Power Ranking the 10 Most Brutal College Football Schedules of 2013

Sanjay KirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystMarch 1, 2013

Power Ranking the 10 Most Brutal College Football Schedules of 2013

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    While college football teams across the nation are getting ready to begin spring practices, fans all over the country are eagerly anticipating the upcoming season since schedules have recently been released. 

    Schedule strength is always a hot-button issue for the soon-to-be extinct BCS system, and that factor could prove instrumental for a few national title hopefuls this fall.

    The SEC—long lauded as the toughest conference throughout the land—will once again prove to serve as a gauntlet for a number of its members.

    That is because the league that has claimed the last seven crystal footballs could have as many as five teams projected to be ranked in or near the Top 10 in preseason polls (h/t, Mark Schlabach, ESPN).

    But other leagues such as the Pac-12 and the Big 12 have seen title contenders bite the dust when conference and national races reach their boiling point late in the season.

    Several teams have more than half of their schedules against teams that reached a bowl in 2012, while others have stretches of consecutive games that appear to be impossible to survive without suffering at least one loss. 

    Which schools enter the fall with the most daunting slates? 

    Here are the 10 teams with the most brutal schedules in 2013. 

10. Purdue

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleSix (plus Ohio State and Penn State) 

    Toughest GamesSept. 14 vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 21 at Wisconsin, Oct. 12 vs. Nebraska, Nov. 2 vs. Ohio State, Nov. 16 at Penn State

    New Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell will have to author a miraculous debut if the Boilermakers hope to reach a bowl for the third straight season.

    Four of the Boilermakers first six games come against teams that recorded at least 10 wins last season. 

    That’s not exactly the most ideal recipe for finding immediate success during a coaching transition period. 

    While Hazell—who served as an assistant to Jim Tressel at Ohio State for seven seasons—has experience in the Big Ten, 2013 could be a year filled with growing pains in West Lafayette. 

9. Notre Dame

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    2012 Bowl Teams on Schedule10

    Toughest GamesSept. 7 at Michigan, Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 19 vs. USC, Nov. 30 at Stanford

    Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish will not have any time to linger over its BCS title game drubbing at the hands of Nick Saban’s Alabama club. 

    The Irish will have to navigate a national schedule that sees them tackle heavyweights from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Big 12. 

    Kelly will welcome back 14 returning starters, but orchestrating a return trip to a BCS bowl will be a stout test to the strength of the program he’s built in South Bend since he arrived three years ago. 

8. Florida

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleSeven

    Toughest GamesSept. 7 at Miami (Fla.), Oct. 12 at LSU, Nov. 2 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville), Nov. 16 at South Carolina, Nov. 30 vs. Florida State

    The Gators league schedule is actually tame compared to the road they traveled a year ago en route to an 11-2 campaign.

    But Will Muschamp’s club will get a significant boost in its non-conference lineup—with a trip to in-state rival Miami in week 2 adding on to the rivalry with Florida State at season’s end in what should be a pair of slugfests. 

    The Gators' permanent Western division rival is LSU, and a trip to Baton Rouge plus its neutral-site series with Georgia and a date at South Carolina in late November means that most of its toughest games will come away from the friendly confines of the Swamp.

    If Florida hopes to make a run in the SEC, the Gators will need to become road warriors this fall.  

7. Washington

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleSeven

    Toughest GamesAug. 31 vs. Boise State, Oct. 5 at Stanford, Oct. 12 vs. Oregon, Nov. 15 at UCLA, Nov. 23 at Oregon State

    Steve Sarkisian's Huskies open the season with a rematch of last season’s Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. 

    Consecutive dates in October against likely Top 10 Pac-12 titans Stanford and Oregon are sandwiched by meetings with Arizona and Arizona State—which makes for a grueling four-game stretch in the middle of the season.

    The final three games of the season—road trips to UCLA and Oregon State followed by the season-ending Apple Cup rivalry with Washington State—will test the Huskies ability to make a fourth straight bowl appearance. 

6. Iowa State

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleEight

    Toughest GamesSept. 21 at Tulsa, Oct. 5 vs. Texas, Oct. 12 at Texas Tech, Oct. 26 vs. Oklahoma State, Nov. 16 at Oklahoma, Nov. 30 at West Virginia

    Paul Rhoads has guided an impressive turnaround since returning to Ames as the Cyclones head coach in 2009. 

    Iowa State has gone bowling in three of the last four seasons, but 2013 will see them finish the season playing eight bowl teams in their final nine games—with road trips in that stretch against Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

    That season-ending gauntlet is preceded by tough non-conference tests against in-state rival Iowa and a road trip to face reigning Conference USA champion Tulsa—a team that the Cyclones beat in the 2012 season opener, but fell to in the rematch in the Liberty Bowl.  

5. LSU

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleNine

    Toughest GamesSept. 28 at Georgia, Oct. 12 vs. Florida, Oct. 19 at Ole Miss, Nov. 9 at Alabama, Nov. 23 vs. Texas A&M

    While the SEC has been criticized for playing soft non-conference schedules due to the brutality of its league slates, one team that has consistently scheduled quality opponents outside of the league is LSU.

    Les Miles’ club will continue that trend by facing TCU in the Cowboys Classic to open the season. 

    Additionally, the Tigers draw SEC Eastern Division favorites Georgia and Florida while facing likely Top 5 clubs in Alabama and Texas A&M in the West. 

    With heavy attrition from last season’s squad, 2013 could prove to be the biggest challenge for Miles since his arrival in Baton Rouge.

4. Oklahoma

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    2012 Bowl Teams on Schedule10

    Toughest GamesSept. 28 at Notre Dame, Oct. 5 vs. TCU, Oct. 12 vs. Texas (in Dallas), Nov. 23 at Kansas State, Nov. 30 at Oklahoma State

    Bob Stoops and the Sooners will head into the fall with a significant number of new faces on the roster and on the sidelines. 

    Those newcomers will have to gel quickly if Oklahoma hopes to capture its eighth (outright) Big 12 title in school history. 

    The Sooners will get another crack at Notre Dame when they visit South Bend on Sept. 28, before turning their attention to the league slate. 

    If they are still in the thick of the conference and national title races by November, three of their last four games will come away from home—with trips to Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State punctuating a schedule that is high on quality opponents and low on cupcakes. 

3. Tennessee

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleSeven

    Toughest GamesSept. 14 at Oregon, Sept. 21 at Florida, Oct. 5 vs. Georgia, Oct. 19 vs. South Carolina, Oct. 26 at Alabama

    The Volunteers will usher in a new era under new head coach Butch Jones, who takes over for the departed Derek Dooley. 

    The welcome mat in Knoxville will dissipate by the third week of the season when the Vols take consecutive trips to powerhouses Oregon and Florida. 

    If that doesn’t give Vols supporters reason to squirm, October is almost unfair—with a bye week sandwiched in the middle of dates with Georgia, South Carolina and a road trip to Alabama.

    For a program that has suffered through some lean years recently, it looks like 2013 will—at least temporarily—continue that theme in the first season with Jones at the helm. 

2. California

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleEight (plus Ohio State)

    Toughest GamesSept. 14 vs. Ohio State, Sept. 28 at Oregon, Oct. 12 at UCLA, Nov. 9 vs. USC, Nov. 23 at Stanford

    Sonny Dykes takes over for Jeff Tedford with a sizeable rebuilding job in front of him, and a stacked schedule will not do him any favors in his first season in Berkeley. 

    The season opens with two of the first three games against powers out of the Big Ten in Northwestern and Ohio State visiting Memorial Stadium. 

    Additionally, the Bears will pay visits to league favorites Oregon, UCLA and Stanford in league play. 

    Heavy personnel losses from last season’s squad will only make Dykes’ job that much tougher in his debut season as the Bears head coach. 

1. Arkansas

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    2012 Bowl Teams on ScheduleNine

    Toughest GamesSept. 28 vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 5 at Florida, Oct. 12 vs. South Carolina, Oct. 19 at Alabama, Nov. 30 at LSU

    Bret Bielema must have really wanted out of Wisconsin.  Either that or he failed to glance at the Razorbacks schedule before accepting the head coaching position last December. 

    The Hogs open with another sneaky opponent out of the Sun Belt in Louisiana-Lafayette.  A tough non-conference trip to Rutgers begins the most absurd stretch of games that any team will see all season.

    Immediately following the trip to play the Scarlet Knights, Bielema’s club will play four straight games against league opponents likely to be in the preseason Top 10. 

    November is not any kinder for the Hogs, with road trips to face Ole Miss and LSU rounding out their gauntlet.

    While the SEC is known for its depth and toughness, Bielema walked head first into a schedule that is filled with dynamite from front to back.