7 College Football Teams That Won't Break a Sweat Until October
Do you remember when Illinois streaked to a 6-0 start in 2011 only to drop six straight to finish 6-6?
The Illini’s early-season run caught college football by surprise, taking a team which had received only four votes in the preseason AP poll to a No. 16 ranking before the bottom fell out.
Though at the time it looked like Ron Zook had finally righted the ship, the truth was Illinois’ early schedule made it look better than it was.
The Illini did beat No. 22 Arizona State 17-14 in Week 3, but other than that, the wins came against Arkansas State, FCS South Dakota State, Western Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana.
The frailty of their 6-0 start was exposed in subsequent losses to Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
So, which programs are ripe to be the 2014 version of Illinois in 2011?
These are programs with back-loaded schedules, meaning they could climb the charts early only to fall flat by late October.
Baylor was accused of having an easy start to last season when it opened up against FCS Wofford, Buffalo, ULM, West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas.
After streaking to a 7-0 mark through the “light” part of its slate, Baylor proved the naysayers wrong by going 5-1 down the stretch against Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas.
The Bears finished the season 11-2, won their first-ever Big 12 title and got an invite to the Fiesta Bowl.
In 2014, Baylor opens against SMU at home in Waco, Texas, hosts FCS Northwestern State in Week 2, travels to play Buffalo in Week 3, has a bye in Week 4 and finishes September at Iowa State.
Though the Cyclones won’t be a push over, look for Baylor to be 4-0 and ranked coming into its road trip to face Texas on Saturday, Oct. 4.
Though Penn State will open up its 2014 campaign against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, it won’t necessarily be the same Knights team which streaked to a 12-1 finish and a No. 10 Associated Press ranking last season.
Gone are quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, who combined to account for 82 percent of the Knights’ offense in 2013.
After UCF, Penn State will host Akron in Week 2, travels to Rutgers to play in the Scarlet Knights’ first Big Ten conference game in Week 3, hosts UMass in Week 4 and then finishes the month at home against Northwestern.
If they win the opener, and build momentum into and through the Northwestern game, Penn State should be undefeated going into its bye in Week 6.
This sets up a peachy Week 7 road trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in an early East division showdown.
Arizona started its 2013 campaign with wins over UNLV and Texas-San Antonio, both which appear again on its schedule in 2014.
After returning from San Antonio, Arizona will settle in for a two-game home stand against Nevada and Cal, which went 5-19 combined last season.
The game with the Golden Bears is followed with a well-timed bye before the Wildcats travel to Oregon to face the Ducks and then return home for USC.
Arizona should be 4-0 and ranked coming into its showdown with Oregon, a meeting which will go a long way in establishing how good the Wildcats really are in 2014.
After losing eight straight games to finish 3-9 in 2013, the NC State faithful will be eagerly looking for signs of life in Dave Doeren’s second season at the helm.
Fortunately, the Wolfpack’s early schedule may give them something to hang on to.
NC State will gets things started in 2014 with Georgia State, a team that’s only won a single game in two seasons and went 0-12 last year, its first in the FBS ranks.
Next up is Old Dominion, a team which is new to the FBS this year, making its debut as a Conference USA member.
The first road trip comes in Week 3, at USF in Tampa, Fla., where the Wolfpack will face a Bulls team that went 2-10 last season. The hits keep rolling in Week 4 when the FCS Presbyterian Blue Hose make their way to Raleigh, N.C.
The result of the early run should be a 4-0 record, a mark which will make the Sept. 27 home game against Florida State look far more interesting than it actually is.
Either way, NC State’s early schedule should—at the very least—allow the ’14 Wolfpack to improve in the win/loss column from its 2013 product.
While Missouri’s schedule isn’t as fortuitous as others on the list, by SEC standards, it’s quite generous.
And it may make the Tigers look like they’ve figured out how to replace 13 starters from their 12-2 team last season more quickly than is actually the case.
Missouri opens its campaign with a home game against FCS South Dakota State, travels to the Glass Bowl to face Toledo in Week 2 and then returns to Columbia for a showdown with Central Florida in Week 3.
Again, while the Knights won’t be easy fodder, they aren’t the same team as the 2013 squad that won 12 games.
Next up is a home game against Indiana, a team which has improved under Kevin Wilson but hasn’t won a nonconference game against a BCS foe since beating Kentucky in 2005.
This sets up an SEC East showdown at South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 27, where we’ll get a good feel for how real 4-0 Missouri is.
While fellow Mountain West conference teams will square off in early-season games with the likes of Tennessee, Arizona State, USC, Auburn and Nebraska, Air Force has a relative cake walk until the end of September.
The Falcons open up with a home game against FCS Nicholls State and travel to Wyoming to face the Cowboys in Week 2.
This sets up a road trip to Atlanta, where Air Force will face Georgia State—which just started its football program in 2010 and has never beaten an FBS opponent—in the roomy Georgia Dome.
After a bye in Week 4, the Falcons will finally be tested by welcoming Boise State to Colorado Springs on Saturday, Sept. 27.
The early run is good news for a program that suffered its worst finish two decades last season. In fact, the Falcons won’t play an opponent from a former BCS conference in 2014.
Chris Petersen will start his tenure at Washington by facing a string of nonconference foes which combined last season for a 5-31 record in FBS play. This means his first loss will likely be postponed until he squares off with a Pac-12 team.
First up for the Huskies is a road trip to Hawaii to face a Warriors team that went 1-11 in 2013. In Week 2, the Huskies host FCS Eastern Washington and then Illinois, which is 1-7 in its last eight tries.
Next up is a visit from Georgia State, a well-travelled team which hasn’t won a game—any game—since beating Rhode Island on Oct. 13, 2012.
Though the party ends when Stanford comes calling on Sept. 27, keep in mind the Huskies will play all four of their September games at home.
This means the Washington-Stanford game will be billed as a blockbuster North division showdown, even more so if the Cardinal take care of business against USC on Sept. 6.