College Football Teams with Easiest, Hardest Road Game Schedules in 2014

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2014

College Football Teams with Easiest, Hardest Road Game Schedules in 2014

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    Home-field advantage is a tremendous factor in college football. It is something we always talk about—and with good reason. Stadiums are loud and refs are stupid and players are too young to cope with that. They get rattled and choke away games that they ought to win. It happens all the time.

    This is why we spend so much time parsing through schedules during the offseason. A great team with an adverse road slate might fare worse than a good team with an auspicious one. Not because the latter is better, necessarily, but because it is better-equipped.

    This list includes the seven hardest and seven easiest road schedules in college football. For reasons that I hope are obvious, only power-conference teams (and Notre Dame) were included. You don't need me to tell you that the Sun Belt plays easier opponents than the SEC.

    The method used for this ranking was relative to each conference. Obviously, if you believe the SEC is light-years ahead of the other power conferences, you would want to place all its teams in the "hardest" section. This list abstained from doing that.

    Also of note: Discretion was used for games that will be played at neutral sites. One team on this list, for example, will travel across the country to play Washington State at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. That has been counted as a road game, as one team is a) close to home and b) has a distinct advantage over the other.

    Most neutral-field games, however, have been ignored.

    Make sense? Cool.

    Sound off below and let me know what you think.

Easiest (No. 7): Texas Longhorns

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    Opponents (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State

    This one is largely relative.

    Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State should all be decent next season and could all beat the Longhorns at home. It is hard to say which of that trio is the best and which is the worst. They are all about even. And Texas is about even with them as well.

    But think of what might have been.

    Obviously, the Red River Showdown against Oklahoma will be played on a neutral site, but Texas gets the next two hardest teams on its schedule—UCLA and Baylor—in Arlington and Austin, respectively.

    Also coming to Austin is BYU, which will give the Longhorns home-field advantage in a game they must win for personal reasons. Depending on how you feel about the Cougars, that means Texas does not have to play a true road game against any of its four toughest opponents.

Hardest (No. 7): Michigan Wolverines

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    Opponents (5): Notre Dame, Rutgers, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State

    Rutgers in New Jersey should be a cakewalk.

    The other four games...well, should probably not.

    Michigan State and Ohio State are Michigan's two biggest rivals and the two best teams in the Big Ten. Both played in a BCS bowl game last season, with Sparty coming out victorious in the Rose Bowl.

    Notre Dame and Northwestern both won double-digit games in 2012 and should be closer to that form than they were last season. The Irish went undefeated in the regular season two years ago and played in the BCS National Championship Game.

    Spartan Stadium in East Lansing and Ryan Field in Evanston are far from intimidating venues. But The Horseshoe in Columbus and newly turfed Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend are among the 10 most iconic and hardest-to-play-in locales in college football.

Easiest (No. 6): Florida State Seminoles

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    Opponents (4): North Carolina State, Syracuse, Louisville, Miami

    Florida State has only four true road games this season.

    The first is a rematch of the game that derailed its season in 2012. Do not expect the Seminoles to get caught sleeping at NC State.

    The second is a long trip north to play Syracuse, and although weird things tend to happen in the Carrier Dome, it does not quite inspire fear.

    The two toughest road opponents are Louisville and Miami. But the former would have posed a much bigger threat to FSU in 2013, and the latter is notorious for having a nonexistent home-field advantage.

    Especially against a team from the state of Florida, that should feel more like a neutral-site game than a true road contest.

Hardest (No. 6): Tennessee Volunteers

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    Opponents (5): Oklahoma, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

    Tennessee gets mad props for scheduling a home-and-home with Oklahoma. We need more series like that in college football.

    Based on the rest of their schedule, though, this wasn't a great year for the Vols to play such a difficult nonconference road game.

    Vanderbilt is due for a step back after losing head coach James Franklin and many of its best players, but Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina all think—and rightfully so—they have a chance to win the conference next season. And UT travels to play all of them.

    With a sixth road game, the Vols would have ranked much higher.

Easiest (No. 5): Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Opponents (5): Pittsburgh, Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois

    This would rank higher if not for the nonconference road game at Pittsburgh. The Panthers are beatable, but scheduling a quality program from a real conference on the road earns respect.

    Still, Iowa lucked out big time with its conference scheduling—mucho big time. In the first year of the newly arranged divisions, it gets its three main competitors in the Big Ten West—Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern—at Kinnick Stadium and travels to play Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois.

    For their one intradivision road game, the Hawkeyes get a semi-tricky (and very losable) game at Maryland. But considering the alternatives—teams such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan—playing the Terps in College Park does not seem so bad.

Hardest (No. 5): Utah Utes

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    Opponents (6): Michigan, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Colorado

    Getting Colorado to end the season is a welcome and much-needed respite. Because those first five road games are brutal.

    Stanford is the two-time reigning Pac-12 champion. Both of the teams it has beaten in the Pac-12 title game these past two seasons—Arizona State and UCLA—are also on the Utes' slate of conference road games, as is a difficult trip to play Oregon State in Corvallis.

    And lest we forget the nonconference trip to Ann Arbor, a game Utah must have thought would be even more difficult when it was booked. Even though Michigan has been a far cry from Michigan these past two seasons, going to The Big House is a tall order for any team.

Easiest (No. 4): Ole Miss Rebels

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    Opponents (4): Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas

    Again, this list is relative to what might have been.

    Many teams in the country do not have a pair of road games as difficult as LSU and Texas A&M, but Ole Miss is lucky to have just them. Not only has it played the Tigers and Aggies well in recent years, but it also gets Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State at home.

    What a group of road trips it has avoided.

    With Vanderbilt poised to take a step back and Arkansas poised to take a step sideways, Ole Miss will likely be the underdog in only two road games this season. Depending on how things shake out in College Station, there's a real chance that number could move to one.

Hardest (No. 4): Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Opponents (6): Washington State, Navy, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State, Maryland

    There is no chance to come up for air on Rutgers' road schedule, which includes six teams that made a bowl in 2013.

    As mentioned in the intro, the Washington State game will be played at CenturyLink Field in Seattle instead of in Pullman, but the cross-country flight and obvious home-field advantage was enough to make it count as a road game. That and a trip to play Navy—which is always a decent side—give Rutgers a difficult nonconference slate.

    And Big Ten play does not get any easier. Man, what an awful introduction to the league. Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska are three of the four betting favorites to win the conference, per Kegs 'n Eggs, and Maryland in College Park should be scrappy.

    Do not expect the Scarlet Knights to go bowling.

Easiest (No. 3): Wisconsin Badgers

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    Opponents (4): Northwestern, Rutgers, Purdue, Iowa

    Do any of those teams scare Wisconsin?

    I don't think so.

    The Badgers would rank higher if not for the context surrounding this schedule. Specifically, Northwestern and Iowa are two of their three main competitors in the Big Ten West; Nebraska is the only member of the presumed top four that will travel to Madison next year.

    That makes this a little trickier than it first appears.

    Still, on top of the (much) easier division, Wisconsin drew Rutgers as its intradivision road game and also gets to play at Purdue.

    Expect (yet) another flirtation with double-digit victories.

Hardest (No. 3): Texas A&M Aggies

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    Opponents (5): South Carolina, SMU, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn

    Toss out SMU and you get a murderers' row of difficult road games.

    Alabama and Auburn are obvious. Both are likely to start next season in (or very near) the top five of the polls and are favorites to reach and win the first College Football Playoff. For reasons that are easy to see, you do not want to play in Tuscaloosa or on The Plains.

    South Carolina finished last year ranked No. 4 in the AP poll and has won 11 games in each of the past three seasons. It has not lost at home since Auburn beat it, 16-13, on the first day of October 2011.

    Mississippi State, meanwhile, is one of the sleeping giants of the college football season. Its name is a punchline in certain snobby SEC circles, but I agree with the sentiment shared by Dan Wolken of USA Today, who tweeted that "the common Twitter fan has no idea how good Mississippi State is going to be this year."

    Another tough road game for the Aggies.

Easiest (No. 2): Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Opponents (4): Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois

    If Penn State remains ineligible to play in a bowl game this season—which is expected but not quite a given—it would be wasting a golden opportunity to post a gaudy record against a painless road schedule.

    Yes, playing Michigan in The Big House will be tough. But think about what PSU avoided. Ohio State and Michigan State both come to Happy Valley next season, and Maryland is better than Indiana and Rutgers.

    In the loaded Big Ten East, drawing the Wolverines, Hoosiers and Scarlet Knights is getting off (remarkably) easy. And on top of that, Penn State drew Illinois—the worst team in the worse division—as its intradivision road game.

    Christian Hackenberg should light most of these teams up.

Hardest (No. 2): Auburn Tigers

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    Road Opponents (5): Kansas State, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama

    Auburn plays five road games in 2014, and not a single one is easy.

    Because they are the reigning SEC champions and Kansas State is a middling team from the lowly Big 12, the Tigers will likely be favored by more than a touchdown in Manhattan to start the season. But make no mistake about it: The Wildcats can win that football game.

    So can the Bulldogs and Rebels when AU takes its pair of road trips to the state of Mississippi. And, of course, Alabama and Georgia—both of which will likely be favored—can take down Gus Malzahn's team.

    Those are two of the toughest road games one could think of.

    To Malzahn's credit, he does not want to take the coward's way out. According to Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News, he spoke in favor of keeping Georgia on his team's annual docket, saying, "That's our rival there, it's very important to our fan base, their fan base and definitely one we'd like to keep playing."

    After what he is tasked with in 2014, no one could blame Malzahn for wanting to abolish the practice of permanent cross-division rivals.

Easiest (No. 1): Oklahoma Sooners

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    Opponents (5): Tulsa, West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State, Texas Tech

    Tulsa went 3-9 last season, and even though it should better in 2014, a road trip to a nearby city does not pose a threat to the Sooners.

    Neither does most (if not all) of their road games in conference play. According to Kegs 'n Eggs, Kansas is the biggest betting long shot to win the Big 12 next season. But Oklahoma's four road opponents—West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech and TCU—are the next four biggest underdogs beyond the Jayhawks.

    Which is to say, none of the Sooners' top four competitors to win the conference will host them in 2014. Texas will get them in the Cotton Bowl, per usual, but Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State will all have to travel to Norman.

    There's a reason OU is such a heavy favorite to win the league.

Hardest (No. 1): Stanford Cardinal

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    Opponents (6): Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, Cal, UCLA

    Stanford has its work cut out for it if it plans on winning a third consecutive Pac-12 title. Its two main challengers in the Pac-12 North, Washington and Oregon, both get to host it in 2014, as do UCLA and Arizona State, the past two champions of the Pac-12 South.

    Woof.

    A road trip to play Notre Dame in South Bend just adds insult to injury. Stanford lost (amid controversy) in Notre Dame Stadium in 2012, and the addition of artificial turf over the traditional grass is actually disadvantageous for the Cardinal, who prefer to play slow.

    Don't bet the house on Stanford to make the College Football Playoff.