As we are just days away from ending the 2013 college football season, it's time to take an early look at the upcoming season. A very, very early look. We're still waiting for key players to decide whether they will leave for the next level, coaching changes are taking place, and recruiting is still unfolding. But one way to determine success this early in the process is by glancing at the schedules.
Even if a team isn't the most talented, it could still make a run if the schedule is easy enough. Getting tough opponents at home and having a favorable non-conference schedule are just some of the ways a team could find itself in the national title hunt at the end of the year.
Here are some of the top teams that not only have talent to make a run, but also have a schedule that favors their chances.
Yeah, I know. Texas has a new head coach and has been mediocre for the last three years. There's also no real answer at the quarterback position and the defense isn't so hot. But this article is about which team can take advantage of an easy schedule to position itself for a national title.
Believe it or not, there's an incredible amount of talent on this roster. It's Texas. The program recruits extremely well and, more times than not, Texas is head and shoulders the better team on paper. That gives this team a shot to win at a high level right off the bat.
As for the schedule, Texas will only leave the state once until the end of October. That one true road game will be against mighty Kansas. Um, yeah. Other than that road trip that shouldn't be a problem, the Longhorns will travel to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. That's it. While every game may not be in Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium, there aren't many teams that will play in their home state nine out of 12 times.
It'll take more than a sweet schedule to get Texas back on top in just one season, but we've seen crazier stuff happen. Just look at Auburn.
Oregon will once again be in the national championship picture with quarterback Marcus Mariota deciding to return to school. It will also help that head coach Mark Helfrich now has a full year of experience under his belt.
The Ducks were also given a few favors with their schedule. Although the complete slate of games hasn't been put in order, they will get Stanford and Washington, arguably their two toughest conference opponents, at home. They also won't play USC, which is another big break.
Oregon will be tested rather early against Michigan State, but if it can overcome that test in Autzen Stadium, this is a team that will be prepared quite nicely for the homestretch of the Pac-12 schedule. The Ducks will continue to fly high.
Michigan has a favorable schedule heading into next year. It just depends on whether the pieces are going to pan out this time around. A good portion of the defense will return, while the offense should be in good hands with running back Derrick Green and tight end Devin Funchess. The quarterback situation between Devin Gardner and Shane Morris will be the deciding factor.
As for the schedule, the Wolverines play five of their first seven games in Michigan Stadium. Those two road games are against Notre Dame and Rutgers. You never know what you're going to get from the Irish, and Rutgers should be an easy win if we're talking about being a national title contender.
The only games that may trip up Michigan are road meetings against Michigan State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are always going to be a tough opponent, but Michigan should catch a break with the Spartans missing four of their top six tacklers due to graduation.
This schedule isn't all that difficult, and Michigan has a talented team that should look to prove the naysayers wrong.
Alabama was going to be primed for another national championship run regardless of what the schedule looked like. A lot of the defense will remain intact, while the offense really only needs to replace quarterback AJ McCarron. That may be easier said than done, but elite weapons such as wide receiver Amari Cooper and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will help make the transition an easy one.
As for the schedule, it's your typical SEC West schedule. However, games against Auburn, Texas A&M and even Florida will all be played in Tuscaloosa. The only difficult road game this team will have next season is against LSU, and the Tide have won two of the last three meetings in Tiger Stadium.
Oh, the critics will be out again complaining about the lack of competition Alabama faced.
Speaking of SEC teams that have an easy path, here you are with Texas A&M. I don't care who is declaring for the NFL draft, the Aggies have as favorable of a schedule as you could hope for from an SEC perspective.
Yes, playing at South Carolina, at Alabama and at Auburn isn't going to be easy. But every team in the conference is guaranteed a few tough matchups. It's the SEC. It could always be worse—just ask Florida. Besides those three road challenges, the Aggies will get Missouri and LSU at Kyle Field. They also have a joke of a non-conference schedule that includes Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana-Monroe.
With this schedule and the amount of talent heading to College Station, there's no reason Kevin Sumlin and his staff can't position Texas A&M for a playoff bid. Of course that deplorable defense needs to improve, but still.
If the Buckeyes can manage to knock off both Michigan teams next season, you can pencil them in for a playoff spot and possible national championship bid. It's been well-documented that the Big Ten has seen better days, and Ohio State is a program that is clearly capable of taking advantage of its struggles.
Teams such as Indiana, Illinois, Cincinnati, Navy and Rutgers don't stand much of a chance. Traveling to Happy Valley could be tricky, but Penn State just lost its head coach and is still dealing with scholarship reductions that continue to hurt its progression. Virginia Tech is usually a program you don't gloss over, but the game will be played in Ohio Stadium, and the Hokies will be breaking in a new quarterback.
Simply put: Beat Michigan State and Michigan, and the Buckeyes earn their spot in the big game.
Depending on what happens in the upcoming national championship, Florida State could be on its way to winning back-to-back crystal footballs. Not only are the Seminoles loaded with talent and have a ridiculously good quarterback in Jameis Winston, but the schedule is an absolute cakewalk.
Clemson is likely going to lose a lot of its key players to the draft, including wide receiver Sammy Watkins, quarter Tajh Boyd and defensive lineman Vic Beasley. Louisville lost its workhorse in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Besides a road game against Miami, Florida State's ACC schedule is a joke.
The Seminoles do have a tough out-of-conference schedule that includes Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida. However, two of those three games (Notre Dame and Florida) are in Tallahassee, while the Oklahoma State matchup is a neutral site (AT&T Stadium).
Florida State has it made.