Power Ranking Toughest Non-Conference Schedules for 2013 College Football Season

Ian Berg@@ShugJordanPkwyCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2013

Power Ranking Toughest Non-Conference Schedules for 2013 College Football Season

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    Every year non-conference schedules become the focus in college football when the national championship picture begins to come into view. There is always an argument that surrounds scheduling and what merit should be given to non-conference lineups.

    By seasons end whoever has the most wins remains standing. If any of these 10 teams make it through their non-conference schedules unscathed, it will be a miracle.

    These are the toughest non-conference schedules the country has to offer in 2013.

    It is no secret that bigger games lead to bigger wins and more clout, but the marquee matchups aren’t always the best fit. When they are, though, they bring lots of cheeks to the seats and eyes to the television.

    These 10 teams will consistently be in the spotlight this season as they face some major tests in 2013. 

No. 10: Syracuse Orange

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 31 vs. Penn State; Sept. 7 at Northwestern; Sept. 14 vs. Wagner; Sept. 21 vs. Tulane

    This year marks the first season for the Orange in the ACC.

    There are a number of conference games that are going to be tough for this team to win, but when you add in Penn State and Northwestern in consecutive weeks to start the season, it gets unmanageable.

    This program is moving into the Scott Shafer era at the worst possible time. Penn State was an eight-win team a year ago, and Northwestern finished with 10 wins and a bowl victory over Mississippi State.

    Syracuse will have a tough conference transition this season, but the rough out of conference schedule will make the year even worse.

    If the Orange become bowl eligible, it will be a major storyline for 2013. 

No. 9: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 29 at Fresno State; Sept. 7 vs. Norfolk State; Sept. 14 vs. Eastern Michigan; Sept. 21 vs. Arkansas

    Rutgers has been a consistent winner in the Big East over the past few years, but this year will be tough to repeat as a top winner in the conference.

    The Scarlet Knights start the year with a tough Thursday night road trip to Fresno to square off with the Fresno State Bulldogs. Winnable games follow the next few weeks, but a September 21 game against Arkansas has to be circled on the calendar.

    The Knights have been very good at pulling off big wins in the past, but Arkansas will be back on track with Bret Bielema leading the program.

    If Rutgers can split the non-conference schedule 2-2, it should be in great shape for a bowl run. 

No. 8: Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 31 vs. Southern Illinois; Sept. 7 vs. Cincinnati; Sept. 14 vs. Washington; Sept. 28 vs. Miami (Oh.)

    Illinois is coming off a terrible 2-10 season under first-year head coach Tim Beckman. This season there is a chance at redemption, as the program begins the year with a very winnable game against Southern Illinois.

    The heart of the Big Ten Schedule will not be forgiving, though, so the Fighting Illini have to win at least three of their four out of conference games.

    Cincinnati and Washington will be the toughest games they play early, and they both come in consecutive weeks. One benefit is they will both be played in the state of Illinois.

    The Fighting Illini need a turnaround this year, but with this schedule, it isn’t likely to happen in 2013.

No. 7: Virginia Cavaliers

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 31 vs. BYU; Sept. 7 vs. Oregon; Sept. 21 vs. VMI; Oct. 5 vs. Ball State

    Virginia fell apart last year, falling to 4-8, and at one point lost six straight games. The Cavaliers need to pick up the pieces this fall, and to do so, they have to march through a very tough non-conference schedule.

    The one benefit the Cavaliers have is that every out of conference game comes at home. Yet BYU and Oregon coming to town on back-to-back weekends has to have Mike London and his crew worried.

    Games against VMI and Ball State aren’t nearly as intimidating, but they are still games that could be lost. If Virginia pulls off three wins from the out of conference schedule, it will be an impressive run. 

No. 6: Georgia State Panthers

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 29 vs. Samford; Sept. 7 vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 14 at West Virginia; Sept. 21 vs. Jacksonville State; Oct. 5 at Alabama

    Georgia State is entering its first season in FBS, and there is a gauntlet that awaits the program.

    This team draws five non-conference games, three of which will be FCS-level contests. The program does face a Sun Belt schedule this fall, but what makes this such a tough out of conference lineup is the games against West Virginia and Alabama.

    Both games come on the road in two of the most hostile environments in the country.

    The Panthers did not draw an easy schedule to welcome them into BCS-level competition in 2013. Look for the program to have a lot of hiccups in the first year against this tough lineup.

No. 5: Toledo Rockets

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 31 at Florida; Sept. 7 at Missouri; Sept. 14 vs. Eastern Washington; Oct. 19 vs. Navy

    The Toledo Rockets have put together a few impressive years of football and are looking to continue that rise in the mid-majors this year.

    There have been a number of teams that have become BCS busters over the past few years, and Toledo is hoping to become one of them.

    The Rockets took on a tough schedule this season, opening the year at Florida and then traveling to Missouri the following week. The Rockets also face off with Navy in mid-October.

    The one sure win is a September matchup against Eastern Washington.

    The Rockets are trying to prove they belong in the national discussion. They will hit the narrative if they win one of their first two games in 2013.

No. 4: Nevada Wolfpack

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 31 at UCLA; Sept. 7 vs. UC Davis; Sept. 14 at Florida State; Nov. 30 vs. BYU

    The Nevada Wolfpack face a very tough road this year as the team continues to try and climb the national ladder.

    The Wolfpack start the season in Pasadena where they will face off against a potent UCLA Bruins team in the Rose Bowl. The second week will bring UC Davis, but Week 3 brings a difficult road trip to Florida State.

    The Wolfpack conclude the year against BYU.

    The first three games are going to be a tough stretch for this program to find wins. UC Davis is a sure win, but taking trips to UCLA and Florida State are not games that look favorable.

    A nine-win season is in reach, but the first two road games will be losses for the Wolfpack. 

No. 3: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 31 vs. Texas State; Sept. 7 at Nebraska; Sept 14 at Arkansas; Sept. 28 at Boise State

    The Southern Miss Golden Eagles were arguably the worst program in the country last year. They finished with a 0-12 record and looked terrible the entire way. Just one year prior, they were in the BCS-buster discussion.

    Talk about a huge fall.

    This year they have a shot at a turnaround with non-conference opponents that carry a lot of weight. Road trips to Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State in September will be tough, but just one win would change the direction of the season.

    An August contest against Texas State is winnable and should start off the program on the right foot in 2013. 

No. 2: Purdue Boilermakers

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    Out of Conference Games: Aug. 31 at Cincinnati; Sept. 7 vs. Indiana State; Sept. 14 vs. Notre Dame; Sept. 28 vs. Northern Illinois

    The Purdue Boilermakers finished the year as a surprising bowl team, but they were throttled by Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

    This year could bring a sweeping change to the program with new coach Darrell Hazell taking over the team, but a tough non-conference schedule may make that difficult for this squad.

    Purdue starts the year on the road against a strong Cincinnati team, then returns home to host Indiana State and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are looking for another BCS title run and will bring the heat to Purdue.

    The Notre Dame game is by far the toughest non-conference game for the Boilermakers.

    September ends with a home game against BCS buster Northern Illinois. The Huskies return the majority of their 12-win squad and will be looking for another marquee win.

    2013 will be a tough start for Hazell. 

No. 1: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Fighting Irish Schedule: Aug. 31 vs. Temple; Sept. 7 at Michigan; Sept. 14 at Purdue; Sept. 21 vs. Michigan State, Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma; Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State (Arlington, Tx.); Oct. 19 vs. USC; Oct. 26 at Air Force; Nov. 2 vs. Navy; Nov. 9 at Pitt; Nov. 23 vs. BYU; Nov. 30 at Stanford

    The Notre Dame schedule is always one of the most difficult in the country, and this year is no exception.

    The Fighting Irish are independent so they have a complete non-conference schedule, but they choose to play top-tier teams every season.

    Games against Michigan, Oklahoma and Arizona State are all going to be tough this year. The Irish travel to Michigan and take on the Sun Devils in Cowboys Stadium in October.

    There are six road games and six home games, with the final game coming on the road against Stanford. Mix in a home contest against USC, and Notre Dame has the most difficult non-conference schedule in the country.

    The program arguably has the toughest overall schedule as well for 2013.