College Football Predictions: Power Ranking the 25 Toughest Schedules for 2011

Stix Symmonds@@stixsymmondsCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2011

College Football Predictions: Power Ranking the 25 Toughest Schedules for 2011

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    The road to glory is never easy, nor should it be.  It's full of traps, pitfalls and challenges.  To succeed takes hard work, focus, raw talent and a little luck.  A favorable schedule doesn't hurt, either.

    Under the BCS system, strength-of-schedule counts for a lot more than one might think.  A tough schedule can make the difference between playing for a national championship or playing pre-New Year's Day. 

    So, who has the toughest road to glory in 2011? 

    To figure that out, you've got to figure out who is going to be tough next year.  That means you've got to do a little speculating, but that speculation can be solidly based on past performance and tradition.

    Here at Bleacher Report, we're going to Power Rank the top 25 toughest roads to glory for 2011.  To do that, we're going to look at the number of opponents each of these teams have that were ranked at the end of the 2010 regular season, make a little prediction regarding who will be tough next year, factor in road matches versus home matches, and put it all together.

    Here are our power rankings for the 25 Toughest Schedules of 2011.

25. Nebraska

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Chattanooga

    9/10/11 Fresno State

    9/17/11 Washington

    9/24/11 at Wyoming

    10/1/11 at Wisconsin

    10/8/11 Ohio State

    10/15/11 OPEN DATE

    10/22/11 at Minnesota

    10/29/11 Michigan State

    11/5/11 Northwestern

    11/12/11 at Penn State

    11/19/11 at Michigan

    11/26/11 Iowa

    In a Nutshell:

    The early going should be a breeze.  The rematch with Washington could be interesting given the outcome of their bowl game, but the rest are pretty well a walk.

    The Big Ten schedule kicks off with a bang, though.  The last stretch could be tougher than you think, too.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Welcome to the Big Ten!  As your reward, Nebraska, you get to face two of the three co-champions in back-to-back weeks.  You're welcome.

    The Cornhuskers get to find out pretty quickly where they stand in the Big Ten pecking order.  The road match against Wisconsin should be tough, but they get to back it up at home against the Buckeyes.

    An open date and road trip to Minnesota should give them a break, but then they play host to the third co-champion, Michigan State.

    Northwestern is one of those tricky teams that are generally tougher than they look and could turn up to bite the Huskers the way Iowa State has done in the past. 

    Traveling to Happy Valley to face the Nittany Lions isn't a gimme, Michigan in the Big House should be taken seriously, and Iowa can't be taken lightly either.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 3

    Toughest Game: 10/01/11 at Wisconsin, because it's on the road.  Ohio State the next week is right up there, though.

    Potential Trap Game: 11/05/11 vs. Northwestern (just before heading to Penn State)

24. Michigan State Spartans

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Youngstown State

    9/10/11 Florida Atlantic

    9/17/11 at Notre Dame

    9/24/11 Central Michigan

    10/1/11 at Ohio State

    10/8/11 OPEN DATE

    10/15/11 Michigan

    10/22/11 Wisconsin

    10/29/11 at Nebraska

    11/5/11 Minnesota

    11/12/11 at Iowa

    11/19/11 Indiana

    11/26/11 at Northwestern

    In a Nutshell:

    There could be tougher schedules than this one, and there are.  However, don't think this is a walk in the park for anyone.  Certainly, Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern aren't likely to raise too many eyebrows.

    The out-of-conference schedule is pretty much a joke.  Notre Dame is a question mark that shouldn't be taken lightly, but the others should be automatic W's for a team that finished 2010 with an 11-2 record.  However...

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Could October get much tougher?  It starts with opening of the Big Ten schedule on the road in the Horseshoe.  The Spartans didn't get the chance to prove whether or not they were better than the Buckeyes last year.  This year they have to do it early in the season and away from friendly confines.

    They do get an open date after the showdown with Ohio State, but then come right back against Michigan.  It really doesn't matter how far the Wolverines have fallen from their former glory, this in-state rivalry is always fierce and should be no different this year.

    After Michigan, the Spartans come back home to take on the Badgers, who return the bulk of that talented rush attack that took them to the Rose Bowl last season. 

    As if that wasn't enough, the Spartans next go on the road to face newcomer Nebraska.  The Cornhuskers will be anxious to prove they're capable of going toe-to-toe with the best in their new conference, and Michigan State fits that bill until proven otherwise.

    November lightens up considerably, but still has a pitfall or two. 

    Minnesota is in disarray, but after taking on the Golden Gophers, Michigan State goes back on the road to face the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.  Iowa rarely loses on their home turf and obliterated the Spartans last year. 

    Northwestern also shouldn't be taken lightly.  While the Spartans should have more talent than the Wildcats, Pat Fitzgerald does wonders with his team, it's a road game for the Spartans and it's a potential trap game to end the season.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Opponents: 3

    Toughest Game on the Schedule: 10/1/11 at Ohio State

    Trap Games? at Notre Dame, vs. Michigan, at Iowa and at Northwestern

23. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Akron

    9/10/11 Toledo

    9/17/11 at Miami(FL)

    9/24/11 Colorado

    10/1/11 Michigan State

    10/8/11 at Nebraska

    10/15/11 at Illinois

    10/22/11 OPEN DATE

    10/29/11 Wisconsin

    11/5/11 Indiana

    11/12/11 at Purdue

    11/19/11 Penn State

    11/26/11 at Michigan

    In a Nutshell:

    Hey, at least there isn't a single FCS opponent on this list.  Akron and Toledo may not get the blood pumping, but it's better than scheduling the likes of Austin Peay isn't it? 

    The out-of-conference portion of their schedule may not be the toughest on record, but it's not all that bad.  Miami should be a decent opponent and Colorado at least comes from a BCS AQ conference.

    The Big Ten schedule is about as tough as it can get, even if "the game" isn't what it used to be.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Much like Michigan State, Ohio State should make it through their out-of-conference schedule unscathed.  Miami could potentially give them problems, but they didn't last year. 

    Also like Michigan State, October will make or break the Buckeyes' season.

    It starts with a visit from Michigan State.  The bowl season showed the Buckeyes to be the better team, but Michigan State had reason during the 2010 regular season to argue that point.  After all, they did beat Wisconsin, who in turn beat Ohio State.  Now they get their chance to prove it on the field.

    After facing the Spartans, Ohio State gets to go on the road to take on the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.  Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska! 

    Illinois probably shouldn't be too much of a problem, but they were only a little more offense away from being a pretty good team.  If the Illini get things together this year, they could at least push the Buckeyes a little.

    After hosting Illinois, the Buckeyes get to take a breather while the rest of the conference plays, then come back to face Wisconsin, closing out October with arguably their toughest competition on the whole schedule.

    November should be much easier, but Penn State shouldn't be taken lightly and we've yet to see what Brady Hoke and his crew can do with Rich Rodriguez's squad.  Neither should be an absolute guarantee just yet.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Opponents: 3

    Toughest Game on the Schedule: 1/8/11 at Nebraska.  Wisconsin may or may not be the better overall team, but this one is on the road against a very tough opponent while Wisconsin gets to come to Columbus.

    Potential Trap Game(s): Colorado (between Miami and Michigan State), at Illinois (between Nebraska and Wisconsin), vs Penn State (before Michigan).

22. Oklahoma State

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Louisiana-Lafayette

    9/10/11 Arizona

    9/17/11 at Tulsa

    9/24/11 at Texas A&M

    10/1/11 OPEN DATE

    10/8/11 Kansas

    10/15/11 at Texas

    10/22/11 at Missouri

    10/29/11 Baylor

    11/5/11 Kansas State

    11/12/11 at Texas Tech

    11/19/11 at Iowa State

    11/26/11 Oklahoma

    In a Nutshell:

    Again, this one is sprinkled from top-to-bottom with tough opponents.  OK State will barely be able to catch their breath from one tough game before diving into another.  Luckily, there are teams like ULL and Iowa State to help break things up a little...

    Why They're Here On the List:

    An argument could easily be made that this team deserves a higher ranking on the list.  Louisiana-Lafayette may not really excite too many people, but Arizona shouldn't be taken too lightly.  The Wildcats underperformed a year ago and Mike Stoops' troops are someone to take seriously.

    Tulsa shouldn't give the Cowboys too much trouble, but Texas A&M ended the 2010 regular season at number 17 in the BCS standings.

    An open date may help lead into their 10/8/11 showdown with Kansas.

    Texas is another one that's a real question mark.  Typically, that would be a huge showdown and should be considered in that light again.  Until there's more proof that last year was more than just a fluke, they have to be viewed as the power-house they've been for so long. 

    They follow that game with another tough road battle at Missouri, then come back home to take on Baylor who played much better than expected in 2010.  They can't be overlooked either.

    After a winnable contest against Kansas, Texas Tech is waiting in the wings.  A road trip to Iowa State could be more tricky than expected, but is still very winnable. 

    Oklahoma to close the season however, is about as tough as it gets. 

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 3

    Toughest Game: 11/26/11 vs Oklahoma

    Potential Trap Game(s): at Iowa State (looking ahead to Oklahoma)

21. USC Trojans

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Minnesota

    9/10/11 Utah

    9/17/11 Syracuse

    9/24/11 at Arizona State

    10/1/11 Arizona

    10/8/11 OPEN DATE

    10/13/11 at California

    10/22/11 at Notre Dame

    10/29/11 Stanford

    11/5/11 at Colorado

    11/12/11 Washington

    11/19/11 at Oregon

    11/26/11 UCLA

    In a Nutshell:

    Well this one isn't killer and it could very easily be argued that they are power ranked way too high.  Oregon and Stanford aside, is the Pac-12 really that tough?  Is there anyone other than those two that get the blood pumping?

    Right away, there are props for the lack of FCS or mid-major opponents on this schedule.  Don't forget, Utah is no longer a mid-major.  They're a part of the newly expanded conference now.  This schedule doesn't have a single game on it that screams "cupcake".

    Why They're Here On the List:

    As already mentioned, the Trojans have opted not to take on any real cupcakes.  However weak some of these opponents may appear on paper, they're all at least FBS teams.

    To put it as honestly as possible, this ranking is based almost entirely on three games: vs. Utah, vs. Stanford and at Oregon.

    That's not to say that the matches at Arizona State, vs. Arizona, at California and at Notre Dame should all be considered walks.  Remember, the Trojans ended 2010 at 8-5.  They didn't exactly set the world on fire. 

    Stanford may have lost Jim Harbaugh, but they're keeping a bunch of talent.  Oregon should be tough again and the Trojans have to go on the road for that one.  Utah may or may have not been a little overrated last season, but we won't really know until we see how they fare in the Pac-12.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 3

    Toughest Game: 11/19/11 at Oregon.  Stanford could fit in here as well, but going on the road is always tougher than playing at home.

    Potential Trap Games: vs Washington (before trip to Oregon; hey, the Huskies did find a way to beat Nebraska in their bowl game)

20. Georgia Bulldogs

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Boise State

    9/10/11 South Carolina

    9/17/11 Coastal Carolina

    9/24/11 at Ole Miss

    10/1/11 Mississippi State

    10/8/11 at Tennessee

    10/15/11 at Vanderbilt

    10/22/11 OPEN DATE

    10/29/11 Florida

    11/5/11 New Mexico State

    11/12/11 Auburn

    11/19/11 Kentucky

    11/26/11 at Georgia Tech

    In a Nutshell:

    This one starts off with a bang and has several potential rough spots sprinkled throughout.  It ends a little rough as well.

    Coastal Carolina seems a little out of place on this schedule, but there's a reason for everything.

    Why They're On the List:

    Say what you want about Boise State and their deserves in the national title discussion.  They're a tough team who has beaten some pretty decent competition over the last few years, including Virginia Tech to kick off last season. 

    The Broncos may not be quite in the same league as Auburn or Alabama, but they're no pushover, either.

    The Bulldogs turn right around and host South Carolina, who they fell to 17-6 last year.

    The Bulldogs get a little bit of a break with Coastal Carolina, then they have to go on the road against Ole Miss.  The Rebels could be a tougher-than-expected challenge if the Bulldogs are looking ahead.

    And "ahead" would be a home date with Mississippi State, who the Bulldogs also lost to last year (12-24).

    Things do lighten up considerably with road dates at Tennessee and Vanderbilt, followed by an open date. 

    The big question mark is Florida.  Will they return to the Florida of old or was 2010's 8-5 season a preview of things to come?  With the kinds of recruiting classes Florida has routinely pulled down, it's realistic to think that they'll be back in their old form fairly quickly.

    After the Gators is a home date against New Mexico State, then the Bulldogs get to face the defending national champions, Auburn, at home.  They follow up that date with against a very tricky Kentucky team that surprised a few people last year.

    Finally is the road date against in-state rival Georgia Tech.  We all know how in-state rivalries go...

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Game: 11/12/11 vs Auburn, or will it be 10/29/11 vs Florida?  Or how about 11/26/11 at Georgia Tech? 

    Potential Trap Games: at Ole Miss (looking ahead to Mississippi State), 11/19/11 vs Kentucky (between Auburn and Georgia Tech)

19. Penn State

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Indiana State

    9/10/11 Alabama

    9/17/11 at Temple

    9/24/11 Eastern Michigan

    10/1/11 at Indiana

    10/8/11 Iowa

    10/15/11 Purdue

    10/22/11 at Northwestern

    10/29/11 Illinois

    11/5/11 OPEN DATE

    11/12/11 Nebraska

    11/19/11 at Ohio State

    11/26/11 at Wisconsin

    In a Nutshell:

    Other than Alabama, the beginning and middle of this schedule is pretty soft.  The end is as tough as you can get in the Big Ten, though.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    The home-and-home deal with Alabama didn't work out too well for the Nittany Lions in Tuscaloosa last year.  Will it be any better in Happy Valley?  It's always tough taking on the Crimson Tide.

    The rest of September and the first week of October are pretty simple.  However, Iowa comes to town on 10/8/11.  The Hawkeyes have had Joe Paterno's number the last decade and shouldn't fall too far off (if at all) again this year.

    The rest of October isn't all that bad, though going on the road to Northwestern might not be so easy.

    The open date not showing up until November is a bad deal.  Sure, it's great to get a breather before the toughest stretch of the season, but by that time injuries and fatigue could be a real problem.  Their season could be falling apart by then and one week might not be enough to fix it.

    The last three weeks are nearly a nightmare.  The Lions get Nebraska at home, but have to go on the road to face both the Buckeyes and the Badgers. 

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Game: 11/19/11 at Ohio State, or 11/26/11 at Wisconsin, or 11/12/11 vs. Nebraska

    Potential Trap Game(s): none.  The off-week should keep Illinois from being a trap game and there's very little threat prior to any other "big game".

18. Indiana

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 at Ball State

    9/10/11 Virginia

    9/17/11 SC State

    9/24/11 at North Texas

    10/1/11 Penn State

    10/8/11 Illinois

    10/15/11 at Wisconsin

    10/22/11 at Iowa

    10/29/11 Northwestern

    11/5/11 at Ohio State

    11/12/11 OPEN DATE

    11/19/11 at Michigan State

    11/26/11 Purdue

    In a Nutshell:

    Keep in mind that this is power ranking the schedules, not the teams playing them. 

    Having said that, if it weren't for the road dates, the Hoosiers wouldn't be on this list at all.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Opening with Ball State isn't all that exciting, but kudos to the Hoosiers for binging Virginia into the mix.  No, it's not the same as scheduling Alabama, like Penn State did, but at least they're a team with a pulse.  It helps make up for SC State and North Texas...a little.

    Penn State may not be ranked, but if not, they should be pretty close.  Illinois is respectable and getting better.

    Then things start to get really difficult.  The Hoosiers go on the road to face Wisconsin, then stay on the road to face Iowa. 

    Northwestern is no cakewalk, but then the Hoosiers go back on the road to face Ohio State.  Finally, they'll get an open date to catch their breath.

    When they come back, the first team on the docket is another road trip to Michigan State.

    Closing out to Purdue may not be much of a relief after the beating they'll likely take getting to that point.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 3

    Toughest Game: 11/5/11 at Ohio State

    Potential Trap Game(s):  Any of them, minus SC State and/or North Texas.

17. Texas A&M

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 SMU

    9/10/11 OPEN DATE

    9/17/11 Idaho

    9/24/11 Oklahoma State

    10/1/11 Arkansas

    10/8/11 at Texas Tech

    10/15/11 Baylor

    10/22/11 at Iowa State

    10/29/11 Missouri

    11/5/11 at Oklahoma

    11/12/11 at Kansas State

    11/19/11 Kansas

    11/26/11 Texas

    In a Nutshell:

    From late-September through early-November, this is a fairly difficult schedule.  The rest is...there.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    After a soft start that includes a very early open date, the Aggies get Oklahoma State followed by Arkansas.  The next week at Texas Tech isn't exactly a cake-walk and neither is Baylor.

    Traveling to Iowa State looks pretty simple (and it might be), but the Cyclones have found ways the last couple of years to pull out at least one big upset.  You can't completely count them out.

    Then Missouri comes to town followed by a road trip to Oklahoma.

    The last three games of the season could be really easy.  Then again, Texas to end the season could be brutal.  With the week off coming in only the second week of the season, the Aggies could very well be completely worn out by the time they take on the Longhorns. 

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Opponent: 11/5/11 at Oklahoma

    Potential Trap Game(s): 10/22/11 at Iowa State (before hosting Missouri)

16. Iowa State

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Northern Iowa

    9/10/11 Iowa

    9/17/11 at Connecticut

    9/24/11 OPEN DATE

    10/1/11 Texas

    10/8/11 at Baylor

    10/15/11 at Missouri

    10/22/11 Texas A&M

    10/29/11 at Texas Tech

    11/5/11 Kansas

    11/12/11 at Oklahoma

    11/19/11 Oklahoma State

    11/26/11 at Kansas State

    In a Nutshell:

    Again, remember that this is about the schedules.

    The opening salvo against Northern Iowa shouldn't be taken as lightly as it appears on paper.  The rivalry with the Hawkeyes is always a good one.  Heading on the road to Connecticut is pretty tough too.

    In fact, the entire half of the schedule is just mediocre.  The last half though, is where the Cyclones' strength-of-schedule will really kick in.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    The last seven games of the season are why they're here.  Over that stretch, the Cyclones play four teams that were ranked in 2010.  What's more, they have to go on the road to take on Oklahoma.  To be honest, for a team like Iowa State, that's not really much worse than taking on Oklahoma STate and Texas A&M at home.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Game: 11/12/11 at Oklahoma

    Potential Trap Games: at Texas Tech or vs. Kansas.  Those two sit between Texas A&M and the road trip to Oklahoma.

15. Florida

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Florida Atlantic

    9/10/11 UAB

    9/17/11 Tennessee

    9/24/11 at Kentucky

    10/1/11 Alabama

    10/8/11 at LSU

    10/15/11 at Auburn

    10/22/11 OPEN DATE

    10/29/11 Georgia

    11/5/11 Vanderbilt

    11/12/11 at South Carolina

    11/19/11 Furman

    11/26/11 Florida State

    In a Nutshell:

    The opening may be "meh", but October is brutal.  November isn't exactly a walk in the park either.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Florida Atlantic, UAB and Tennessee made me yawn.  Going on the road to Kentucky could be interesting, though it wasn't last year. 

    Then things get really, really interesting.

    In three consecutive weeks, the Gators get to play the last two national champions and former-champion LSU.  What's more, LSU and Auburn are both road tests.  It helps getting Alabama at home, but does it really help that much?

    They follow that jaunt with a home date against Georgia, who could be much better than last year.  Vanderbilt shouldn't offer much trouble, but going back on the road to face South Carolina could be awfully tough. 

    Furman has no business on the schedule of a team like Florida, but finishing the season against Florida State is always exciting.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5

    Toughest Game: take your pick between Alabama at home, Auburn on the road or LSU on the road. 

    Potential Trap Game(s): at Kentucky (looking ahead to Alabama)

14. Kansas State

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Eastern Kentucky

    9/10/11 OPEN DATE

    9/17/11 Kent State

    9/24/11 at Miami (FL)

    10/1/11 Baylor

    10/8/11 Missouri

    10/15/11 at Texas Tech

    10/22/11 at Kansas

    10/29/11 Oklahoma

    11/5/11 at Oklahoma State

    11/12/11 Texas A&M

    11/19/11 at Texas

    11/26/11 Iowa State

    In a Nutshell:

    The Big 12 may not quite get the respect it deserves for the quality of talent its bringing to the table right now.  That alone helps Kansas more than it would in a few other conferences. 

    Why They're Here On the List:

    The first three weeks may be pretty easy-peasy, but after that, it's no picnic.

    Kansas State hits the road to take on Miami (FL), then comes home to take on Baylor.  Those are both tough enough, but...

    Four of the next six games are against teams that were ranked in 2010.  If Texas returns to their former, winning ways, then it'll be five of the last seven games. 

    Ending against Iowa State isn't a big deal on the bigger picture, but by then, the damage will have been done.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Game: 11/5/11 at Oklahoma State, or 10/29/11 vs. Oklahoma

    Potential Trap Games: 10/22/1 at Kansas (leading into Oklahoma)

13. Alabama

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Kent State

    9/10/11 at Penn State

    9/17/11 North Texas

    9/24/11 Arkansas

    10/1/11 at Florida

    10/8/11 Vanderbilt

    10/15/11 at Ole Miss

    10/22/11 Tennessee

    10/29/11 OPEN DATE

    11/5/11 LSU

    11/12/11 at Mississippi State

    11/19/11 Georgia Southern

    11/26/11 at Auburn

    In a Nutshell:

    This isn't the strongest schedule in the SEC, but it has plenty of pop.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Going on the road to Happy Valley doesn't quite have the appeal it did a year ago.  Still, it has the potential to be a pretty exciting game and may look a whole lot better by the time the dust settles next year.

    Starting October at Florida has a lot of potential as well.

    October is a bust, but November is one game away from being a gauntlet.  The Tide have LSU at home on November 5th, then go on the road at Mississippi State.

    For some reason, Georgia Southern is tossed in here.  I get why...I just don't like it.

    The real kicker is going on the road to play Auburn for the last game of the season.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5

    Toughest Game: potentially 11/5/11 vs. LSU

    Potential Trap Game: none.  There are no teams in position to set the trap.

12. Texas

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Rice

    9/10/11 BYU

    9/17/11 at UCLA

    9/24/11 OPEN DATE

    10/1/11 at Iowa State

    10/8/11 Oklahoma

    10/15/11 Oklahoma State

    10/22/11 at Baylor

    10/29/11 Kansas

    11/5/11 Texas Tech

    11/12/11 at Missouri

    11/19/11 Kansas State

    11/24/11 at Texas A&M

    In a Nutshell:

    This schedule is full of traps and bad timing.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    September may be pretty easy.  Traveling to Iowa State tips off a series of very dangerous games.

    After the Cyclones, Texas hosts Oklahoma, then follows that up by hosting Oklahoma State.  They won't have time to lick their wounds before heading on the road to face a dangerous Baylor team.

    Kansas might be a break, but Texas Tech should play the Longhorns tough, then Texas has to go on the road to face Missouri.

    Kansas State might be another break, but the Longhorns end the season on the road against Texas A&M.

    Texas could start the season looking white hot, but end up looking a lot like they did in 2010.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Game: 10/8/11 vs. Oklahoma

    Potential Trap Game: 10/1/11 at Iowa State (just before Oklahoma), Texas Tech (just before Missouri)

11. Oregon State

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Sacramento State

    9/10/11 at Wisconsin

    9/17/11 OPEN DATE

    9/24/11 UCLA

    10/1/11 at Arizona State

    10/8/11 Arizona

    10/15/11 BYU

    10/22/11 at Washington State

    10/29/11 at Utah

    11/5/11 Stanford

    11/12/11 at California

    11/19/11 Washington

    11/26/11 at Oregon

    In a Nutshell:

    They don't get a lot of time to get their act together before things get tough, but overall, the schedule is manageable.  So, why so high?

    Why They're Here On the List:

    It's a boost that the Beavers take on Wisconsin so early in the season, and on the road to boot. Things lighten up, getting the break and then getting UCLA at home.  The Arizona teams back-to-back isn't too bad, but could be a potential tripping point if they're not careful.

    BYU and the road trip to Washington State don't concern me in the slightest.  However, going on the road to Utah could be interesting.

    Two of their last four games are against Stanford and on the road at Oregon.  Having a road trip to Cal tucked between those two (along with a home date against Washington) just adds a potential trap game or two.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Game: 11/26/11 at Oregon

    Potential Trap Game(s): 11/19/11 vs. Washington (just before road trip to Oregon)

10. Oklahoma

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Tulsa

    9/10/11  OPEN DATE

    9/17/11 at Florida State

    9/24/11 Missouri

    10/1/11 Ball State

    10/8/11 Texas

    10/15/11 at Kansas

    10/22/11 Texas Tech

    10/29/11 at Kansas State

    11/5/11 Texas A&M

    11/12/11 Iowa State

    11/19/11 at Baylor

    11/26/11 at Oklahoma State

    In a Nutshell:

    This may not look like much, but don't be fooled by the spread of the schedule and the potential for this to be a pretty tough schedule.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Florida State, Missouri, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State all ended the 2010 regular season in the top 25 BCS standings.  FSU and Oklahoma State are road games for the Sooners and they get the Seminoles and Missouri Tigers on back-to-back dates.

    Getting Texas at home is a plus, but going on the road to take on Baylor just before the showdown with the Cowboys may not be.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 4

    Toughest Game: toss-up.  Could be Texas, could be A&M, could be Florida State or could be OK State. 

    Potential Trap Game: 11/19/11 at Baylor (just before OK St road trip)

9. Baylor

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 TCU

    9/10/11 OPEN DATE

    9/17/11 Stephen F. Austin

    9/24/11 Rice

    10/1/11 at Kansas State

    10/8/11 Iowa State

    10/15/11 at Texas A&M

    10/22/11 Texas

    10/29/11 at Oklahoma State

    11/5/11 Missouri

    11/12/11 at Kansas

    11/19/11 Oklahoma

    11/26/11 Texas Tech

    In a Nutshell:

    There are some very winnable games here, but mid-October to the end of the season could be a nightmare.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    As with Boise State, you can say what you want about TCU, but they've beaten some pretty solid teams over the last few years and will come into 2011 as the reigning Rose Bowl Champions.  Right out of the gates, the Bears are facing a formidable opponent.

    The rest of September and the first half of October are nothing to get excited about. 

    However, the Bears kick of their "real season" on the road against Texas A&M on 10/15/11.  They come back home to face the Longhorns and then go right back on the road to take on Oklahoma State.

    If they're still breathing after that round, they come back home to start November against Missouri.  A trip to Kansas may seem like a relative day off by comparison.

    They end the season with home dates against Oklahoma and Texas Tech and can finally go hibernate to heal their wounds. 

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5 (and that doesn't count Texas)

    Toughest Game: 11/19/11 vs. Oklahoma

    Potential Trap Game: 10/8/11 vs. Iowa State (just before "murderers row" that kicks off at Texas A&M on October 15th)

8. Ole Miss

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 BYU

    9/10/11 Southern Illinois

    9/17/11 at Vanderbilt

    9/24/11 Georgia

    10/1/11 at Fresno State

    10/8/11 OPEN DATE

    10/15/11 Alabama

    10/22/11 Arkansas

    10/29/11 at Auburn

    11/5/11 at Kentucky

    11/12/11 Louisiana Tech

    11/19/11 LSU

    11/26/11 at Mississippi State

    In a Nutshell:

    If they can fix even a couple of the woes that plagued the Rebels in 2010, they should come out of September looking pretty darn good.  Georgia should be a challenge but none of the rest are anything to get in tizzy over.

    The real challenges start after the open date on October 8th. 

    The Rebels take on three consecutive teams that were ranked in 2010, starting with the Crimson Tide, followed by Arkansas.  Then they have to go on the road to take on the defending National Champions.

    At Kentucky could be interesting, but Louisiana Tech should be a welcome break. 

    They end the season with two more teams that were ranked last season with a home date against LSU and a road date against in-state rival Mississippi State.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    The tough games on this schedule all come in clumps.  There's a real possibility of getting a false sense of security coming through September.  Then it could be like stepping into a completely different season.

    Getting Alabama and Arkansas at home helps, but how much?  Going on the road to take on Auburn is rough.

    Kentucky could be just good enough to trip them up if they decide to take a breather following that rough stretch. 

    LSU is always tough and getting them at home is a plus, but going on the "road" to play Mississippi State is a tough way to end the year.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5

    Toughest Game: 10/15/11 vs. Alabama

    Potential Trap Game: 11/15/11 at Kentucky (following three tough games, the last being on the road at Auburn)

7. Auburn

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Utah State

    9/10/11 Mississippi State

    9/17/11 at Clemson

    9/24/11 Florida Atlantic

    10/1/11 at South Carolina

    10/8/11 at Arkansas

    10/15/11 Florida

    10/22/11 at LSU

    10/29/11 Ole Miss

    11/5/11 OPEN DATE

    11/12/11 at Georgia

    11/19/11 Samford

    11/26/11 Alabama

    In a Nutshell:

    The "cake-walks" are sprinkled sparingly between the real threats.  There could be an argument that this schedule deserves to be higher...or lower.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    In just the second week, the Tigers are taking on a 2010 ranked team in Mississippi State.  Clemson may not look like a lot on paper, but remember that they came to Auburn a year ago and left as only three-point losers.  This time, Auburn goes into their house without some key components to their national title team.

    October is one big mine field.  It starts on the road against the Gamecocks, stays on the road against the Razorbacks, comes home against the Gators, then heads right back on the road against Les Miles and the Bayou Bengals. 

    The open date on November 5th likely won't come fast enough for Auburn. 

    The game at Georgia could be tough if the Bulldogs play up to their potential.  Samford is a joke and has no business being on the schedule, but I'm sure Auburn will welcome a nice lazy afternoon in mid-November.

    The season ends with a home date against Alabama to remind them what conference they're playing in.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5

    Toughest Game: 10/22/11 at LSU (ending a tough four-game stretch)

    Potential Trap Games: none.

6. Texas Tech

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Texas State

    9/10/11 OPEN DATE

    9/17/11 at New Mexico

    9/24/11 Nevada

    10/1/11 at Kansas

    10/8/11 Texas A&M

    10/15/11 Kansas State

    10/22/11 at Oklahoma

    10/29/11 Iowa State

    11/5/11 at Texas

    11/12/11 Oklahoma State

    11/19/11 at Missouri

    11/26/11 at Baylor

    In a Nutshell:

    It's all about the numbers here.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    The first three weeks of the season are just warm-ups.  Nevada on 9/24/11 is a heck of a way to open up the "rest of the season". 

    Two weeks later on 10/8/11 the Red Raiders play host to Texas A&M.  Kansas State slows things down just a little before heading to Norman to take on the Sooners.  Iowa State slips in there between Oklahoma and a road trip to Texas.

    The next two are against ranked teams from last season with Oklahoma State in friendly confines and Missouri on the road.

    Going to Baylor to end the season could be tricky.

    From September 24th to the very end, it's a roller coaster of on-and-off matches against really tough opponents and not so tough.  There are a couple of trap games tossed in to make every week count.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5

    Toughest Game: 10/22/11 at Oklahoma

    Potential Trap Game(s): 10/15/11 vs. Kansas State (between Texas A&M and road trip to Oklahoma) and 10/29/11 vs. Iowa State (between road trips to Oklahoma and Texas)

5. Mississippi State

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 at Memphis

    9/10/11 at Auburn

    9/15/11 LSU

    9/24/11 Louisiana Tech

    10/1/11 at Georgia

    10/8/11 at UAB

    10/15/11 South Carolina

    10/22/11 OPEN DATE

    10/29/11 at Kentucky

    11/5/11 UT Martin

    11/12/11 Alabama

    11/19/11 at Arkansas

    11/26/11 Ole Miss

    In a Nutshell:

    The beginning and end of the season put this schedule on the map.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Memphis may be about as easy as they come, but to follow that up with a road trip to Auburn?  Ouch.  What makes it even tougher is coming back home to take on LSU.  Before the first month is even over, Mississippi State will have played two of the toughest teams in the SEC.

    Things lighten up considerably with Louisiana Tech and UAB, but traveling to Georgia between the two will keep the Bulldogs honest.

    South Carolina before the open date is another big strength boost.  Coming back from the break, things look pretty simple with a road trip to Kentucky and a home date with UT Martin.

    After that however, the Crimson Tide come to town, then the Bulldogs have to go on the road to face the Razorbacks before ending at home against Ole Miss.

    The beginning of the schedule is murderous and the end ('Bama and Arkansas) isn't a whole lot better.  South Carolina sits right in the middle and there are a couple of potential threats scattered here and there.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5

    Toughest Game: 11/12/11 vs. Alabama

    Potential Trap Game: none.

4. Colorado

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 at Hawaii

    9/10/11 OPEN DATE

    9/17/11 Colorado State

    9/24/11 at Ohio State

    10/1/11 Washington State

    10/8/11 at Stanford

    10/15/11 at Washington

    10/22/11 Oregon

    10/29/11 at Arizona State

    11/5/11 USC

    11/12/11 Arizona

    11/19/11 at UCLA

    11/26/11 at Utah

    In a Nutshell:

    The Buffalo will be extremely lucky to get out of September undefeated and October only gets worse.  November is arguably the softest portion of the entire year.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    It all starts with a road trip to Hawaii to take on the Warriors on their own island.  After an open date, they get in-state rival Colorado State as the final "warm-up" before heading east to play Ohio State in Columbus.

    Washington State may be a layup, but they're a layup that leads right into a home match with Oregon. 

    The end of October into November is okay.  USC could be a real hurdle, but we won't know for several months yet just how much of one they'll be.  At UCLA doesn't do much for me, but ending at Utah could be easier.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 5

    Toughest Game: 10/8/11 at Stanford

    Potential Trap Game: 10/15/11 at Washington (sandwiched between a road trip to Stanford and home date against Oregon)

3. Washington

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Eastern Washington

    9/10/11 Hawaii

    9/17/11 at Nebraska

    9/24/11 California

    10/1/11 at Utah

    10/8/11 OPEN DATE

    10/15/11 Colorado

    10/22/11 at Stanford

    10/29/11 Arizona

    11/5/11 Oregon

    11/12/11 at USC

    11/19/11 at Oregon State

    11/26/11 Washington State

    In a Nutshell:

    Aside from Eastern Washington, find me a team on this list that doesn't have the potential to knock Washington off.  Okay, Washington State might be one, but all the rest are very respectable opponents.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    Let's see: at Nebraska, at Utah, at Stanford, at USC and at Oregon State.  Toss in home dates against Hawaii, Arizona and Oregon. 

    Argue all you want about Hawaii or tell me how USC is down right now.  I won't argue...much.

    However, USC can't stay down for long with those recruits and Hawaii was ranked at the end of the 2010 regular season.  Let's give a little respect, here.

    Of all the truly tough teams on this schedule, only Oregon is a home date.  If you consider Oregon at home a lucky break, you must be putting together a Playstation season.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 6

    Toughest Game: 10/22/11 at Stanford

    Potential Trap Game: 10/15/11 vs. Colorado (looking ahead to road trip against Stanford)

2. Arkansas

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Missouri State

    9/10/11 New Mexico

    9/17/11 Troy

    9/24/11 at Alabama

    10/1/11 Texas A&M

    10/8/11 Auburn

    10/15/11 OPEN DATE

    10/22/11 at Ole Miss

    10/29/11 at Vanderbilt

    11/5/11 South Carolina

    11/12/11 Tennessee

    11/19/11 Mississippi State

    11/26/11 at LSU

    In a Nutshell:

    Late-September into mid-October and the end of the season will make or break the Razorback 2011 campaign.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    The beginning of the season may be pretty light, but how about taking on Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn on consecutive weekends with the Tide being a road game.  There's nothing quite like going from Troy to a road trip against the 2010 National Champions, only to have the 2011 National Champions a couple of weeks later.

    The middle of the season is manageable, though South Carolina is a concern to start November.  At least that one is at home.

    The end of the season brings a home date against Mississippi State followed by a road trip to LSU. 

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 6

    Toughest Game: 9/24/11 at Alabama

    Potential Trap Game: 11/12/11 vs. Tennessee (sandwiched between South Carolina and Mississippi State)

1. LSU

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    The Schedule:

    9/3/11 Oregon

    9/10/11 Northwestern State

    9/15/11 at Mississippi State

    9/24/11 at West Virginia

    10/1/11 Kentucky

    10/8/11 Florida

    10/15/11 at Tennessee

    10/22/11 Auburn

    10/29/11 OPEN DATE

    11/5/11 at Alabama

    11/12/11 Western Kentucky

    11/19/11 at Ole Miss

    11/25/11 Arkansas

    In a Nutshell:

    From top to bottom, this schedule is tough.  There's hardly any time to catch a breath (and a break) before heading into another touchy situation.

    Why They're Here On the List:

    The season kicks off against the defending Pac-12 (10) Champion and national title game participant, Oregon.  Northwestern State may be a layup, but the next two games are on the road against teams that finished the 2010 regular season inside the BCS top 25.

    After taking on Kentucky, the Tigers host Florida sans Urban Meyer.  A road trip to Tennessee could be tough considering LSU barely beat them last year (16-14) at home.  Then there's the home contest against Auburn to try and unseat the champs.

    The open date is perfectly situated.  It will give the Bayou Bengals a little time to prepare for a road trip to Alabama.

    Western Kentucky at home and Ole Miss on the road may not be too bad, but the last game is against Sugar Bowl participant Arkansas.

    Number of 2010 Ranked Teams: 6

    Toughest Game: 11/15/11 at Alabama

    Potential Trap Game: 10/15/11 at Tennessee (leading into match against Auburn)

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