Projecting 2016 Win-Loss Records for Every Power 5 Football Team

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2016

Projecting 2016 Win-Loss Records for Every Power 5 Football Team

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    College football's interminably long offseason is the ideal breeding ground for overthinking. With so much time on our hands, we can't help but reflect back on the season that was and look ahead to the one on the horizon. And with that comes plenty of conjecture, often in the form of projections that are based more on hope than actual evidence.

    We're less than three months removed from the end of the 2015 season, and yet we can't wait for the 2016 campaign to begin in just over five months. And it goes beyond just longing for the start of the next season—we also want to figure out who will compete for a national title and who will fall short of expectations.

    While we're at it, why don't we just predict every team's regular-season record?

    That's just what we've done, going game by game through the schedule of every power-conference team (as well as top independents BYU and Notre Dame) to project each win-loss total. Take note: These projections are only for scheduled games and do not include conference title games or bowls.

Alabama

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected record: 10-2

    Guaranteed wins: 5

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 5 at LSU

    The defending national champions have the kind of schedule that makes the road to repeating a treacherous one, but that's nothing new for the Crimson Tide. It's also a slate that will look great to the playoff selection committee even if Alabama loses here and there.

    Nine of the team's 12 FBS opponents played in bowls last year, including seven of Alabama's eight SEC foes. The only “easy” stretch in the entire season comes when it hosts Kent State and Kentucky in consecutive weekends, but that's right after visiting Ole Miss—who the Tide have lost to the last two years—and just before a difficult two-game trip to Arkansas and Tennessee.

    Difficulty is spread throughout, starting with the opener against USC in Arlington, Texas, and on into November with the annual clash against LSU (held this year in Baton Rouge).

Arizona

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Projected record: 8-4

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 vs. Stanford

    Arizona is perfect in regular-season nonconference games under Rich Rodriguez, though 11 of the 12 the Wildcats have played were from outside the power leagues. That trend continues this fall, as they play BYU, Grambling and Hawaii to start 2016. The BYU game is in Glendale, Arizona, and combined with the conference opener Sept. 24 against Washington, it means the Wildcats won't leave the state until October.

    Consecutive road games at UCLA and Utah should revert Arizona back to the mean, while the three-game stretch between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5 will really determine the team's season. That's when Arizona hosts USC and Stanford (with a bye in the middle) and then goes to Washington State.

    Arizona's final three games are set up for it to finish strong, getting Colorado and rival Arizona State at home and going to Oregon State in between.

Arizona State

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 15 at Colorado

    Arizona State's continued drive to have a presence in Texas will have it face two teams from that state in September, though this year's opponents are more manageable than in 2015 when the Sun Devils opened against Texas A&M in Houston and lost handily. This year, they host Texas Tech and then go to a rebuilding UTSA.

    The Sun Devils, who don't have a strong history against the Pac-12's California schools, face three of them in a row to open the league schedule. Cal and UCLA come to Tempe, while Arizona State plays USC in Los Angeles.

    Keeping alive a five-year streak of bowl appearances might come down to a season-ending two-game road trip, with ASU playing at Washington and Arizona.

Arkansas

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    Associated Press

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 24 vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas)

    Arkansas has been making steady progress under head coach Bret Bielema, going from three wins in his first season to eight last year, a number that would have been higher if not for some unexpected early-season stumbles in 2015. The Razorbacks will be lucky to get back to that mark this fall, as the schedule doesn't lend itself to automatic improvement.

    Only two of the first seven games are outside the home state, but those are at TCU and against Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas. Arkansas was fortunate to catch Texas Tech in a down year when it went there in 2014 but can't expect the same from the Horned Frogs, and the A&M clash has resulted in consecutive overtime losses.

    Then there's the doozy of a stretch in October and November that could set up Arkansas as a playoff contender or relegate it to the middle of the pack. Consecutive home games against Alabama and Ole Miss and later two straight in Fayetteville against Florida and LSU will determine its fate.

Auburn

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 24 vs. LSU

    Auburn will find out what its 2016 season is going to be like before ever leaving town, as a five-game homestand to start the season will set the stage for the rest of the year. And the appetizer could be the heartiest meal, since the Tigers open against national runner-up Clemson.

    That's followed by a dangerous trap game against defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State and then two straight SEC tilts against Texas A&M and LSU. Auburn's first road game isn't until Oct. 8 at Mississippi State, where it hasn't won since 2010.

    The second half of the slate isn't any easier, and all of the toughest games are on the road. Over the final six weeks, Auburn visits Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama, teams that combined to win 44 games last season.

Baylor

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    Rod Aydelotte/Associated Press

    Projected record: 10-2

    Guaranteed wins: 6

    Biggest toss-up: Dec. 3 at West Virginia

    The announcement that Baylor has scheduled a home-and-home series with BYU bodes well for improving future nonconference schedules, but it doesn't do anything for what will again be a cupcake-filled slate prior to the start of Big 12 play. The Bears' 2016 non-league opponents (Northwestern State, SMU, Rice) went a combined 11-24 last year.

    Combine that with a soft first third of the league slate, and Baylor should have no trouble starting 6-0. It's what it does over the final six games that will determine how we judge this season.

    The Bears play four of their last six away from home, including at Texas and Oklahoma on either side of TCU's trip to Waco on Nov. 5. Their home finale is Nov. 19, followed by games against Texas Tech in Arlington, Texas, and at West Virginia.

Boston College

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 3 vs. Georgia Tech (in Dublin, Ireland)

    Boston College became the first power-conference team since the 1940s to go winless in its league in both football and men's basketball in 2015-16. We can't speak for what the Eagles will do on the hardwood next time out, but unless the football team's offense is just as bad as it was last year, there are some winnable ACC games this fall.

    If the Eagles only win once in the league, it might have to settle for that happening on another continent. Facing Georgia Tech in Ireland to start the season is an odd choice, but maybe playing in a rugby stadium is what's needed to handle the Yellow Jackets' option run game.

    An Oct. 22 visit from Syracuse and the finale at Wake Forest are the other win possibilities, while in non-league play Boston College can expect to beat FCS Wagner and maybe Buffalo or Massachusetts, but the Nov. 19 visit to Connecticut isn't going to be easy.

BYU

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 24 vs. West Virginia (in Landover, Maryland)

    Remember, BYU, you asked for this.

    By opting to go independent in football a few years ago, the Cougars knew that to remain relevant they had to make their schedule as competitive as possible. That's come to a head in 2016, particularly during the first half of the season, as six of BYU's first seven games come against teams from the Big 12 (West Virginia), Big Ten (Michigan State), Pac-12 (Arizona, UCLA, Utah) and SEC (Mississippi State).

    And only two of those are in Provo, Utah, with the Arizona and West Virginia games taking place in neutral sites where just as many of the opponents' fans figure to pack the stands.

    Even the non-power foes aren't particularly easy. BYU hosts Toledo and Utah State while going to Boise State and Cincinnati, making for 10 bowl opponents.

California

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    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 10 at San Diego State

    Fresh off an eight-win season but facing a major offensive rebuild, California gets 2016 started a week ahead of everyone else by meeting up with Hawaii in Australia. That may end up having to serve as the equivalent of a bowl game for the Golden Bears, albeit one that precedes the season instead of following it.

    Cal's remaining non-league games are dangerous ones, first at San Diego State (which takes a 10-game win streak into this season) and then at home against Texas. The Bears won in Austin last year only after Texas missed a game-tying extra point in the final seconds, so revenge could be on the menu.

    Texas is Cal's only home foe with a losing record last year, and its final six opponents averaged 8.8 wins in 2015.

Clemson

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Projected record: 11-1

    Guaranteed wins: 7

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 at Florida State

    This far from the start of the 2016 season, we're somewhat forced to base schedule evaluations on the records that teams posted the year before. And because of this, there's no reason to think Clemson can't put itself in position for another playoff run against one of the easiest slates in FBS.

    "Another College Football Playoff run looks likely for these talented Tigers," Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson wrote.

    According to Phil Steele, it's officially the 108th-toughest out of 128 FBS teams in terms of opponents' win percentage from 2015 and the easiest of any team from a power conference. The Tigers face only five teams that went bowling last year, three of whom come to Death Valley.

    The Oct. 29 visit to Florida State is far and away Clemson's toughest game this fall, followed far behind by the opener against Auburn.

Colorado

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 26 vs. Utah

    The combination of gradual improvement under coach Mike MacIntyre and the arrival of graduate transfer quarterback Davis Webb makes it possible that Colorado can earn its first bowl bid since 2007. The schedule says the Buffaloes will need to pull off an upset or two in order to make that happen.

    Three of the first four games are away from home, starting with the opener against Colorado State in Denver and later at Michigan and Oregon in consecutive weeks. Survive that early onslaught and there's still October trips to USC and Stanford.

    If Colorado is still in position to get to six wins come November, then it controls its destiny at home. Three of the last four are in Boulder, though each opponent (UCLA, Washington State, Utah) won at least eight games last year.

Duke

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    Adam Hunger/Getty Images

    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 10 vs. North Carolina

    Duke is on an unprecedented run of success, having gone to bowl games for four straight seasons (and last December winning one for the first time since the early 1960s). Getting to a fifth bowl looks doable, but the Blue Devils might need to lock up that sixth win before November in order to be safe.

    That's easier said than done, because in September they have consecutive road games at Northwestern and Notre Dame, and then in October they go to Louisville and Georgia Tech.

    The final month is even harder, though. It opens with Virginia Tech and North Carolina coming to Durham, but only five days apart, and then wraps up with trips to Pittsburgh and Miami.

Florida

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Projected record: 8-4

    Guaranteed wins: 6

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville, Florida)

    Jim McElwain's first Florida team was a surprise SEC East champion, buoyed by a 6-0 start that helped build momentum and confidence. The Gators' 2016 schedule will allow them to get off to a similar push, with three straight at home against teams that won a combined nine games last year.

    Florida's first road game comes at Tennessee, which will be anxious to avenge last season's late collapse, and then in early October it gets a chance to exact its own revenge against the LSU team that ended the perfect run. The make-or-break part of the slate comes later on, however, when after a bye the Gators take on rival Georgia and then visit Arkansas.

    McElwain is 1-0 in the rivalry, but new Georgia coach Kirby Smart will want to get off to a similar start in his tenure. How this game goes will determine if the Gators can repeat as division champs or slip back in McElwain's second season.

Florida State

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 24 at South Florida

    Mark Oct. 9 down on your calendars, Florida State fans. That's when you'll know whether the Seminoles are going to be back in the mix for the national championship, or if their stern first half of the 2016 season proves to be too much to handle.

    FSU's first six games include five FBS opponents who won at least eight games a year ago, with only one of those (defending ACC Coastal champ North Carolina) at home. The 'Noles start with Ole Miss in Orlando on Labor Day and then five days later play a Charleston Southern team that reached the FCS quarterfinals last year.

    After that they play three of four on the road, going to Louisville and South Florida in consecutive weeks and then playing at Miami after the UNC home game. The matchup with Clemson, at home on Oct. 29, will only be a big one if FSU can get there without sustaining too much damage.

Georgia

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Projected record: 11-1

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, Florida)

    New coach Kirby Smart will get to pick up his first career victory in a place he's done a lot of winning over the years, with Georgia beginning 2016 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome against North Carolina. As Alabama's defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2015, he helped the Crimson Tide win four SEC titles in that building.

    For Smart to get the Bulldogs back there in December for the conference championship, though, it will likely come down to how they fare at both the beginning and end of October. They host Tennessee on Oct. 1 and take on Florida in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Oct. 29, with Smart looking to separate himself from predecessor Mark Richt and his 5-10 record against the Gators.

    Overall, Georgia's schedule is far more manageable than most SEC teams, with the only road game against a team with a winning record coming Sept. 24 at Ole Miss. The Bulldogs' other away games are at Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Georgia Tech

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 vs. Duke

    Graph out Georgia Tech's win totals the last few years and it resembles a roller coaster, from seven in 2013 to 11 the following season and then down to three last year. Another spike upward seems likely, assuming better offensive production correlates with a less challenging schedule than in 2015.

    There are eight bowl opponents on the docket, but none until Sept. 22 when Clemson comes to Atlanta on a Thursday night. That's in the middle of a four-game homestand after opening against Boston College in Dublin, Ireland, and that run ends with a visit from Miami.

    Down the stretch, Tech has to play three of four on the road, going to North Carolina and Virginia Tech and then finishing with its traditional matchup against in-state rival Georgia.

Illinois

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 10 vs. North Carolina

    New head coach Lovie Smith has been on the job less than a month, but even he can see that Illinois' schedule is set up for a fast and successful start. The key to it all comes in Week 2, when North Carolina comes to Champaign for the tail end of a home-and-home series that resulted in a blowout loss for the Fighting Illini last year.

    Win that one and starting 6-0 is possible, though it would require winning at Nebraska for the first time since 1924.

    Illinois' second half is much harder— hence the need to build confidence early. Down the stretch it visits Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern and hosts Michigan State and Iowa.

Indiana

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    John Sommers/Associated Press

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 vs. Penn State

    Indiana reached a bowl game for the first time since 2007, and a favorable schedule makes its first consecutive years of bowl eligibility since the early 1990s something that's quite possible.

    Going unbeaten before the Big Ten slate starts requires winning at Florida International and then taking down Ball State and Wake Forest at home. The Hoosiers beat FIU at home and won at Wake last year.

    That will provide a boost of confidence heading into a tough start to conference play, opening against Michigan State and then going to Ohio State. Trips to Northwestern and Michigan later on should get marked as losses as well, but Indiana gets to face Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue (with only Rutgers on the road) during the final five weeks.

Iowa

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    Projected record: 10-2

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 vs. Michigan

    There will be far fewer complaints about the quality of Iowa's schedule if it were to run the table like it did in 2015. The addition of a ninth Big Ten game and better crossover matchups have the Hawkeyes facing more challenges this time around.

    Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility for the Hawkeyes to emerge unscathed since it gets West Division foes Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska all at home, as well as East power Michigan. The toughest road game (and only one against a team with a winning record in 2015) is Nov. 5 at Penn State, which comes right before hosting Michigan.

    Not to be forgotten, though, is the final nonconference game. On Sept. 17 Iowa will host five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota, which hasn't lost to an FBS team since 2009.

Iowa State

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    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 vs. Kansas State

    Iowa State is expecting big things from Matt Campbell now that he's taken over the program, though not much of that should occur his first year. The 2016 season should be about building a foundation against a schedule that does the Cyclones few favors.

    The annual Cy-Hawk Trophy game is in Iowa City this year and is one of three road games against teams that won at least 10 games in 2015. The others are the Big 12 opener Sept. 17 at TCU and Oct. 8 at Oklahoma State.

    If ISU is able to survive the first half of its schedule, which also includes Baylor at home and Texas on the road, the stretch run has some promise. Four of five are at home, with the only road game at winless Kansas.

Kansas

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    Projected record: 3-9

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 vs. Iowa State

    We're going with a rather ambitious win projection for Kansas this year, which went winless last season and in reality could do so again in 2016. However, opening opponent Rhode Island went 1-10 including a 47-0 loss at Syracuse and only reached the 20-point mark three times last season.

    After that, the rest is gravy for the Jayhawks. They could conceivably start 2-0. On Sept. 10, they host Ohio and on Nov. 12 get a visit from Iowa State (the last team it beat, in November 2014).

Kansas State

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    Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected record: 5-7

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 22 vs. Texas

    The so-called "Bill Snyder magic" that has enabled the Hall of Fame coach to keep winning in Manhattan doesn't always travel well, as Kansas State is 7-7 in true road games the past three years compared to 15-7 inside the stadium that bears his name. Maybe that will change this season to help the Wildcats with a hellacious road slate.

    Even before getting into the Big 12 gauntlet, K-State dives right into tough road tilts by visiting Stanford on Sept. 2. It will be the Wildcats' first road game against a power opponent since winning at Miami (Florida) in 2011.

    In league play, K-State opens at West Virginia and also plays at Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor and TCU. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are the only home foes that had winning records last year.

Kentucky

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    David Stephenson/Associated Press

    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 22 vs. Mississippi State

    Head coach Mark Stoops has had Kentucky in position to get to six wins and a bowl bid each of the last two seasons, only to come up short at the end. With this season ending on the road at in-state rival Louisville, the key for the Wildcats is getting bowl-eligible before then, which is doable based on the schedule.

    The Wildcats open with four of six at home, all against winnable opponents. Southern Mississippi, the opening foe, might be the toughest of the bunch unless South Carolina or Vanderbilt takes a considerable step forward. However, how Kentucky rebounds from likely losses at Florida and Alabama during the first half is just as impactful as the other opponents' performances.

    If all goes well, Kentucky would only need two wins in the second half to get to six, but only the Nov. 19 clash against FCS Austin Peay is a lock. It will have to pluck off Mississippi State at home or win at Missouri, or once again head into the regular-season finale in need of a victory to keep the run going.

LSU

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    Bob Levey/Associated Press

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 at Arkansas

    Les Miles got a last-second (or, rather, third-quarter) reprieve during LSU's regular-season finale last year, finding out after that victory over Texas A&M that he'd be back for 2016. If the longtime Tigers coach is sweating out those last few games again this fall, it might not end so well, as they finish with three of four either on the road or against a defending champion.

    LSU hosts Alabama on Nov. 5 and then a week later heads to Arkansas. Following its home finale against South Alabama, the finale is in College Station against an A&M team whose own coach might be wondering what his future looks like.

    The Tigers began 7-0 last year before fizzling out, but getting off to a similar start won't be as easy. The Sept. 3 clash with Wisconsin in Green Bay could go either way, and there are also trips to Auburn and Florida as well as an intriguing pair of visits from Conference USA power Southern Miss and then SEC standout Ole Miss.

Louisville

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Projected record: 10-2

    Guaranteed wins: 5

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 17 vs. Florida State

    Louisville's strong finish to 2015 has made it a trendy pick to be a dark horse this upcoming season. That's assuming the Cardinals can become more consistent on offense (read: talented quarterback Lamar Jackson improves his accuracy and minimizes his mistakes) and can navigate a few particularly rough patches on the schedule.

    The Cardinals have eight days between their first and second games as well as between the second and third, which means there's extra time to prepare for the first major test Sept. 17 against Florida State. Two weeks later they go to Clemson, which means they could determine their place in the ACC Atlantic Division by Oct. 1.

    Not to be forgotten, though, is a trap game in between at Marshall. The tail end of the slate is far more manageable, other than the made-for-TV Thursday night trip to Houston on Nov. 17.

Maryland

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    Projected record: 5-7

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 10 at Florida International

    While the move to a nine-game conference schedule prompted several Big Ten schools to play all their non-league games at home this season, Maryland went the other direction and has two of its first three on the road. That's not exactly the best way to break in a new coach, though D.J. Durkin can take solace in knowing those games aren't the most challenging.

    Maryland has a good shot to start 4-0, assuming it can win at both Florida International and UCF before opening Big Ten action at home against Purdue. After that, though, finding many more wins won't be as easy.

    Home games against Minnesota (Oct. 15) and Rutgers (Nov. 26) combined with a hot start makes bowl eligibility possible but not necessarily probable. Last year the Terrapins were 2-4 at home.

Miami (Florida)

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    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 17 at Appalachian State

    Mark Richt has lost control of his schedule. Not really, since Miami's new coach had nothing to do with the 2016 slate, but a familiar narrative from his time at Georgia could follow him to south Florida in the form of a criticism of the Hurricanes' upcoming opponents.

    While getting to open with consecutive walkovers in Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic is nice, that won't prepare Miami for a sneaky-tough game at Appalachian State. The Mountaineers won 11 games a year ago and are tough to beat in the mountains of western North Carolina, a place that no power-conference team has ever visited before.

    Ultimately, though, Richt's first year with his alma mater will be evaluated mostly on how he fares in October. That's when Miami hosts Florida State and North Carolina in consecutive weeks and then has to play five days later at Virginia Tech. Right after that is a trip to Notre Dame, though at least it comes with a few extra days of preparation.

Michigan

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    Ralph Russo/Associated Press

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 7

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 at Iowa

    As impressive as Michigan's first season under Jim Harbaugh was in 2015, it certainly helped to have seven home games, including against most of its toughest opponents. The Wolverines will host seven more schools in Ann Arbor this year, but other than Wisconsin, no one else is coming off a seven-win season.

    The Wolverines can get fat and happy (but also overconfident) by a soft start, hosting Hawaii, UCF and Colorado—combined 2015 record: 7-31—before opening Big Ten play against Penn State and Wisconsin. Yes, that's five straight in the Big House before the first road game, at Rutgers on Oct. 8.

    The stretch run will be a different story with trips to Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State over the final five weeks.

Michigan State

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    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 26 at Penn State

    When it had Connor Cook at quarterback and a veteran offensive line protecting him, jumping right into tough games in September was no sweat for Michigan State. In 2016 it will have a new quarterback and several new blockers, though, which makes going to Notre Dame and then hosting Wisconsin in consecutive weeks an arduous task, particularly since that comes after facing just one foe (FCS Furman) and then having a bye week.

    The Spartans might not hit their stretch until October, which is when they'll hope to take advantage of home cooking against a tough lineup coming to East Lansing. BYU, Northwestern and Michigan visit that month, and on Nov. 19 they get another crack at an Ohio State team that they've beaten twice in the last three meetings.

    If MSU is fighting for the Big Ten's East Division title, it might come down to that final road game at Penn State.

Minnesota

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    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 19 vs. Northwestern

    Going unbeaten in nonconference play is a strong possibility for Minnesota, which hosts Oregon State, Indiana State and Colorado State in September. After that, it's pretty much a toss-up the rest of the way on a schedule that features no consecutive home or road games in Big Ten play.

    That means there aren't many times when the Golden Gophers are at risk of falling into a rut, but also there's no place to gain momentum other than in mid-October when they visit Maryland and then host Rutgers. That's followed by a trip to Illinois and then back home for Purdue.

    The two toughest stretches come at the beginning and end of the league lineup. Minnesota opens at Penn State and then hosts Iowa, and in November it has its home finale against Northwestern before finishing at Wisconsin.

Mississippi State

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    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 14 at BYU

    Mississippi State is working on six straight winning seasons, the longest such stretch in program history. But there's no Dak Prescott at quarterback anymore, and a schedule with more potential pitfalls than certain triumphs could set the Bulldogs back a bit.

    "Mississippi State could again be the pick to finish last in (the SEC East in) 2016," Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh wrote, noting that MSU was voted seventh by conference media last season yet ended up fifth.

    The Bulldogs' league slate speaks for itself, with games at LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss (the latter two coming over the final three weeks of the season). However, it could be their insistence on playing odd nonconference road games that proves more troublesome. MSU goes to Massachusetts a week after visiting LSU, and then a second two-game road swing begins with a Friday night tilt at BYU.

Missouri

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    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 26 vs. Arkansas

    The 2015 season was one to forget for Missouri, and not the best way for Gary Pinkel to go out. Barry Odom's tenure might not start out much better, though he won't be able to blame the schedule for being untenable.

    While four of Mizzou's five road games are against teams (West Virginia, LSU, Florida, Tennessee) that won eight or more games a year ago, the seven-game home slate is overflowing with winnable games: Eastern Michigan and FCS Delaware State in September, Middle Tennessee and Kentucky in October and Vanderbilt in November. Win all of those and the Tigers just need one other victory to return to a bowl.

    That could be either Georgia in mid-September (but only if Georgia is looking ahead to Ole Miss the following week) or the finale against Arkansas. Otherwise, Missouri will have to win on the road, and the only strong option there is Nov. 5 at South Carolina.

Nebraska

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    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 5

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 17 vs. Oregon

    Mike Riley's first year at Nebraska didn't go as well as hoped, and late-game execution had a lot to do with that. The Cornhuskers lost several games in the final moments; otherwise, it wouldn't have had to play a bowl game with a losing record.

    The 2016 schedule is lined up to allow Nebraska to avoid having to accept another provisional bowl invite. It could go 6-1 at home and leave it at that, with the only loss coming to Oregon, since the rest of its home foes finished with losing records last fall.

    The road slate is a different story. The 'Huskers play four 10-win teams, including Wisconsin and Ohio State in consecutive weeks, and end at Iowa.

North Carolina

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    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 15 at Miami (Florida)

    North Carolina will once again play two games against FCS opponents, something that massively hurt its schedule strength a year ago and might have kept the Tar Heels from the playoffs had they gotten past Clemson in the ACC title game. This season, those two likely wins might be all that keeps 2016 from being even more of a fallback.

    The Heels don't play their first home game until they host James Madison on Sept. 17, opening against Georgia in Atlanta and then playing at an Illinois team they destroyed in Chapel Hill a year ago.

    UNC's October matchups feature three road games, including at Florida State and Miami, but that means it gets to finish mostly at home. The only non-home game in November is at Duke, on a Thursday just five days after hosting Georgia Tech.

North Carolina State

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Projected record: 5-7

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 10 at East Carolina

    Head coach Dave Doeren is 11-1 in regular-season nonconference games with North Carolina State, with the only loss coming in his first year against East Carolina. His second could come to the same Pirates team, part of the toughest non-league slate he's faced in his tenure thanks to the presence of an Oct. 8 game against Notre Dame.

    A 2-2 effort outside the ACC doesn't bode well for the Wolfpack since their league lineup is stacked with tough road games. N.C. State plays at Clemson, Louisville (in consecutive weeks!) and North Carolina, with the last coming to end the season on a Friday. Florida State and Miami will come to Raleigh in November, which makes the trip to Syracuse in between a trap-level game.

Northwestern

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    Projected record: 8-4

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 5 vs. Wisconsin

    Northwestern's schedule gives it the opportunity to get off to a hot start and also finish strong, much like it did in winning 10 games in 2015. And just like last year, the middle of the slate is when the Wildcats will either prove their mettle or (as last season showed) come up a little short.

    The Wildcats' first four games are in Evanston and all winnable. Western Michigan, Duke and Nebraska all won bowl games in 2015, but Northwestern won at Duke and Nebraska prior to the postseason.

    From Oct. 1 through Nov. 5 is when Northwestern gets tested numerous times, first at Iowa and later at Michigan State and Ohio State before hosting Wisconsin.

Notre Dame

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    Associated Press

    Projected record: 11-1

    Guaranteed wins: 6

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State

    Notre Dame's scheduling agreement with the ACC is planned out through 2025, basically making for a crapshoot whether its matchups from one year to the next will come against any of the league's top teams. The lineup for 2016 is the easiest yet, devoid of any 10-win teams and with only one true road game (at rebuilding North Carolina State).

    Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech come to South Bend, and the Fighting Irish play Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey, for the second time in three years.

    What the ACC offerings lack in terms of notable matchups is made up for by the rest of the schedule. Notre Dame opens and closes the year on the road, starting at Texas and finishing at USC, and in the middle hosts Michigan State and Stanford. There are also the odd consecutive November games against service academies in neutral sites, facing Navy in Jacksonville, Florida, and Army in San Antonio.

Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Projected record: 10-2

    Guaranteed wins: 6

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 19 at Michigan State

    Ohio State never has trouble selling seats to games at massive Ohio Stadium, regardless of the opponent. This year, though, budget-conscious Buckeyes fans might be better off saving up to take some road trips instead of watch games played in Columbus.

    Of the 10 bowl teams that OSU will play this year, it faces six at home and four on the road, but outside of Northwestern on Oct. 29 and the regular-season finale with Michigan, it's not a particularly daunting slate. The same can't be said for the road schedule, which starts with a bang on Sept. 17 when the Buckeyes visit Oklahoma.

    This trend continues throughout Big Ten play, particularly with the key two-game road trip to Wisconsin and Penn State in mid-October. A second road trip in November starts easy (Maryland) but ends much tougher (Michigan State).

Oklahoma

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Projected record: 10-2

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 3 vs. Houston (at NRG Stadium)

    Two years' worth of data suggests it will be quite difficult to make the CFP with more than one loss. Oklahoma could be the team to break the mold, depending on when those setbacks happen.

    It's fair to say the Sooners have the toughest non-league schedule of any power-conference team even with one of their opponents (Louisiana-Monroe) having lost 11 games in 2015. That's because the other two (Houston and Ohio State) went a combined 25-2.

    Oklahoma plays Houston in an NFL stadium and hosts Ohio State, so at least it will be well-represented in terms of fans. The same can't be said for Big 12 road games at TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Oklahoma State

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    Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

    Projected record: 8-4

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 17 vs. Pittsburgh

    If we are to assume that Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU will again be the class of the Big 12, in order for Oklahoma to be in that discussion like it was last year, it will have to prove it on the road. The Cowboys face all three of those foes away from home, one to start league play and the other two to finish things up.

    Baylor hosts O.K. State on Sept. 24, after the Cowboys finish a three-game homestand that is highlighted by the start of a home-and-home series with Pittsburgh. Their next two road games are in the state of Kansas, but after hosting Texas Tech on Nov. 12 the rest of the slate is away from Stillwater.

    The only consolation: In between visiting TCU on Nov. 19 and Oklahoma on Dec. 3 is a late bye week, one that could prove much more valuable than the other one nestled between games against Iowa State and Kansas in mid-October.

Ole Miss

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 5

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 5 vs. Florida State (in Orlando)

    The 2016 regular season doesn't end until November, but Ole Miss should know before the first month is over whether it will be in the hunt for the SEC title or even a playoff berth thanks to a massively front-loaded schedule. There are no true road games in the September, but also no gimme games other than the home opener Sept. 10 against FCS Wofford.

    That comes five days after facing Florida State in Orlando on Labor Day. Later on in September, the Rebels open SEC play with back-to-back games in Oxford against Alabama and Georgia, the potential preseason division favorites.

    The back end of the schedule isn't much better, with two two-game road trips (at Arkansas and LSU in mid-October, then at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt in mid-November).

Oregon

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 vs. Stanford

    A year after Oregon lost twice at home, the first time that happened since 2007, marking down every game played in Autzen Stadium as a victory is no longer feasible. However, unless a team like Virginia or Arizona State is due to make a big leap in performance this season, the Ducks know which home opponents to worry about.

    That would be Washington and Stanford, one of whom it has dominated, while the other has become Oregon's top league rival.

    The Ducks have won 12 straight against Washington, whom they host Oct. 8. In mid-November, they will welcome Stanford, having won the last two meetings after dropping the previous two.

    As for Oregon's road slate, every game (starting Sept. 17 at Nebraska) is a potential loss other than the finale at Oregon State.

Oregon State

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    Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press

    Projected record: 2-10

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 1 at Colorado

    Oregon State was one of just three power-conference teams to go winless in their league last year, and it's possible it could repeat that feat in 2016. Every one of the Beavers' Pac-12 home games is against a team that made a bowl a year ago; the best opportunity to end the skid comes at Colorado.

    But since OSU has dropped eight straight road games (seven in league play), that's not exactly a strong possibility.

    Outside of a Sept. 17 game against FCS Idaho State, the Beavers figure to be considerable underdogs in the remainder of their games. That includes their opener at Minnesota.

Penn State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 10 at Pittsburgh

    Penn State's schedule has two distinct halves to it; in the first, it must prove itself on the road, while down the stretch, the Nittany Lions can make waves in the Big Ten at home.

    A resumption of the series with in-state rival Pittsburgh starts on the road, two weeks before Big Ten play opens with a trip to Michigan. In between is the only tough home contest prior to late October against a Temple team that the Lions lost to last season.

    Over the final six games, three home games are all against conference juggernauts (Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State), while the three road games (Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers) are all winnable.

Pittsburgh

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 15 at Virginia

    Pittsburgh might have a better on-field product but a worse record than in 2015, the result of a schedule that doesn't provide many chances to relax.

    The long-awaited return to the Penn State series comes Sept. 10, a week before the Panthers set out on a tough two-game road trip to Oklahoma State and North Carolina and then host dangerous Marshall. In November they have another mini-gauntlet, going to Miami and Clemson in consecutive weeks before hosting Duke.

    Though it shouldn't be in a win-or-go-home situation at the end, Pitt can take solace in having its finale against rebuilding Syracuse rather than Miami, as had been the case in its first two seasons in the ACC.

Purdue

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 10 vs. Cincinnati

    With just two Big Ten wins in three seasons under Darrell Hazell, expectations for Purdue aren't high for that big of a jump in 2016. The Boilermakers would consider it a good year if they won twice in the league, but after opening at Maryland and Illinois, the remainder of their league slate is against teams that won at least six games a year ago.

    Purdue can potentially load up on wins during nonconference play, all of which is at home. Eastern Kentucky and Nevada are both winnable, while the visit from Cincinnati would make for a nice victory if that were to happen.

Rutgers

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    Projected record: 5-7

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 26 at Maryland

    As the easternmost member of the Big Ten, Rutgers is already getting used to making long road trips. It doesn't help that it starts the season on the West Coast for the second time in three years.

    The Scarlet Knights open at Washington, a dark-horse Pac-12 contender, before coming home to play three straight in New Jersey. The third starts Big Ten play against Iowa, one of three straight 10-win teams they'll face along with Ohio State and Michigan.

    A mid-November pairing of Michigan State on the road and Penn State at home will test whether first-year coach Chris Ash can be competitive down the stretch. If so, winning at Maryland to end the regular season could mean bowl eligibility.

South Carolina

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 24 at Kentucky

    The 2016 schedule was released more than a month before South Carolina hired Will Muschamp as the new coach, though conspiracy theorists might suspect it was assembled in a manner that would ensure he (or anyone else who took the job) would struggle that first year. Maybe that explains why the Gamecocks took so long to make a hire, and why other big names reportedly turned down the gig, per Sporting News.

    South Carolina plays three of its first four on the road, all against SEC opponents. It's not exactly murderer's row, opening at Vanderbilt and then visiting Mississippi State before later going to Kentucky, but it's also not the kind of early slate that allows for guaranteed success.

    There's not really such a stretch on the Gamecocks' schedule, as a three-game homestand midway through the year includes Tennessee, and two of their final three are at Florida and Clemson.

Stanford

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 at Arizona

    The way the Pac-12 does its conference scheduling, all crossover opponents you face at home one year will be on the road the next (and vice versa). As fate would have it, that meant last year Stanford only faced one team with a winning record on the road after mid-September.

    Turnabout is fair play, so in 2016 the Cardinal will seal their on the road. Six away games are lumped in a pair of two-game trips that feed into stretches of three out of four on the road, and all six road foes made bowls last year.

    The Cardinal open with Kansas State and USC at home and then play at UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame in a four-week span (with a visit from Washington State lumped in there). Then in late October they start a slate that begins at Arizona and later takes them to Oregon and California.

Syracuse

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    Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 24 at Connecticut

    New coach Dino Babers promises a faster, more exciting version of Syracuse than fans have been used to recently. In the first year, that isn't likely to translate into many more victories, however, with nine bowl participants from 2015 on the docket.

    The Orange do get the bulk of their toughest opponents in the Carrier Dome, with Louisville and South Florida coming up in September, Virginia Tech visiting in October and Florida State making the trek north in November. They also face Notre Dame in New Jersey, where their fans will still be outnumbered but not as badly as if the game were in South Bend.

    Three of Syracuse's five true road foes finished below .500 last year, though that includes a Connecticut team that was 6-7.

TCU

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    Austin Gay/Associated Press

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 6

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 22 at West Virginia

    TCU fans who live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex won't have to do much traveling early this season, as the Horned Frogs' first five games are either on campus or not too far away.

    The only road game during that stretch is Sept. 23 at SMU, one of three away games (out of five) against teams that had losing records in 2015. That includes Texas, whom TCU visits the day after Thanksgiving.

    A big boost can come early with home games against Arkansas (Sept. 10) and Oklahoma (Oct. 1). The biggest road challenges come in a three-week stretch starting at West Virginia and ending Nov. 5 at Baylor.

Tennessee

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 6

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 1 at Georgia

    Whatever Tennessee has done to put together great finishes to the past two seasons better get carried over into 2016, because it doesn't get a breather in terms of competition until November. The Volunteers' first four games are all in their home state, including the much-anticipated Sept. 10 meeting with Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway, but like the rest of their first seven opponents, that comes against a bowl team from a year ago.

    Tennessee's first four SEC opponents will be its toughest. In succession it hosts Florida, visits Georgia and Texas A&M and then hosts Alabama in a four-week run from Sept. 24 to Oct. 15. But even before that, the Vols' non-league slate isn't a walkover, with opening foe Appalachian State coming off an 11-2 season and Ohio a solid mid-major opponent.

    Rest assured, Vol Nation, the back end is again set up for a late surge. Tennessee's final five opponents features all four of the SEC's non-bowl teams from 2015 as well as FCS Tennessee Tech.

Texas

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 17 at California

    If Texas wants to prove it's still the class of its own state in college football, this is the year to show it. Eight of the Longhorns' 12 games are within the Lone Star State, with the others in California, Oklahoma and Kansas (twice).

    There is also an early November trip to Lubbock to face Texas Tech, a week after a potential program-defining game at home against Baylor. And let's not forget the annual Red River Shootout with Oklahoma, in Dallas, on Oct. 8. That completes a two-game stretch against the Oklahoma schools, having played the week before in Stillwater.

    The most intriguing part of Texas' schedule, though, is before Big 12 play. It opens at home against a Notre Dame that blew it out on the road last year, and the third game is at California.

Texas A&M

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 5 at Mississippi State

    For a coach who may or may not be on the hot seat this season, Kevin Sumlin couldn't have asked for a better-assembled schedule. Though Texas A&M faces eight bowl teams from a year ago, including defending national champion Alabama, overall the slate has plenty of opportunities for quality wins and confidence builders.

    It also is set up for another potential hot start, as the Aggies have opened 5-0 the past two years. UCLA comes to College Station to start, as does Tennessee on Oct. 8, and in between they take on Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, while going to Auburn and South Carolina.

    The final six games are tougher from an overall standpoint, but there are still enough winnable games. A&M finishes with three straight at home, getting Ole Miss and LSU during that stretch.

Texas Tech

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    Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected record: 5-7

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 8 at Kansas State

    As last year showed, where Texas Tech plays its games isn't nearly as important as whether its defense actually shows up and makes a few stops. The Red Raiders allowed 43.6 points per game, but two of the three instances in which they yielded fewer than 30 points took place on the road.

    That means almost every game on the 2016 slate is a toss-up, with a win at Arizona State on Sept. 10 just as possible as a loss Nov. 5 at home against Texas. Tech gets Oklahoma and West Virginia at home and has its annual tilt with Baylor in Arlington, Texas, and overall only leaves the state four times.

    However, the Raiders' home finale is Nov. 5, after which they play twice on the road (Oklahoma State, Iowa State) and then finish with Baylor at AT&T Stadium.

UCLA

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Projected record: 8-4

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 17 at BYU

    If not for the presence of UNLV on the schedule, UCLA wouldn't face a non-bowl team this season until November. Even with the Runnin' Rebels on tap for the home opener on Sept. 10, the Bruins have one of the toughest first two months of competition of any team at the FBS level.

    UCLA plays two of three non-league games on the road, opening at Texas A&M and going to BYU. Its first two Pac-12 games are in the Rose Bowl, against Stanford and Arizona, but UCLA has lost seven home games in Jim Mora's four seasons including five times in the past two years.

    An Arizona State/Washington State road trip in mid-October also looms large, but after that the Bruins get a bit of a break until finishing with the in-state duo of USC at home and then at California.

USC

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    Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Projected record: 8-4

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 at Washington

    Clay Helton went 5-2 as an interim coach and 0-2 as USC's permanent leader last season. The start to his first full year in charge may well go the way the previous one ended, and not just because the Trojans have the dubious distinction of opening up against defending national champ Alabama.

    A 1-3 start isn't unthinkable, since after hosting Utah State the Trojans dive head-first into Pac-12 play with games at Stanford and Utah in a six-day span.

    And USC's final stretch is the kind that could cause a team to fall apart or rally into the postseason: In November the Trojans host Oregon, visit Washington and UCLA and then host Notre Dame.

Utah

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Projected record: 5-7

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 22 vs. Washington

    Utah had a banner year in 2015, its best since joining the Pac-12, though the Utes might be due for a rebuilding season. Not just because of the need to replace some key starters but also because of a schedule that isn't conducive to gradual development beyond non-league play.

    The Utes should be able to start 3-0, unless they slip at home against rival BYU or loses a trap game the week after at San Jose State. That comes six days before the league opener against visiting USC, followed by three of the next four on the road.

    If they can stay on track through the first two months, the stretch run isn't too tough. Two of the last three are on the road, though that includes a finale at Colorado after hosting Oregon the week before.

Vanderbilt

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Projected record: 3-9

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 at Missouri

    A program like Vanderbilt has a hard enough time winning games in the SEC, having gone 2-14 in the league under Derek Mason. It doesn't do itself any favors by consistently facing non-league opponents who aren't much easier.

    Other than FCS Tennessee State, whom the Commodores host on Oct. 22, their other three nonconference matchups are against solid mid-majors (Middle Tennessee, at Western Kentucky) or on the road against a power foe (Georgia Tech) with a hard-to-prepare-for offense. Being 1-2 might be the best-case scenario heading into SEC play, which starts with defending East Division champ Florida and then dives into a two-game road trip featuring a visit to Georgia.

    Vandy has another two-game trip in November, to Auburn and Missouri, before finishing at home against Ole Miss and Tennessee. With both of those teams likely to be contending for division crowns, all the 'Dores can hope to do late this season is play spoiler.

Virginia

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Projected record: 4-8

    Guaranteed wins: 1

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 19 at Georgia Tech

    Bronco Mendenhall's first schedule with Virginia isn't much tougher than the one he was set to face had he stayed at BYU. However, since the Cavaliers squad he's inherited doesn't have as much talent as the one he left behind, Mendenhall looks to be staring at his first losing season as a head coach.

    Virginia plays six road games, lumped into two bunches that give it three out of four away from Charlottesville. In September and October it will visit Oregon, Connecticut and Duke with only Central Michigan at home mixed in, and the season ends with games at Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech surrounding a visit from Miami.

    In between isn't any better just because it's at home. Virginia hosts Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Louisville, who combined to win 27 games last year, in a three-week span in October.

Virginia Tech

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    Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected record: 6-6

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 22 at Syracuse

    Justin Fuente waited until after Frank Beamer's final game to start settling into his new job last winter. By the time Virginia Tech plays its first true road game, he might be able to drive around Blacksburg with his eyes closed.

    The Hokies technically leave the state on Sept. 10 when they play Tennessee in the “Battle at Bristol,” though the NASCAR complex is basically on the border of Tennessee and Virginia. That's also the only real challenge in the opening month, as Tech's other three games are at home against Liberty, Boston College and East Carolina.

    Oct. 8 is when Tech plays on the road for the first time, at defending Coastal Division champion North Carolina. That's the start of four away games in five weeks, with a visit from Miami in the middle, and there's also a journey to Notre Dame in mid-November to contend with.

Wake Forest

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Projected record: 5-7

    Guaranteed wins: 2

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 26 vs. Boston College

    With one of the easier 2016 schedules among power-conference teams, any kind of improvement Wake Forest makes in the win department will come down to how it performs rather than who it performs against. Six of the Demon Deacons' opponents failed to make the postseason last year, and all six come to Winston-Salem this fall.

    Tulane and Delaware provide winnable opportunities in September, as do Syracuse and Army in October. The November lineup includes visits from Virginia and Boston College but also a potentially deflating stretch at Louisville and against Clemson.

    If the Demon Deacons are going to achieve a road win, the best bets come in consecutive weeks. Wake visits Indiana on Sept. 24 and then heads to North Carolina State a week later, though it hasn't won in Raleigh since 2006.

Washington

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    Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 5

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 29 at Utah

    A strong finish to the 2015 season with a young team has hopes high for Washington this upcoming year. There's no guarantee that success will continue this fall, but if it does, it will be in impressive fashion against the Huskies' rather tough schedule.

    Take out the three-game opening homestand against Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State and the rest of the slate is made up of almost nonstop hurdles. Two of Washington's first three Pac-12 games are on the road, starting at Arizona and then going to Oregon (with a visit from defending North Division champion Stanford in between).

    There's a brief interlude in mid-October with a bye and then a visit from Oregon State, but three of the final five are on the road including at Utah and Washington State.

Washington State

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Projected record: 9-3

    Guaranteed wins: 4

    Biggest toss-up: Oct. 22 at Arizona State

    Think the win projection for Washington State is a little bullish? Possibly, but not after you consider the home-field advantage the Cougars have playing in remote Pullman, as well as how well they fared in road wins last season against Arizona, Oregon and UCLA.

    All three of those teams head to the Palouse in 2016, along with rival Washington. The most difficult road games come early, at Boise State on Sept. 10 and at Stanford on Oct. 8; the latter comes in between visits from Oregon and UCLA, but after that it's mostly smooth sailing.

    WSU's final three road opponents finished last year with losing records, including league bottom-feeders Colorado and Oregon State.

West Virginia

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    Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    Projected record: 8-4

    Guaranteed wins: 3

    Biggest toss-up: Nov. 12 at Texas

    If West Virginia is ever going to finish better than a tie for fourth in the Big 12, this is the year. A year after seemingly facing every top league opponent on the road, in 2016 the Mountaineers welcome most of the big ones to Morgantown.

    Most importantly, the big three of TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor head east during the final seven weeks, as does Kansas, and the toughest road games in that span are against Oklahoma State and Texas. Last year West Virginia lost by a combined 74 points to Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU.

    A perfect non-league record is likely, too, with Missouri and Youngstown State at home and BYU in Landover, Maryland.

Wisconsin

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    Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    Projected record: 7-5

    Guaranteed wins: 5

    Biggest toss-up: Sept. 3 vs. LSU (in Green Bay)

    Wisconsin gets Ohio State at home and brings LSU up north for a pseudo-home game in Green Bay. Those are the positives of an otherwise unfavorable schedule for the Badgers in 2016.

    Big Ten road games against Michigan State, Michigan (back-to-back!), Iowa and Northwestern means Wisconsin has a quartet of 10-win foes from a year ago that it has to play in hostile environments. Being able to win more than one of those should be considered a major success.

    The home slate is soft, however. Akron, at 8-5, is the only team other than Ohio State that comes to Madison having won more than six games a year ago.

    Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.