bit more comfortable, as there are just six games outside of Folsom Field. The nonconference slate is particularly light, with no BCS opponents. The Rocky Mountain Showdown with Colorado Sate is again in Denver.
The Pac-12 rotation features Stanford and Washington State drop from the schedule, replaced by Oregon State and California, a fairly even trade. Only three conference games seem winnable, and two (Arizona, California) come at home. 4-8 would be a great first season for MacIntyre.
Big 12 Home Games: Baylor, Kansas, Texas, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
Notable Nonconference Games: vs. LSU (Arlington, Tex.), SMU
The Horned Frogs start 2013 with a bang when they take on LSU in the Cowboys Classic. The battle for the Iron Skillet will also be renewed when SMU travels west on Interstate 30 to Fort Worth. Due to a scheduling quirk involving Texas A&M, TCU has five Big 12 road games for the second straight year, as it'll make a return trip to Oklahoma State.
Most of the difficult games are on the road, with Texas the only team coming to Amon G. Carter Stadium that appears to be a Big 12 title contender. Games with Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are all on the road. Despite the difficult road schedule, a 10-win season is not out of the question, especially if suspended quarterback Casey Pachall returns.
SEC Home Games: LSU, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina
SEC Road Games: Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
SEC Neutral Site Game: Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Notable Nonconference Games: at Clemson, at Georgia Tech
Georgia has ridden favorable conference schedules to back-to-back SEC East titles, but LSU will replace Ole Miss on the 2013 schedule. With the Florida game considered an away game for scheduling purposes, there are only three conference road games, none of them daunting.
The nonconference schedule is tricky, with a pair of ACC road games, including a monster opener at Clemson, a longtime rival the Bulldogs have not played in a decade. The Georgia Tech game is in Atlanta, but the 'Dawgs have won six straight at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Getting South Carolina in Athens is a plus.
Big 12 Home Games: Iowa State, TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Big 12 Neutral Site Game: Texas (Dallas)
Notable Nonconference Games: at Notre Dame, Tulsa
The Sooners earned a share of the Big 12 title last season, Bob Stoops' eighth league crown in 14 years in Norman. He'll face a difficult road to his ninth, having to face Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas all away from home. The six-game home slate doesn't offer much pizazz.
Outside of the league, Oklahoma travels to Notre Dame to finish a home-and-home that began last season with a 30-13 Irish upset at Memorial Stadium. Tulsa is no pushover, but it has yet to compete with the Sooners in the Stoops era.
SEC Home Games: Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Texas A&M
SEC Away Games: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Notable Nonconference Game: at Texas
No one saw the Rebels' 7-6 2012 campaign coming, but Hugh Freeze did a remarkable job resurrecting a downtrodden program. Building on last season won't be easy, but they get a break with Missouri replacing Georgia as a crossover game.
A scheduling quirk causes the Rebels to go to Alabama for the second year in a row, and for Texas A&M to come back to Oxford. The other road games (Auburn, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt) aren't bad. The Rebels have a tough three-game road stretch (Texas, Alabama, Auburn), but then play six straight at home before the Egg Bowl in Starkville.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, Utah
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, California, Oregon, USC, Washington
Notable Nonconference Game: at Auburn
Mike Leach salvaged a rough first season by winning the Apple Cup against Washington, and the task now is to get the Cougars to the postseason for the first time in 10 years. Seeing Colorado fall off of the schedule to be replaced by Arizona won't help, nor will five conference road games.
Utah is the only Pac-12 home game that appears winnable, although the Arizona State game is on a Friday night, when strange things tend to happen. Outside of the league, Washington State goes to Auburn to open the season, but that game isn't as difficult as it seemed when scheduled. UNLV and Southern Utah at home should be easy wins.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State, USC, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Notable Nonconference Games: vs. Notre Dame (Arlington, Tex.), Wisconsin
Todd Graham silenced some of his critics with an 8-5 debut in Tempe despite lacking an experienced quarterback. Duplicating that success in 2013 will be a challenge, due in large part to a difficult nonleague schedule that brings Wisconsin to Sun Devil Stadium and sends Arizona State to Dallas for a neutral site game with Notre Dame.
In league play, there are five home games, and Oregon is replaced by Washington, a positive switch. Conversely, Stanford replaces California. Two of the road games are Utah and Washington State, meaning the home schedule is full of attractive opponents.
Home Games: BYU, Michigan State, Navy, Oklahoma, Temple, USC
Away Games: Air Force, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Stanford
Neutral Site Game: Arizona State (Arlington, Tex.)
As usual, the Fighting Irish don't have many breaks on their schedule, but there are enough gaps between big games to make a return trip to the BCS a plausible scenario. Michigan and Stanford are the two key road games, but they come over two-and-a-half months apart.
Oklahoma and USC are both coming to South Bend, but the Irish are home the week before facing the Sooners and off the week before the Trojans' visit. Playing Air Force and Navy in consecutive weeks helps with preparing for the triple option.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon State
Notable Nonconference Games: Boston College, at Notre Dame, Utah State
The Trojans will look to rebound from a disastrous 2012 season with another difficult schedule. USC remains one of just three teams (Notre Dame, UCLA) to have never played an FCS opponent. A trip to Hawaii allows for 13 games in 2013, one of two long road trips, with the Notre Dame game in South Bend this year.
Oregon goes away for two years, as does Washington. Oregon State and Washington State replace them, which seems like a positive, but the Beavers have given the Trojans fits in recent years. Having five home games, with California and Colorado as two of the road games, helps.
SEC Home Games: Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss
SEC Road Games: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M
Notable Nonconference Game: Wake Forest
After improving the Commodores' win total by four and three respectively in his first two seasons, head coach James Franklin now has his sights set on an SEC East title. With three road games against 11-win teams, Vanderbilt will need to continue growing at a rapid pace.
Having winnable road games helped the 'Dores get to nine wins last season, but the road schedule won't allow for that this year. Vanderbilt may have to go 4-0 in SEC home games to match last year's five conference wins. The nonconference schedule is a joke. Anything short of 4-0 will be a major disappointment.
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M
Notable Nonconference Games: Arkansas State, Washington State
The Gus Malzahn era begins with eight home games, but even that might not be enough for Auburn to escape the SEC West basement. The Tigers should sweep their nonconference games, one of which is against Arkansas State, which was coached by Malzahn in 2012.
Georgia comes to the Plains for the second year in a row, while Tennessee reappears as Auburn's rotating crossover opponent. Sweeping home games against the Mississippi schools is probably a must if the team hopes to reach a bowl game.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, California, Oregon, UCLA, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Oregon State, USC, Utah, Washington State
Notable Nonconference Game: Notre Dame
Stanford's 35 wins in the past three seasons are tied with Alabama for the second most in the nation. The Cardinal will look to continue that success with a difficult but manageable 2013 schedule. The Cardinal get five Pac-12 games plus Notre Dame in Palo Alto, and Army, Utah and Washington State are three of the five away games.
November is again a bear for the Cardinal, as the games with Oregon, USC and Notre Dame all come on or after Nov. 7. Arizona State and Utah replace Arizona and Colorado this year, which makes things a bit tougher. Having 12 days to prepare for the Ducks will help, although a Thursday rush-hour kickoff could hurt the atmosphere at Stanford Stadium.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, USC, Utah
Notable Nonconference Games: at Nebraska, Nevada
The two-time defending Pac-12 South Division champions will have to earn a three-peat. Games with Oregon, Stanford and USC are all on the road, and the nonconference slate has an early season trip to Nebraska. Adding the Ducks and Washington to replace Oregon State and Washington State adds to the challenge.
The six home games are fairly dull, and the Bruins will probably have to win them all if they hope to match last year's nine wins. The trips to Oregon and Stanford come in back-to-back weeks, as do games with Arizona State and USC to end the season. Both of the Bruins' bye weeks are in September, meaning they'll play nine straight weeks without a week off.
SEC Home Games: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M
SEC Away Games: Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt
Notable Nonconference Games: at Indiana, Toledo
This schedule is conducive to season ticket sales but not necessarily for Missouri returning to a bowl after a 5-7 SEC debut in 2012. Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the crossover games, as well as the final two games of the season.
The Tigers are still looking for a fourth nonconference game. They already have a BCS-conference opponent (Indiana) and an FCS opponent (Murray State), so the preference is a non-AQ team, if possible. Sweeping the four non-SEC games may be the only way the Tigers get to six wins.
SEC Home Games: Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
SEC Away Games: Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, South Carolina
SEC Neutral Site Game: Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Notable Nonconference Games: Florida State, at Miami (FL), Toledo
The Gators were one of the biggest surprises in the country in 2012, rolling to an 11-1 regular season with wins over Florida State, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M. A similar finish in 2013 will produce an equally impressive resume.
Florida renews its old rivalry with Miami (FL) when it travels to Sun Life Stadium in Week 2. Arkansas replaces Texas A&M, which helps, but there are only three SEC home games with the Georgia game in Jacksonville. Playing Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State after Nov. 1 makes for a difficult close.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA
Notable Nonconference Games: Boise State, vs. Illinois (Chicago)
A nasty road schedule will test the Huskies in a crucial year for head coach Steve Sarkisian, as he hopes to finally get over the seven-win hump in his fifth year in Seattle. At least three, and possibly all four, of Washington's Pac-12 road opponents will begin the season ranked.
USC and Utah fall off the schedule, with Arizona State and UCLA replacing them, a slight upgrade in quality. The Huskies will play a second straight game against Boise State in the season-opener after falling to the Broncos in the Las Vegas Bowl. The game with Illinois is at Soldier Field, but will still feel like a true road game.
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, Auburn, South Carolina, Texas A&M
Notable Nonconference Games: Bowling Green, vs. Oklahoma State (Houston)
The Bulldogs rode a soft early slate to a 7-0 start last season but will not have that luxury in 2013. Mississippi State opens with an intriguing nonconference game against Oklahoma State and also plays Auburn and LSU before mid-October.
South Carolina replaces Tennessee as a crossover opponent, part of a brutal three-game stretch that also includes Texas A&M and Alabama. Matching last year's eight wins, in the regular season at least, seems like way too much to ask with a schedule of this magnitude.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, Oregon, USC, Washington State
Notable Nonconference Games: Utah State, at BYU
Utah was eased into life in the Pac-12 by not having to play Oregon or Stanford in 2011 and 2012. That changes in 2013, as both the Ducks and the Cardinal rotate onto the Utes' schedule. The two no-plays are California and Washington.
The round-robin of Beehive State teams continues, as both BYU and Utah State appear as nonleague games. The back end of the schedule eases up a bit with Washington State and Colorado to close, but the Utes may be out of bowl contention by that point.
SEC Home Games: Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M
SEC Away Games: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
Notable Nonconference Games: Kent State, vs. TCU (Arlington, Tex.)
This is not the schedule LSU needs after losing 11 juniors to the NFL. Georgia and Florida are the crossover games, and there is the usual gauntlet of SEC West opponents. Outside of the league, the Tigers will face TCU just down the road from its campus in the season-opener.
The only positive is that none of the really big games come in consecutive weeks, and the Tigers get two weeks to prepare for both Alabama and Texas A&M. That means, however, that LSU will play nine straight weeks to start the season. Ten wins would be a great season with this schedule, even by LSU standards.
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
SEC Away Games: Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Notable Nonconference Games: Louisville, vs. Western Kentucky (Nashville, Tenn.)
Mark Stoops might be wishing he had stayed at Florida State when he sees what's in store for the 2013 Wildcats. Alabama is back on the schedule, and all four SEC road games come against teams that won at least eight games. If that's not bad enough, Sugar Bowl champion Louisville and Bobby Petrino-led Western Kentucky are on the nonleague schedule.
If there's a positive, it's getting swing games with Missouri and Tennessee at home, meaning a bowl game is within reach, albeit a long shot. That will likely require stealing a road game somewhere, likely Mississippi State or Vanderbilt.
SEC Home Games: Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M
SEC Away Games: Alabama, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss
Notable Nonconference Games: Louisiana-Lafayette, at Rutgers
No team faces a tougher four-game stretch than the one Arkansas must deal with between Sept. 28 and Oct. 19. Arkansas hosts Texas A&M, followed by a trip to Florida, a home game with South Carolina and a visit to Alabama.
Oh, yeah, there's still Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU to deal with in November. Going to Rutgers is one of the SEC's tougher nonleague games, and the opener with Louisiana-Lafayette could be tricky. The Ragin' Cajuns nearly upset Florida in Gainesville last November. 6-6 would be a tremendous result in Bret Bielema's first season.
SEC Home Games: Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
SEC Road Games: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
Notable Nonconference Games: at Oregon, Western Kentucky
Butch Jones, you're not in the Big East anymore. The new leader of the Volunteers will not be eased into his new job, as September brings back-to-back road games against Oregon and Florida. October has the typical murderers' row of Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
November offers its typical cushion for the Vols, but the problem in recent years has been staying afloat until that point. Facing Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky in Week 2 means Tennessee can't just sleepwalk until going to Eugene on Sept. 14. The Nov. 2 trip to Missouri, the Vols' first one in its history, looms large for bowl possibilities.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, Oregon State, USC, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Washington
Notable Nonconference Games: Northwestern, Ohio State
Sonny Dykes' rebuilding project in Strawberry Canyon is going to take some time, as there aren't many wins to be had in his first season. The Bears' North Division schedule is always murderous in odd years, with trips to Oregon, Stanford and Washington. Cal also goes to UCLA and gets USC at home.
The nonleague slate brings Ohio State and Northwestern to Memorial Stadium, both of whom registered double-digit wins in 2012. Add in the fact that the Bears only have one bye week, due to Stanford playing Notre Dame on rivalry weekend, and there is little to like about this schedule.