In no sport is a schedule more important than in college football. There are only 12 games, and anywhere from three to five of those games are scheduled at the school's discretion. The flexibility allows for major variances in quality of opponents, timing of bye weeks and whether a schedule is front-loaded, back-loaded or balanced.
Halfway through the 2011 season, a number of teams have gotten off to fast starts due to favorable schedules. Here's a look at the 10 teams most likely to take a tumble in the second half as more difficult opponents expose their true identities.
The Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense has been humming for much of the first six weeks, but it had by far its least effective performance of the season in last week's narrow win over Maryland. Teams are starting to figure out the system as the season progresses, and Georgia Tech's only opponent so far with a pulse, North Carolina, went blow for blow with the Jackets in Atlanta.
The schedule gets tougher going forward with a trip to Miami, a visit from Clemson, a home game vs. Virginia Tech (with the Hokies getting 12 days to prepare) and the rivalry game with an improving Georgia team. Georgia Tech will have to win a game through the air at some point, and that will likely be their downfall.
Five home games and a trip to Indiana—that was the first-half slate for the Illini, and they used it to their advantage to storm out of the gates to a 6-0 start. They have a quality win over Arizona State but have not faced a challenge away from Champaign.
They play in the weaker of the two divisions in the Big Ten but still have to face Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin in consecutive games. Plus, their coach went for a two-point conversion with a seven-point lead and admitted after the games that he loses track of the score at times. You can hide a weakness at certain positions. Head coach is not one of them.
You have to hand it to Bill Snyder. Many fans thought he had lost his touch when he returned to the sidelines two years ago. However, he has brought the toughness back to Manhattan that helped turn arguably the worse major-conference program into a national title contender.
The Wildcats have only left Manhattan once this season, a narrow escape at Miami, and needed a late turnover to beat Baylor. The second half brings visits from Texas A&M and Oklahoma, as well as trips to Oklahoma State and Texas. The Big 12 is the second best conference in college football this year, and K-State will find that out the hard way over the next six weeks.
Denard Robinson can't pass. It's the same reason Michigan went from 5-0 to 7-6 last season, and while they should at least get to eight wins this season, the one-dimensional nature of the offense will doom the Wolverines again.
Michigan has a brutal November schedule that takes them to Iowa and Illinois before hosting Nebraska and the rivalry game with Ohio State, who they have not beaten since 2003. The program is on the rise now that they actually have a defense, but the road back to the elite of college football is still a long one.
Yes, only one opponent has scored more than 10 points against Sparty, but they allowed 31 points to Notre Dame despite getting three takeaways. Mark Dantonio's teams are never pretty, but this team has really done nothing to deserve a spot in the polls.
The running game has been a major disappointment, and the schedule gets very dicey, starting with a visit from Wisconsin, followed by trips to Nebraska and Iowa in two of the following three weeks. This team will win eight or nine games, but it's hard to see them as a true contender for the Big Ten title.
Is Bill Callahan coaching this team? The defense has been a mess, and now Jared Crick will miss the rest of the season. Giving up 27 points to a MAC offense disguised as Ohio State is unacceptable, especially in Lincoln.
Like Denard Robinson, a lack of durability and arm strength always come backs to haunt Taylor Martinez. Hardly anyone is going to go into Camp Randall Stadium at night and win, but the Cornhuskers laid a giant egg and now face an uphill climb to get to the Big Ten title game.
We're doing it again. Every time Oregon goes outside of the Pac-12, they get exposed. It happened in Boise. It happened later that season in Pasadena. It happened in Glendale in January. It happened in Arlington last month.
Without Jeff Maehl, Oregon's passing game remains a major concern. They're as fast as anyone in the country, but Stanford will hit them in the mouth next month in Palo Alto, and it's unknown how they'll respond.
Somehow the Nittany Lions snuck back into the coaches' poll last week, despite a soft early schedule and an offense that resembles something from the leather helmet era. Despite having one of the better defenses in the Big Ten, they cannot get any production at quarterback from Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin.
In a five-game stretch beginning later this month, they'll face Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Their two road trips have been to Temple and Indiana, so it's unknown how they'll fare in a hostile environment. Even with the offensive struggles, this team could enter the season finale at Madison with a chance to win the Leaders Division.
The Gamecocks seemed like the clear-cut favorite to win the SEC East because of the talent at the skill positions, but with Alshon Jeffery struggling a bit and Stephen Garcia off the team, South Carolina is at a crossroads.
Even at 5-1, they were very fortunate to escape Georgia and Navy. Connor Shaw has not shown the consistency at quarterback that will be needed to survive a three-game road stretch. Marcus Lattimore is fantastic, and the defensive line has been great, but this team just doesn't seem to have the fight in it to live up to its potential.
It's hard to get a read on Stanford, given that they've beaten San Jose State, Duke, an Arizona team that has fired their coach, UCLA and Colorado. Andrew Luck is fantastic and will be fantastic once the schedule toughens, but is there enough talent around him to navigate a tough closing stretch?
Star linebacker Shayne Skov was lost for the season last month, and after a trip to the Palouse, the cupcakes are gone. They'll face Washington at home before a trip to a revenge-seeking USC team and also must play Oregon and Notre Dame. California isn't very good, but it's a rivalry game and they'll play well in Palo Alto.