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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.