In no sport are schedules more important than in college football. Why? For two reasons. First, due to the limited number of games, schedules are unbalanced both between leagues and within them. Second, with only 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 (Michigan State, South Carolina) and make a run at the national title.
With the 2013 season now behind us, it's time to look forward to 2014 to see what impact schedules will have on next year's national title race. The SEC and Pac-12 again appear to be the strongest conferences.
The Big Ten purposely avoided many major inter-division games in 2014 and 2015, choosing to hold matchups such as Nebraska-Ohio State and Michigan-Wisconsin for 2016 and beyond, after the league's new television deal (currently in negotiations) takes effect. As a result, you won't find many of the Big Ten teams on this list.
We've ranked the 50 toughest schedules for 2014. Let's jump right in.
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Big Ten Home Games: Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Big Ten Away Games: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska
Notable Non-Conference Game: vs. Notre Dame (Indianapolis)
The Boilermakers move to the new Big Ten West this season, where they'll rid themselves of an annual meeting with Ohio State. The toughest games come in West Lafayette, but Purdue showed nothing in its 1-11 2013 season that would make it seem possible for the Boilers to upset an Iowa, Michigan State or Wisconsin.
That means most of the swing games come on the road, making a bowl appearance a long shot in Darrell Hazell's second season. The non-conference schedule is light, outside of a neutral-site game with Notre Dame just down the road in Indianapolis. The Boilermakers open with eight straight games before their first of two bye weeks.
Big Ten Home Games: Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue
Big Ten Away Games: Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Notable Non-Conference Game: at TCU
Despite being in the softer of the two Big Ten divisions, Minnesota still has a tough road to navigate with Michigan and Ohio State as the two crossover opponents. There's also a rare non-conference challenge coming Sept. 13 at TCU.
There's potential for a 7-1 start, which the Golden Gophers will need, given the way the schedule wraps up. Following a bye week, Minnesota finishes with Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska and at Wisconsin. Just winning one of those games may be the realistic goal.
ACC Home Games: Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, N.C. State, Virginia Tech
ACC Away Games: Clemson, Duke, Miami (FL), Virginia
Notable Non-Conference Games: San Diego State, at East Carolina, at Notre Dame
The Tar Heels may very well begin the season as the favorite in the ACC Coastal. To get to Charlotte for the first time, they’ll have to navigate a tricky schedule. There’s only one layup in the non-conference slate, with three bowl winners among the quartet.
Drawing Clemson from the Atlantic Division is no fun, but at least there’s a still-rebuilding N.C. State. Within the division, getting Virginia as a road game should be a positive. The key stretch comes at midseason, where the Tar Heels will face Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Miami (FL) in a five-week span.
Big Ten Home Games: Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, Rutgers
Big Ten Away Games: Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Fresno State, Miami (FL)
Will this finally be the year Nebraska snaps its six-year stretch under Bo Pelini of losing exactly four games? The schedule isn’t well-balanced, as the three toughest Big Ten games all come away from Lincoln. There’s also a dangerous trip to Fresno State, but the Bulldogs are rebuilding without Derek Carr and Davante Adams.
Miami (FL) comes to Lincoln for the first time in 38 years, but other than the showdown with the Hurricanes, the home schedule is disgusting. The bye weeks come at a nice time—after an always physical game with Michigan State and before the key Big Ten West clash at Wisconsin.
ACC Home Games: Duke, Florida State, Louisville, N.C. State
ACC Away Games: Boston College, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest
Notable Non-Conference Games: Maryland, vs. Notre Dame (East Rutherford)
Year 2 in the ACC for the Orange has them facing both reigning division champions in the comforts of the Carrier Dome. The road schedule isn’t bad, with just four true road games, only one against a team that won more than seven games a year ago.
Among the non-conference games is a battle with Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium. It’s technically a Syracuse home game, but expect more blue and gold at the Meadowlands on Sept. 27. The game with Maryland doesn’t exactly move the meter, but Terrapins head coach Randy Edsall is a former Orange player.
SEC Home Games: Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee
SEC Away Games: Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri
Notable Non-Conference Games: None
The Derek Mason era begins in Nashville with a cushy slate, as James Franklin helped build friendly non-conference schedules before leaving for Penn State. In addition to the opener against Temple, Old Dominion, Charleston Southern and Massachusetts all come to Vanderbilt Stadium.
The SEC home schedule should be great for ticket sales, capped by the season finale against Tennessee, which moves back to Thanksgiving weekend for the first time in more than a decade. Going to Georgia won’t be fun, but having Kentucky and Mississippi State as two of the road games isn’t bad. Due to an expansion-related quirk, the Commodores host Ole Miss for the second consecutive year.
Big Ten Home Games: Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Penn State
Big Ten Away Games: Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rutgers
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Notre Dame, Utah
The good news: there are no back-to-back road games and one of the bye weeks comes before going to Michigan State. The bad news: Michigan will play its three rivalry games (Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State) all away from home. The Wolverines have lost six straight in Columbus, three straight in East Lansing and five of seven in South Bend.
The home slate offers little to get excited about other than Penn State back on the schedule for the first time since 2011. Minnesota and Northwestern are the crossover opponents, so fortunately there’s no Iowa, Nebraska or Wisconsin with which to deal. Utah comes to Ann Arbor to start a nice little home-and-home series that concludes in 2015 in Salt Lake City.
ACC Home Games: Clemson, Duke, Miami (FL), Virginia
ACC Away Games: North Carolina, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Tulane, at Georgia
The Yellow Jackets have fallen into a bit of a rut since winning the ACC in 2009, winning six, eight, seven and seven games over the past four seasons. Breaking through the eight-win barrier in 2014 won’t be easy with one of the ACC’s tougher schedules, as well as the annual rivalry game with Georgia.
The schedule makers did Georgia Tech no favors, as there’s a six-game stretch of all division games. Miami (FL) has to come to The Flats, but Georgia Tech has struggled against the Hurricanes, regardless of location. The trip to Tulane went from on to off to on again within about 12 hours due to issues with the Green Wave’s new on-campus stadium. Surprisingly, there are no Thursday night games this year.
Big Ten Home Games: Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue
Big Ten Away Games: Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Notable Non-Conference Games: Western Kentucky, at Washington
A schedule that looks highly daunting on paper may prove to the benefit of the Illini. Yes, the road schedule is brutal, but that means the swing games that could get Illinois to bowl eligibility come in Champaign. Sweeping home games with Minnesota and Penn State should be enough to get back to the postseason.
The non-conference portion of the schedule has Illinois making a long trip to Washington, after the Huskies defeated the Illini at Soldier Field last season. Western Kentucky no longer has Bobby Petrino, but is still capable of pulling off an upset at Memorial Stadium. A loss to the Hilltoppers could be the beginning of the end for head coach Tim Beckman.
Big 12 Home Games: Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU
Big 12 Neutral-Site Game: Baylor (Arlington)
Notable Non-Conference Game: Arkansas
A 7-0 start for the Red Raiders in 2013 turned into an 8-5 finish as the schedule toughened, but Texas Tech did close on a high note with an upset of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. What does Kliff Kingsbury’s second season back in Lubbock have in store? For starters, it’s a schedule not nearly as backloaded as it was a year ago.
A late September bye precedes a Thursday night game at Oklahoma State. Nine days later, the Red Raiders go to Kansas State. Texas and Oklahoma both come to Lubbock, but not until November, and with a bye in between. Getting Iowa State in between the Oklahoma and Baylor games late in the season is a plus.
Big 12 Home Games: Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Kansas, Texas, West Virginia
Notable Non-Conference Games: Minnesota, at SMU
The Horned Frogs will try to regroup from a disastrous 4-8 season with a schedule that includes five Big 12 home games for the first time. Of course, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech all won in Fort Worth in their last visits in 2012, while TCU was victorious that season in all four stadiums in which it will play road games this season.
Two byes in the first four weeks means the Frogs will play eight straight games without a week off during the middle of the season. That includes a nasty three-game stretch of Oklahoma, at Baylor and Oklahoma State. The schedule eases up a bit late, with Kansas, Iowa State and a bye all in the last four weeks of the season.
Big Ten Home Games: Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
Big Ten Away Games: Indiana, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin
Notable Non-Conference Games: West Virginia, at Syracuse
Maryland will be welcomed to the Big Ten with a six-game gauntlet of Ohio State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. If I’m Randy Edsall, I take 1-5 in that stretch and hope I can scrape together five wins among the other six games, which are all winnable.
A Week 2 trip to USF is dangerous, as the Bulls aren’t as bad as their record showed last season. West Virginia comes to College Park, but then it’s back on the road to Syracuse, Edsall’s alma mater, who won at Maryland last season. 6-6 is probably the ceiling for the Terps as they find their bearings in the Big Ten.
ACC Home Games: Florida State, Miami (FL), N.C. State, Wake Forest
ACC Away Games: Boston College, Clemson, Syracuse, Virginia
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Notre Dame, Kentucky
Bobby Petrino was at the helm of the Cardinals when they joined the Big East in 2005. He has returned to help lead Louisville into life in the ACC this fall. The Cardinals will assume Maryland’s schedule in the Atlantic Division, which means playing both Florida State and Clemson. The ‘Noles visit Papa John’s Stadium on a Thursday night, where they were upset in a downpour in 2002.
Miami (FL) is one of the crossover games, a Labor Day affair to kick off the season, but Virginia is the other. Louisville is one of four ACC teams to face Notre Dame this season. It visits South Bend on Nov. 22. The rivalry game with Kentucky moves to Thanksgiving weekend, as the Cardinals will be shooting for four straight wins in the series.
ACC Home Games: Boston College, Clemson, Virginia, Wake Forest
ACC Away Games: Louisville, Miami (FL), N.C. State, Syracuse
Notable Non-Conference Games: vs. Oklahoma State (Arlington), Notre Dame, Florida
The defending national champions begin the season on a big stage, as the ‘Noles travel to Dallas to meet Oklahoma State. Most of the other big games come in Tallahassee, as Clemson (Sept. 20), Notre Dame (Oct. 18) and Florida (Nov. 29) highlight an attractive home schedule.
The Miami game is the latest it’s been since 1991 (Nov. 15), the game best known as Wide Right I. Virginia, which has dropped 10 straight ACC games, is the rotating opponent from the Coastal Division. The bye weeks come at good timesbefore Clemson and before a Thursday night game at Louisville.
SEC Home Games: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Texas A&M
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee
Notable Non-Conference Game: vs. West Virginia (Atlanta)
While the Crimson Tide couldn’t make it three straight national titles in 2013, they’ll have a chance to again win three in four years in 2014 with a manageable schedule. 15 years ago, drawing both Florida and Tennessee as crossover games would have been a death sentence, but it should work in Alabama’s favor this fall.
Going to LSU is always brutal, and the early October trip to Oxford may be one of the biggest games ever in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, but Alabama gets two weeks to prepare for both. The Iron Bowl, which could again decide the SEC West title, is in Tuscaloosa. While the visit to Tennessee will be filled with Lane Kiffin-related distractions, the Vols aren’t quite ready to challenge the Tide. The non-conference quartet is a cakewalk.
Big 12 Home Games: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Notable Non-Conference Game: at Duke
After going 1-11 and 3-9, the Jayhawks need to show some progress for Charlie Weis to return for a fourth season in 2015. There aren’t many opportunities for wins, as Kansas has five Big 12 road games and a tough non-conference trip to Duke.
An open week to start the season doesn’t help matters, as the Jayhawks will then play 12 games in 13 weeks, rendering the extra week of the season useless. Games with Iowa State and TCU, both at home, in back-to-back weeks in mid-November could be the make-or-break stretch for Weis.
Big Ten Home Games: Indiana, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin
Big Ten Away Games: Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Washington State, at Navy
Rutgers appears to be on a downward trend, on the field at least, as it enters the Big Ten. The record might not be pretty for a while, but the television revenue will be nice. Ticket sales should also get a boost, beginning this year when Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin all come to Piscataway.
The Big Ten did the Scarlet Knights no favors by giving them both the Badgers and Nebraska as crossover games. That pair concludes a nasty four-game stretch that begins with Michigan and Ohio State. The non-conference schedule is tricky as well, which includes a cross-country trip to Washington State and a visit to Navy.
Big Ten Home Games: Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue
Big Ten Away Games: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Bowling Green, at Missouri
Indiana fell just short of the postseason last year at 5-7. If the Hoosiers hope to qualify for just their second bowl since 1993, there can’t be any slip-ups against teams they should beat. The road schedule is daunting, but that means swing games against Maryland, Penn State and Purdue all come in Bloomington.
Despite Big Ten expansion and realignment, Purdue remains an annual opponent, which is a good thing for a while at least. Iowa is the other crossover game. Indiana State in the opener is the only layup in the non-conference slate. A Week 2 bye means Indiana will close with 11 games in 12 weeks.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, Colorado, Stanford, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: California, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Notable Non-Conference Game: Michigan State
There are only a few places in the country where an 11-2 season doesn’t sit well, but Eugene is one of them. The Ducks will hope to end Stanford’s reign over the Pacific Coast with a manageable schedule by Pac-12 standards. The Cardinal have to come to Autzen Stadium, while Arizona State and USC are the two no-plays.
Michigan State’s visit on Sept. 6 makes for a huge early intersectional battle. The Ducks have at least one extra day off before both the UCLA and Stanford games, which should determine Oregon’s playoff fate. Going to Utah in mid-November is a potential trap, depending on the weather in the mountains of Salt Lake City.
SEC Home Games: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
SEC Away Games: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Toledo, UCF, Indiana
The Tigers will look to defend their SEC East title with a tricky but overall not-too-difficult schedule. Gaining Arkansas as an annual crossover opponent is a plus, although Missouri still has to go to College Station for the fourth time in five years. There’s no Alabama, Auburn or LSU to deal withanother positive.
Going to South Carolina, which has the longest active home winning streak in college football, won’t be fun, but Georgia has to come to Columbia. There’s only one cupcake outside of the SEC, but UCF and Toledo should both take a step back with their multi-year starting quarterbacks departing. The bye weeks are well-positioned, coming before facing Georgia and Texas A&M.
ACC Home Games: Louisville, North Carolina, N.C. State, Syracuse
ACC Away Games: Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Georgia, South Carolina
The Orange Bowl champions will be rebuilding on offense without Tajh Boyd, Roderick McDowell, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. That’s not necessarily how the Tigers want to enter a season that has them going to both Georgia and Florida State in the first four weeks. A bye before going to Tallahassee is the only saving grace.
Conference play has Clemson facing Georgia Tech and North Carolina from the Coastal Division, with the Tar Heels’ visit coming right after the Tigers go to Florida State. Having nine days to prepare for Georgia Tech always helps. South Carolina will ride a five-game winning streak in the Palmetto Bowl into Death Valley on Nov. 29.
ACC Home Games: Louisville, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Pittsburgh
ACC Away Games: Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
Notable Non-Conference Games: UCLA, at BYU
In a critical season for head coach Mike London, wins are going to be hard to come by for the Cavaliers. After a 2-10 2013 season, Virginia opens 2014 with two 10-win teams from 2013 in the first three weeks—UCLA and Louisville. Florida State, who had a pretty nice season of its own last year, is the other crossover game.
There’s a strong chance that Virginia is 2-3 heading into consecutive games with Pittsburgh and Duke, needing a sweep to have any hopes for a bowl bid. The closing stretch—North Carolina, at Georgia Tech, at Florida State, Miami (FL), at Virginia Techis brutal. At least there’s a bye week in between facing the Seminoles and Hurricanes.
Big 12 Home Games: Iowa State, Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, TC
Notable Non-Conference Game: vs. Florida State (Arlington)
The schedule worked in the Cowboys’ favor in 2013, but Oklahoma State couldn’t finish off a second Big 12 title in three years. Now, the schedule flips, as Mike Gundy’s team has to go to Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma among its five conference road games. Gundy likes tough non-conference games about as much as he likes construction workers who wear crimson and cream, so opening with the defending national champions in Dallas likely doesn’t please the 46-year old man.
October is fairly light, but that means another difficult close. If the trip to Oklahoma is moved back a week to Dec. 6, as it’s expected to be, the Cowboys will have a week off before hosting Texas and going to Baylor, and then another bye on Thanksgiving weekend before the short trip down to Norman. A 7-1 start is not only possible, but it is probably necessary if the ‘Pokes hope to enter November with hopes for another major bowl.
Big 12 Home Games: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Iowa, Toledo
After taking the Cyclones to three bowl games in four years, Paul Rhoads’ magic wore off last season, as Iowa State slipped to 3-9. Turning things around in 2014 will require a quick start, as the season begins with a visit from FCS national champion North Dakota State. Kansas State, Iowa and Baylor are all on the schedule before the end of September.
There are five Big 12 home games, which is nice, and playing on Championship Saturday gives the Cyclones three byes this year. Four is the most games Iowa State must play without a bye. Getting to 4-5 in mid-November should be the goal before a manageable close of Texas Tech, West Virginia and at TCU.
SEC Home Games: Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina
SEC Neutral-Site Game: Florida (Jacksonville)
Notable Non-Conference Games: Clemson, Georgia Tech
Credit the Bulldogs for almost always playing two challenging non-conference games, a rarity in today’s SEC. Visits to Athens from Clemson and Georgia Tech bookend the Bulldogs' 2014 schedule. With the Florida game technically a home game this year, only three SEC teams come to Sanford Stadium. The conference finale with Auburn between the hedges could be one of the biggest games in the 123-year history of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Drawing Arkansas as the rotating crossover game is a plus, as Georgia gets to play both teams that went winless in conference play last year. Having to go to South Carolina is never easy, but there’s a week off after the Clemson game to prepare. On the downside, Florida, Missouri and Tennessee all have two weeks to get ready for the ‘Dawgs.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, California, Colorado, USC, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Oregon, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Notable Non-Conference Games: None
Five Pac-12 games at home and three non-conference cupcakes will help keep things bright in Tucson despite the departure of All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey. There’s no Stanford for the second straight year, and the Wildcats have a bye week before going to Oregon.
There is only one stretch of back-to-back road games, but Arizona has a week off before the consecutive visits to Washington State and UCLA. Three of the final four games come at Arizona Stadium, with the only road game in the bunch coming at Utah. If the Wildcats don’t enter October 4-0 (three non-conference games and California), something is wrong.
Pac-12 Home Games: Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State, USC, Washington
Notable Non-Conference Game: Notre Dame
The defending Pac-12 South champions should start 3-0, but things quickly toughen for Todd Graham and the Sun Devils. A huge Thursday night game with UCLA in Tempe begins a critical four-game stretch that also brings Stanford back to Sun Devil Stadium and sends Arizona State to USC and Washington.
The Sun Devils miss Oregon for the second straight year, but unfortunately California is the other no-play. Three of the final five are at home, but going to Oregon State in mid-November is rarely pleasant. Former athletic director Steve Patterson’s final coup before leaving for Texas was getting Notre Dame to come to Tempe without having to go to South Bend. The Irish visit the desert Nov. 8 for the first time since 1998.
Big 12 Home Games: Baylor, Iowa State, TCU, West Virginia
Big 12 Away Games: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
Big 12 Neutral-Site Game: Oklahoma (Dallas)
Notable Non-Conference Games: BYU, vs. UCLA (Arlington)
Charlie Strong’s reclamation project in Austin offers plenty of challenges in the first year. BYU and UCLA are both on the docket before the middle of September. The Cougars ran for more than 500 yards on Texas last year in Provo, and the Bruins were victorious in Austin in 2010. Getting Baylor and Oklahoma back-to-back in early October isn’t favorable.
There are eight straight weeks with no byes between late September and mid-November, with a Big 12 game each week. The Longhorns again host a Thanksgiving Night game (as does old friend Texas A&M), with TCU coming to Royal Memorial Stadium. For the first time since the Big 12 Championship Game went away after the 2010 season, Texas does not play on Championship Saturday.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, California, Oregon, Utah, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Colorado, Stanford, USC, Washington
Notable Non-Conference Game: San Diego State
A 6-1 start turned into a 7-6 finish for the 2013 Beavers after a five-game skid to end the regular season. All 11 FBS opponents from 2013 remain on the 2014 schedule, just at opposite venues. That means no UCLA and Arizona again from the Pac-12 South, which aren’t bad teams to miss.
A fast start in conference play is imperative, as three of the first five games are against the three league teams who missed the postseason a year ago. The finishing kick of Arizona State, at Washington and Oregon won’t be fun. There’s a Thursday game at home against Utah, giving Oregon State two extra days before going to Stanford.
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Notable Non-Conference Games: vs. Boise State (Atlanta), Louisiana-Lafayette
The Rebels will enter the fall with plenty of hype, as they are one of the few SEC teams to return their starting quarterback. The home schedule is terrific, with two certain preseason top-five teams coming to Oxford as well as rival Mississippi State. Opening with Boise State in the Georgia Dome and Vanderbilt on the road will require Ole Miss to start strong, as it did in 2013 with road wins at Vanderbilt and Texas.
While overall not as daunting of a slate as the Rebels faced in 2013, the schedule isn’t advantageously spaced. The key SEC West games against Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M all come in a five-week stretch, with no weeks off in that period. Having the two byes before Memphis and Arkansas isn’t ideal either.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, California, Oregon, USC
Notable Non-Conference Game: vs. Colorado State (Denver)
Colorado hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2005—Gary Barnett’s final season in Boulder. With a soft non-conference schedule and five conference home games, could this be the year for a Buffaloes resurgence? Missing Washington State isn’t good, but missing Stanford is.
A 4-1 start is probably a must for Colorado’s bowl hopes before a nasty stretch against Oregon State, USC, UCLA, Washington, Arizona and Oregon. An upset somewhere in that stretch could have the Buffaloes playing for bowl eligibility in the season finale at Folsom Field against Utah.
Big 12 Home Games: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech
Big 12 Away Games: Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia
Notable Non-Conference Game: Auburn
There doesn’t appear to be a single dominant team in the Big 12 in 2014, so don’t count out Bill Snyder’s Wildcats. The 2012 Big 12 champions slipped back to 8-5 in 2013 but now have a much more experienced defense to battle a difficult schedule. A mid-September visit from Auburn makes for a rare non-conference challenge for a Snyder team.
There are only four Big 12 home games, none of which are Oklahoma or Baylor. There is a bye week before facing the Sooners in Norman. Home games with Texas and Oklahoma State follow, making for a season-defining three-game stretch. The rest of November is fairly smooth, but the season finale at Baylor will be a major test after the ‘Cats were embarrassed as the No. 1 team in the nation in their last trip to Waco.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State
Notable Non-Conference Game: Illinois
The Chris Petersen era begins in Seattle with a 13-game schedule thanks to an NCAA exemption that allows for an extra game if a team plays at Hawaii. That means only one off week, however, and eight straight weeks without a bye to close the season. The Huskies should start 4-0 before Stanford comes to town.
Washington can’t seem to beat Oregon anywhere, so that game might as well be in Eugene. Key home games with Arizona State and UCLA are both later in the season, which should allow quarterback Cyler Miles time to jell in Petersen’s system. The finishing kick isn’t all that bad, at Arizona, Oregon State and at Washington State to close.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Washington State
Notable Non-Conference Games: Fresno State, at Boston College, Notre Dame
Steve Sarkisian steps into a pretty good situation in Los Angeles. The Trojans are only one year away from being completely ridden of the effects of their NCAA sanctions and have their deepest roster since the Pete Carroll years. More imminent, however, is a difficult 2014 schedule that offers no grace period for the new staff.
Yes, Oregon and Washington are nowhere to be found, but there are five Pac-12 road games. The first is the toughestat Stanford in Week 2. That’s followed by a cross-country trip to play sneaky-tough Boston College. October isn’t bad after a home game with Arizona State to start the month, but finishing with UCLA and Notre Dame will test how much progress the team has made in Sarkisian’s first year.
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State
SEC Away Games: Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M
Notable Non-Conference Game: vs. Wisconsin (Houston)
The Tigers won 10 games for the seventh time in Les Miles’ nine seasons in Baton Rouge, but 2013 left a bit to be desired on the Bayou. A young 2014 group of Tigers will begin with four home games and a neutral-site game, not having to play a true road game until the trip to Auburn on Oct. 4. Getting Florida and Kentucky, who combined to go 6-18 last season, as crossover games will help.
The Arkansas game moves off of Thanksgiving weekend for the first time in almost 20 years, as LSU will travel to College Station on Thanksgiving Night after a 12-day break. The first bye week comes before the Alabama game (doesn’t it always?). The opener in Reliant Stadium against Wisconsin will be a delight, both in the stadium and in the parking lots beforehand.
Pac-12 Home Games: Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona, Oregon State, USC, Washington State
Notable Non-Conference Game: at Northwestern, BYU
It’s not quite as bad as the 2013 schedule was, but the Golden Bears still face one of the most difficult roads in the Pac-12. Part of the reason for that is, of course, the fact that Cal doesn’t get to play Cal. The home schedule will be great for ticket sales, with BYU, Stanford and UCLA all coming to Strawberry Canyon, as well as a game with Oregon at the new San Francisco 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara.
Getting the top teams at home means most of the more winnable games all come away from Berkeley. If the 16-game losing streak against FBS opponents is going to end, it’s probably going to come somewhere in a three-game early season stretch at Arizona, Colorado aor at Washington State. 4-8 would be remarkable progress for California in Sonny Dykes’ second season.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, California, Oregon, USC, Washington
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, Utah
Notable Non-Conference Games: Rutgers
It’s still difficult to explain just how the Cougars let the New Mexico Bowl slip through their fingers, but the focus in Pullman now turns to 2014. Can Washington State get back to the postseason? That’s the goal despite life in the difficult Pac-12 North.
The Cougars miss Colorado but also miss UCLA. There is only one instance of back-to-back road games, but it comes with a bye in between the trips to Corvallis and Tempe. Catching Stanford on a short week at the end of a seven games in seven weeks stretch is a tough break. A 3-0 start, which should happen, would mean the most excitement for a game in Pullman in more than a decade when Oregon visits on Sept. 20.
SEC Home Games: Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
SEC Away Games: Florida, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee
Notable Non-Conference Games: Ohio, at Louisville
The Wildcats should be able to scrape together more than the two wins they managed in 2013, but it won’t be an easy road next fall. After drawing Alabama as its rotating opponent last year, Kentucky now has to go to LSU for the second time in four seasons. Missouri and Louisville, who both won 12 games a year ago, are also among the road trips.
The best chance for the ‘Cats to snap their 19-game SEC losing streak will likely come Sept. 27 when they host Vanderbilt after a bye week. The game with the Commodores begins a stretch of eight games in eight weeks before having a fortnight off prior to going to Louisville. The opener with Tennessee-Martin will be a nice confidence boost, but a visit from Ohio a week later could be challenging.
Big 12 Home Games: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU
Big 12 Away Games: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech
Notable Non-Conference Games: vs. Alabama (Atlanta), Maryland
The Mountaineers are just 6-12 in conference play since moving to the Big 12. Before they attempt to inch back up the league standings this fall, they’ll have to deal with Alabama in its second home—the Georgia Dome, as well as a trip to Maryland. A bye week then precedes the start of conference play.
Oklahoma and Baylor both come to Morgantown, a tricky trip regardless of how good (or bad) the Mountaineers are (just ask Oklahoma State). There aren’t any back-to-back road games, a huge plus for the team that has to travel more than any other in the conference. The toughest stretch comes at midseason at Texas Tech, Baylor and at Oklahoma State.
SEC Home Games: Arkansas, Auburn, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
SEC Away Games: Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss
Notable Non-Conference Games: None
On paper, this schedule doesn’t look that bad. The non-conference schedule is a joke, and Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the two crossover games. But there’s still the entire SEC West to deal with. Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss are all road games, with the trips to Tuscaloosa and Oxford coming in late November.
What should be three easy wins to open the season are followed by a trip to LSU, where the Bulldogs never win. A bye week proceeds consecutive home dates with Texas A&M and Auburn that will test the depth and stamina of the team’s defense. A three-week stretch around Halloween of at Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee-Martin will be much needed before the difficult close.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, USC, Utah
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Washington
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Virginia, vs. Texas (Arlington)
The Bruins’ schedule, while still one of the nation’s toughest, is a bit more manageable this year, with most of the big games coming in Pasadena. Instead of going to Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks, the Cardinal and Ducks come to the Rose Bowl seven weeks apart. The bye weeks are well-positioned as well, coming before going to Arizona State and before the rivalry game with USC.
Only one of the three non-conference games is at home, but going to Virginia shouldn’t be a problem. The showdown with Texas at AT&T Stadium will be a de facto road game. There’s a nice break after playing Oregon with at California, at Colorado and Arizona before a tough close of at Washington, USC and Stanford.
SEC Home Games: Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M
SEC Away Games: Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Notable Non-Conference Games: East Carolina, at Clemson
A friendly schedule wasn’t enough for the Gamecocks to win the SEC East in 2013, and now they’ll face a much tougher road if they hope to get to Atlanta for just the second time. Arkansas is gone as an annual foe, replaced by Texas A&M, a game that kicks off the college football season on Aug. 28. The rotating game at Auburn is no picnic either, but South Carolina does have a bye week and a home game with Furman leading up to the trip to the Plains.
In an odd quirk, three of South Carolina’s four SEC home games come before Oct. 1. The schedule is otherwise spaced out well, as there are no really tough back-to-back games. Road games at Auburn, Florida and Clemson are all late in the season, but the tone setter for the season comes on Sept. 13 when Georgia comes to Williams-Brice Stadium.
Home Games: Louisville, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Rice, Stanford
Away Games: Florida State, Arizona State, USC
Neutral-Site Games: Purdue (Indianapolis), Syracuse (East Rutherford), Navy (Landover)
While there are only three true road games, Notre Dame will again face one of the most daunting schedules in college football this season. The Michigan State and Oklahoma series are over, but Florida State and North Carolina roll onto the schedule. There are two trips to Pac-12 country, both against teams that won 10 games in 2013.
Starting strong is a must, as the season begins with four home games and two neutral-site games before going to Tallahassee on Oct. 18. The Irish’s ACC alliance kicks in this year, so Notre Dame will also face Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse. Having a bye week before Navy, which may not seem ideal, is actually a good thing, given how badly the Irish defense struggled against the triple option last season.
SEC Home Games: Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M
SEC Away Games: Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State
Notable Non-Conference Game: at Kansas State
The Tigers’ magical run in 2013 likely doesn’t happen without some fortunate scheduling breaks. An SEC title repeat will require Auburn surviving a gauntlet that includes Georgia and South Carolina as crossover games and road trips to Alabama, Ole Miss and Kansas State. Getting LSU at home is crucial, however, as Auburn hasn’t won in Baton Rouge this century.
The toughest stretch comes late in the season with a four-week run of South Carolina, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M and at Georgia. There’s no bye week before Alabama this year, but a home game with Samford should serve the same purpose. The extra weeks come before Kansas State and South Carolina.
Pac-12 Home Games: Oregon State, USC, Utah, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, California, Oregon, UCLA, Washington
Notable Non-Conference Game: at Notre Dame
The Cardinal held serve in Palo Alto last season, and that was good enough to earn the program’s second consecutive Pac-12 title. That won’t be the case this fall, as the Cardinal face the most difficult road schedule in the country. In a six-week stretch, Stanford has to go to Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State and Oregon.
The home schedule offers up little excitement outside of an early home game with USC, which takes place before school is back in session. The season concludes with two road games just six days apart, although the first is just across the bay at California. The finale at UCLA will be the Cardinal’s fourth game at the Rose Bowl in 24 months.
SEC Home Games: LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss
SEC Away Games: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina
SEC Neutral-Site Game: vs. Arkansas (Arlington)
Notable Non-Conference Game: at SMU
For a schedule that does not include any non-conference opponents from power conferences, it doesn’t get much harder than what the Aggies will face this fall. There are just three SEC home games at remodeled Kyle Field, as the Arkansas game moves back to AT&T Stadium for the foreseeable future. Missouri and South Carolina as the crossover games won’t help much.
The SEC West slate has Texas A&M going to both Alabama and Auburn, although the Aggies swept the Yellowhammer State duo on the road in 2012. The trip to Tuscaloosa is the last of a season-opening stretch of seven games in seven weeks. The close won’t be easy either, as the Aggies go to Auburn before hosting Missouri and LSU. The second bye comes before the Thanksgiving Night game with LSU.
Pac-12 Home Games: Arizona, Oregon, USC, Washington State
Pac-12 Away Games: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA
Notable Non-Conference Game: Fresno State, at Michigan
Life in the Pac-12 has been difficult on the Utes, who have posted back-to-back 5-7 seasons after going to nine straight bowls between 2003 and 2011. If the schedule is any indication, it might be three straight seasons without a postseason appearance. There are five conference road games and a non-conference game at Michigan.
Games with Oregon and Stanford come in back-to-back weeks in mid-November, which is a terrible break. To make matters worse, those games come after another tough stretch of at Oregon State, USC and at Arizona State. Closing with Arizona and at Colorado is nice, but will the Utes still be standing by the time they get there?
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
SEC Away Games: Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Notable Non-Conference Games: Utah State, at Oklahoma
The Vols’ reward for facing the toughest schedule in college football in 2013? Another bear of a slate that has them facing nine teams that won at least eight games a year ago. The only changes from last year are Oklahoma replacing Oregon and Ole Miss replacing Auburnan upgrade, albeit a small one.
The two toughest stretches come in late September with back-to-back road games at Oklahoma and Georgia and then in late October with at Ole Miss, Alabama and at South Carolina. Even the bought home games are tricky, with Utah State and Arkansas State capable of threatening Tennessee in the season’s first two weeks. One of the bye weeks comes before Kentucky, so even the timing of the off weeks isn’t favorable.
SEC Home Games: Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, South Carolina
SEC Away Games: Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
SEC Neutral-Site Game: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
Notable Non-Conference Game: at Florida State
If Will Muschamp is to survive to coach a fifth season in 2015, he’ll have to do it the hard way. Florida’s rotating crossover game is at Alabama, where the Gators have lost by a combined 62-9 in their last two visits. As always, LSU is the other SEC West opponent. The trip to Florida State means Florida will face the teams that have combined to win the past three national titles, both on the road.
The Cocktail Party is counted as a road game, so there are only two other true away games – Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Florida always plays South Carolina tough, even in down years, but the Gamecocks get a week off before coming to Gainesville. The Gators could be the only team in the country to face five opponents ranked in the preseason top 15.
SEC Home Games: Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss
SEC Away Games: Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri
SEC Neutral-Site Game: Texas A&M (Arlington)
Notable Non-Conference Games: at Texas Tech, Northern Illinois
Yikes. After losing nine straight to end the 2013 season, Arkansas kicks off 2014 with a trip to national runner-up Auburn. There’s Texas Tech and Texas A&M, both away from home, before the end of September, with a tricky home game against Northern Illinois in between. October starts off with Alabama and Georgia.
The only real break comes in late October and early November where a bye week is preceded by games with UAB and at Mississippi State. A rough close for the Razorbacks features home dates with LSU and Ole Miss followed by a trip to Missouri. If there’s a bright spot, getting UAB in late October means another season-ending nine-game losing streak should be avoided. Other than that, this is a murderous schedule for a rebuilding Arkansas team. Maybe it’s "#karma."