Ranking College Football's 10 Hardest Schedules for 2018

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2018

Ranking College Football's 10 Hardest Schedules for 2018

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    Championship teams don't care about their schedules; they beat the opponents in front of them. Still, a difficult slate can be a primary factor in a frustrating year.

    Although coaches and players will rarelyif everpoint to the schedule as a negative, it's a simple fact of the college football season.

    Some benefit. Others don't. And these 10 power programs must be prepared for a relentless slate in 2018.

    Four of the marquee offseason hires will encounter a challenging schedule. They, along with the six remaining coaches, won't make excuses for any missteps, but their road to a championship will be especially daunting.

    Beyond competition level, factors used to shape the list include road games, short weeks and tough matchups in consecutive weeks.

10. Louisville Cardinals

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    Jawon Pass has the privilege of beginning his tenure as Louisville's starting quarterback against Alabama.

    Yeesh.

    Sportsbook 5Dimes lists the Crimson Tide as a 29.5-point favorite. The Cardinals have another playoff qualifier on their slate, as they head to Clemson on the first weekend of November.

    Louisville has five other bowl teams on the docket, including conference foes Florida State and NC State as well as in-state rival Kentucky.

9. Florida State Seminoles

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Have fun in your first year, Willie Taggart.

    Florida State opens the campaign against Virginia Tech on Labor Day. The Seminoles will be favored in the next three games (Samford, Syracuse and Northern Illinois), but then, the road gets treacherous.

    FSU goes on the road to play Louisville and Miami in consecutive weeks, followed by home clashes with Wake Forest and Clemson and journeys to North Carolina State and Notre Dame. After pesky Boston College, the Noles end the regular season against rival Florida.

    The return of quarterback Deondre Francois will boost the team, but Florida State has a road-heavy, demanding schedule.

8. Texas A&M Aggies

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    As a member of the SEC West during the Alabama dynasty, Texas A&M always has a championship contender on its slate. Auburn nearly reached the CFP last season and returns much of its talent. LSU, as inconsistent as it may be, is loaded with talent.

    Let's throw Clemson into the mix, shall we?

    Jimbo Fisher's debut will be a home matchup with FCS school Northwestern State, but the Aggies host the familiar-to-Fisher foe in Week 2. Two weeks later, they travel to Alabama.

    Texas A&M also has a couple of bowl qualifiers (Kentucky and South Carolina) in SEC crossover play, so there's never a favorable two-week stretch in the 2018 schedule.

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    If the Irish return to the national conversation, they'll have earned it. Eight opponents reached a bowl game in 2018.

    Notre Dame will renew its rivalry with Michigan on opening weekend, hosting the Wolverines under the lights. In the last two matchups of September, the Irish journey to Wake Forest and host Stanford.

    They begin October at Virginia Tech and close the month with a neutral-site meeting opposite Navy, which has forced Notre Dame into two straight one-possession games (one of which Navy won). Northwestern, Florida State and USC await the Irish during the final month.

    Brian Kelly's club has no margin for error.

6. UCLA Bruins

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    Chip Kelly will be instituting a new offensive system at UCLA, and there's hardly a better way to test his players.

    Following the season opener against Cincinnati, the Bruins travel to 2017 CFP qualifier Oklahoma. They host Mountain West runner-up Fresno State the next week and then head to Colorado for a Friday night Pac-12 tilt. That's just the appetizer.

    UCLA's cross-division matchups are the top competition possible. Washington, (at) Oregon and Stanford are scattered throughout the slate, which includes the yearly matchup with rival USC on Nov. 17.

    The bright side is three of the Bruins' toughest contests are at home, but that won't be much of a consolation if they finish 7-5 or 6-6.

5. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Every year, Georgia Tech plays Clemson and Georgia. Sometimes, you have to laugh through the pain, right?

    That alone gives the Yellow Jackets an arduous schedule, but they reside in the same division as Miami and Virginia Tech. Both are expected to be top-15 teams next season.

    Georgia Tech also has a crossover game with Louisville, heading there for a Friday night battle on a short week. A nonconference meeting with USF and former coach Charlie Strong won't be easy, either.

    Bowl eligibility would be a decent accomplishment for the Jackets.

4. LSU Tigers

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    LSU hasn't defeated Alabama since 2011.

    Until that streak ends, the Tigers likely won't compete for SEC or national championships anyway. But that rivalry showdown is just one of several marquee dates on the 2018 calendar.

    Ed Orgeron's squad opens the campaign against Miami on a neutral field, and LSU travels to Auburn two weeks later. Then, the Tigers head to Florida and host Georgia in to begin October, and Mississippi State the Saturday after UGA shouldn't be overlooked.

    If LSUwhich will have a new quarterbacksomehow survives that two-month stretch, a date with Alabama looms on Nov. 3. Orgeron's seat could start heating up this season.

3. Michigan Wolverines

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    No, he probably doesn't care much. But a couple of marquee victories would help Jim Harbaugh shake some of the critics.

    Through three years, he's a combined 1-5 against Michigan State and Ohio State. The Wolverines travel to their in-state rival Oct. 20 and make the season-ending jaunt to Columbus on Nov. 24.

    Michigan also heads to Notre Dame and Northwesterna pair of 10-win schools in 2017and hosts Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin and reigning Fiesta Bowl champions Penn State. Not including the Wolverines, five of the 20 teams with the best championships odds, per OddsShark, are on the slate.

    Harbaugh could either silence a large collection of doubters or provide a second season to heavily criticize.

2. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The rebuilding Rutgers program isn't getting any assistance from the schedule wizard this season.

    While the nonconference slate is manageable, the Big Ten schedule is miserable. It begins early with a Week 2 journey to Ohio State, which has 58-0 and 56-0 victories in the last two meetings.

    For their sake, hopefully the Scarlet Knights can snatch some victories over the next five outingsKansas, Buffalo, Indiana, Illinois and Marylandbecause those are perhaps the final realistic chances.

    Over the final six regular-season weeks, Rutgers takes on Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Those teams combined for a 52-14 record in 2017.

1. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Nebraska could hardly face a tougher Big Ten schedule.

    Seriously, this slate is brutal with a capital "BRUTAL." The Cornhuskers will travel to Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa next season, only hosting Michigan State. They basically only miss Penn State in conference action.

    Additionally, the classic matchup with Colorado resumes in 2018, and a date with Troy—which sprung an upset on LSU last year—deserves the Cornhuskers' respect.

    Scott Frost did amazing work at UCF, but the head coach's first season at his alma mater may be doomed from the start.

         

    Stats from NCAA.comcfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.