Who Has Hardest Path to 2014 College Football National Championship?

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Who Has Hardest Path to 2014 College Football National Championship?
Associated Press
Gus Malzahn's Auburn Tigers face the most difficult schedule among 2014 title contenders.

Earlier we examined the nonconference schedules of all 124 teams in FBS' 10 conferences. After dissecting the schedules both for how teams fared in 2013 as well as the intent going into constructing the slates, we found that the SEC as a whole doesn't want too many challenges when playing out of conference.

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But that doesn't mean all SEC teams play soft schedules—in fact, far from it. After going through these team by team and accounting for their conference schedules, we found a number of SEC teams have to run through quite a gauntlet just to make the title game in Atlanta.

On the other hand, while the Big Ten was found to have, on average, the most difficult out-of-conference (OOC) schedules as a whole, its best teams do not necessarily make things harder for themselves. The additions of Maryland and Rutgers, not exactly football powerhouses, only help to weaken the conference teams' strength of schedule.

Our review reveals that after making it all the way to the BCS title game last season, Auburn will need another War Damn Miracle (or three) to get through its slate unscathed. Of course, with a four-team playoff format making its debut in 2014, the Tigers might be able to afford a hiccup.

(See complete 2014 OOC schedules by team)

Here are the top five toughest schedules in 2014. Keep in mind that we're only ranking teams with legitimate aspirations to make the College Football Playoff field:

Most Difficult Schedules for 2014 Title Contenders (1-5)
Rank Team OOC Rank Road Notable Games
1 Auburn 81 5 @KSU, LSU, @UGA, @Bama
2 Notre Dame - 5 Stan, @FSU, @ASU, @USC
3 UCLA 27 6 Texas*, Ore, USC, Stan
4 USC 8 6 @Stan, ASU, @UCLA, ND
5 Clemson 54 5 @UGA, @FSU, L'ville, SCar

*at neutral site

Notre Dame, along with USC and UCLA—the only three schools that have never played FCS teams in history—check in behind Auburn. The Irish play a brutal schedule that includes 10 BCS conference opponents, and the other two are Navy and Conference USA champion Rice. Clemson is also in this group, with two games against SEC powerhouses and also defending national champion Florida State.

The Seminoles don't quite have a cakewalk on the way to defend their title, either. FSU has two high-profile OOC games with Oklahoma State and Notre Dame, in addition to Clemson and ACC newcomer Louisville. And if Florida rebounds from its disastrous 2013 season, it can make things even more challenging for the 'Noles.

Here are the next five:

Most Difficult Schedules for 2014 Title Contenders (6-10)
Rank Team OOC Rank Road Notable Games
6 Oklahoma St. 29 5 FSU*, Texas, @Bay, @OU
7 South Carolina 46 5 UGA, @Mizz, @Aub, @Clem
8 Florida St. 15 5 OKSt*, Clem, ND, @L'ville
9 Texas 4 4 UCLA*, Bay, OU*, @OKSt
10 Georgia 49 4 Clem, @SCar, @Mizz, Aub

* at neutral sites

There are three SEC teams and two each from the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC, plus Notre Dame in the top 10. Conspicuous by their absence are Big Ten teams, as well as Alabama, which always seems to have an easier go of it than its SEC West rivals.

Come back for our next installment to see who has the easiest path to the 2014 national championship.

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