College Football 2011: 10 Programs That Face the Toughest Road Games

David LutherFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2011

College Football 2011: 10 Programs That Face the Toughest Road Games

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    Facing a tough opponent is hard enough. When you have to do it on the road, it makes things really dicey. Now multiply that by three. Or four. Or five...

    Many would-be national champions have their championship quests derailed at the hands of a tough opponent on the road. It's not just the hostile environment, but the whole concept of being on the road as well. Long bus trips or plane rides. Not sleeping in your own bed. Unfamiliar surroundings. All of these things go into making a road game a challenge, especially when you're facing one of the nation's top teams.

    But which games are the toughest of the tough? Which games on the schedule should have giant, flashing warning signs?

    Here are 10 teams that face the toughest road games during the upcoming season.

Navy

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    PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 11: The Navy Midshipmen celebrate their victory after a game against the Army Black Knights on December 11, 2010 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Midshipmen won 31-17. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Imag
    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Sept. 10 at Western Kentucky

    Sept. 17 at South Carolina

    Oct. 15 at Rutgers

    Oct. 29 at Notre Dame

    Nov. 12 at SMU

    Nov. 19 at San Jose State

     

    The Midshipmen have a nice couple of warm-ups against FCS Delaware and Western Kentucky before a huge test on the road against South Carolina.

    The road season continues on Oct. 15 as the Midshipmen sail up the coast to square off against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Piscataway.

    The midseason's big matchup comes on October 29 as Navy once again strolls into Notre Dame Stadium, looking for yet another win against the Irish.

    The Midshipmen finish off with two lesser road opponents in SMU and San Jose State.

Louisville

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    LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 15:  Darius Ashley #8 of  the Louisville Cardinals  celebrates after intercepting a pass during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 15, 2010 in Louisville, Kentuc
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Sept. 17 at Kentucky

    Oct. 8 at North Carolina

    Oct. 15 at Cincinnati (at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati)

    Nov. 5 at West Virginia

    Nov. 19 at Connecticut

    Nov. 25 at USF

     

    If Louisville hopes to regain some of its past success in the Big East, its 2011 schedule won't make it easy.

    After traveling to the SEC's Kentucky on September 17 and the ACC's UNC on October 8, the Cardinals get their conference road schedule under way with a game in Cincinnati against the Bearcats at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati is smarting from a 2010 season that saw the program fall off a massive cliff after Brian Kelly departed. Cincy will be looking to prove a few things this year, and this game in front of a big crowd will be a great opportunity to do so—at Louisville's expense.

    November 5 sees the Cardinals travel to Morgantown, where the Mountaineers play in front of one of the more boisterous crowds in the FBS. Louisville follows that up with a trip to defending Big East champion Connecticut before ending its road slate with a trip to Tampa to face a USF squad that is becoming more and more difficult to beat.

USC

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    PASADENA, CA - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans drops back to pass against the UCLA Bruins during the first half at the Rose Bowl on December 4, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Sept. 24 at Arizona State

    Oct. 13 at California (at AT&T Park in San Francisco)

    Oct. 22 at Notre Dame

    Nov. 4 at Colorado

    Nov. 19 at Oregon

     

    The biggest problem for USC in this slate of road games is probably Arizona State.

    The reason being the simple fact that if there's one of these teams USC could possibly overlook (besides Colorado), it has got to be Arizona State.

    The Sun Devils also might surprise a few folks in the Pac-12 this year, as their returning cast is stocked with experience and talent.

Texas Christian

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    PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Linebacker Tank Carder #43 of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates after a sack of quarterback Scott Tolzien #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the 97th Rose Bowl game on January 1, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Sept. 2 (Fri) at Baylor

    Sept. 10 at Air Force

    Oct. 8 at San Diego State

    Nov. 5 at Wyoming

    Nov. 12 at Boise State

     

    TCU is in the rare position of being a ranked opponent playing its first two games on the road. First is a season-opening trip to a Baylor team looking to rebound from a disappointing finish in 2010, followed by a trip to Colorado Springs to face off against last year's Commander-in-Chief's Trophy winner Air Force.

    An October 8 trip against San Diego State could end up becoming a defining moment for either team—either positive for an improving SDSU or negative for TCU.

    Of course, the biggest MWC game of the 2011 season will come on November 12, when the Horned Frogs travel to Boise to take on the Broncos.

    Boise State hasn't lost a conference game on its home field since the Middle Ages, so this game is sure to get top billing that week.

Miami (FL)

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    EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  Quarterback Jacory Harris #12 of the Miami Hurricanes reacts after a pass interception against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Hyundai Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Mart
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Sept. 5 (Mon) at Maryland

    Oct. 8 at Virginia Tech

    Oct. 15 at North Carolina

    Nov. 12 at Florida State

    Nov. 19 at USF

     

    The Hurricanes will start the 2011 season on the road at Maryland. Maryland had a much-improved 2010 season, and it'll be looking to build on that momentum in 2011. If Maryland escapes with a win, it could be sniffing the Top 25.

    October 8 will see a big-time ACC contest between Miami and Virginia Tech. The Hokies are a tough opponent regardless of the location. Playing them on the road is always dicey.

    After facing a UNC squad that many people are ignoring in 2011 (for no real good reason), Miami faces a Florida State team that could be a Top Five team by November 12.

    Miami finishes up its road schedule with a November 19 trip to Tampa to face South Florida—who beat the Hurricanes last season 23-20.

Auburn

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Eltoro Freeman #21, Chad Slade #62 and Travante Stallworth #85 of the Auburn Tigers take the field against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Sept. 17 at Clemson

    Oct. 1 at South Carolina

    Oct. 8 at Arkansas

    Oct. 22 at LSU

    Nov. 11 at Georgia

     

    Poor Auburn. No one is giving the Tigers a shot in 2011.

    Sure, they may have lost the best, most dynamic player in the country to the NFL, but that doesn't mean they'll start losing games right and left, does it?

    Among Auburn's problems in 2011 is its road schedule.

    Clemson nearly left Auburn last season with a victory. The Tigers from Auburn were able to escape with an overtime victory over the Tigers from Clemson, and that unquestionably sticks in the minds of Clemson players and coaches.

    After another revenge-tinged game at SEC East defending champion South Carolina—which Auburn humiliated in last year's SEC Championship Game—the Tigers stay on the road to face Arkansas. While the Hogs have lost Ryan Mallett, they've gained back their Arkansas swagger. The Razorbacks, even without Mallett, will be a very tough opponent in 2011.

    It doesn't matter who you are—playing at LSU is absolutely no fun. Okay, if you're LSU, it's probably a lot of fun. But other than that...

    Auburn finishes its 2011 road season with a trip to Georgia. Don't expect Georgia to begin 2011 in the same fashion it began 2010, and with the talent the Bulldogs have in their cupboard, don't be shocked if Georgia is sporting a Top 25 ranking by this point in the season.

Ohio State

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Dan Herron #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Sept. 17 at Miami (FL)

    Oct. 8 at Nebraska

    Oct. 15 at Illinois

    Nov. 12 at Purdue

    Nov. 26 at Michigan

     

    The Buckeyes will definitely have an interesting 2011. Miami is hungry for revenge, and the Buckeyes will be weakened by suspensions when they roll into Florida for their Sept. 17 showdown with the Hurricanes.

    The “Tattoo Five” will have their first opportunity to play on Oct. 8. But they'll have to do it in one of the more hostile environments the Big Ten has to offer: Nebraska.

    It's easy to look past the next two road opponents, as Ohio State—regardless of its record to that point—should be heavily favored. But one must keep in mind that both Illinois and Purdue have been the victors in some pretty impressive upsets over the past few years (Illinois in 2007 and Purdue in 2009).

    Ohio State and Michigan tangle for the umpteenth time on November 26 in the refurbished Michigan Stadium. The crowd is sure to break the all-time NCAA football attendance record (currently held by Michigan, set during the 2010 game against Connecticut). The stadium is also much louder than it used to be, thanks to the new press box and luxury boxes.

    Add in the fact that Michigan probably has its best chance to beat Ohio State since Lloyd Carr was coach, and the world will once again see why this rivalry is the greatest and fiercest rivalry in all of sports.

Oklahoma State

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    STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 27:  Quarterback Brandon Weeden #3 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys walks off the field after failing to make a first down against the Oklahoma Sooners at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo b
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Sept. 17 at Tulsa

    Sept. 24 at Texas A&M

    Oct. 15 at Texas

    Oct. 22 at Missouri

    Nov. 12 at Texas Tech

    Nov. 18 at Iowa State

     

    The Cowboys begin their road schedule in 2011 with a trip to dark horse candidate Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane finished in the Top 25 last season, and they have a lot of returning starters for 2011 and could present problems for most opponents.

    Oklahoma State stays on the road the following week, heading to a team hoping to make a run at the Big 12 title in 2011: Texas A&M.

    After a week off and a visit from Kansas, the Cowboys travel to face a Texas team that will be badly in need of some signature wins in 2011—and this is the perfect opportunity for the Longhorns. A win against a Top-10 team like Oklahoma State will convince the naysayers that football in Austin isn't really in that much trouble.

    Okie State again has a two-week road stint, and the week after Texas the Cowboys travel to Missouri before ending the road schedule with a two-week stretch against Texas Tech and Iowa State.

Alabama

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Eddie Lacy #42 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes for a touchdown during the Capitol One Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty I
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Sept. 10 at Penn State

    Oct. 1 at Florida

    Oct. 15 at Ole Miss

    Nov. 12 at Mississippi State

    Nov. 26 at Auburn

     

    The Crimson Tide come into 2011 at or near the top of most preseason polls. In 2011, Alabama will have to face some of the tougher opponents on the road.

    The much-anticipated matchup between the Tide and Penn State in 2010 turned out to be a lopsided affair. Many people will expect the 2011 edition to be similar, but Happy Valley isn't exactly the easiest place to play, and 105,000 screaming Penn State fans all in white can be quite imposing.

    Florida will also be looking for a return to SEC glory under new head coach Will Muschamp.

    Alabama does have a nice run of home games between early October and mid November before finishing with two of three on the road against improving Mississippi State and Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

Michigan State

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans passes the ball during the Capitol One Bowl against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Sept. 17 at Notre Dame

    Oct. 1 at Ohio State

    Oct. 29 at Nebraska

    Nov. 12 at Iowa

    Nov. 26 at Northwestern

     

    Michigan State's first three road trips will come against likely ranked opponents. While Iowa isn't on too many Big Ten favorite lists, the Hawkeyes have had great success against the Spartans. That includes last season, when they ruined what was up to then a perfect season for MSU and kept the Spartans from winning the Big Ten outright and earning a Rose Bowl berth.

    Northwestern also had a decent game against MSU last season, jumping out to a large, early lead—only to watch MSU come storming back to win.