Ranking the Most Difficult Schedules for 2019 College Football Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2019

Ranking the Most Difficult Schedules for 2019 College Football Season

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    No legitimate contender will use a tough schedule as an excuse for falling short of the ultimate goal, but that doesn't change an apparent truth in college football.

    Sometimes, a program draws a ridiculously challenging slate.

    Heading into the 2019 season, SEC programs dominate the listin no small part because of the stacked West Divisionwith representatives from the Pac-12 and one from the Big Ten, too.

    The preseason Amway Coaches Poll, while a subjective measurement, is mentioned as a reference for the perceived strength of opponents. The selection process also factored in location, rest and consecutive marquee games.

    For more college football and NFL draft talk, check out the Stick to Football podcast with B/R's lead draft expert Matt Miller.

10. Colorado Buffaloes

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    Road/neutral: Six | Top 25: Five

    The first season of Mel Tucker's tenure won't be friendly.

    After opening the campaign with rival Colorado State, the Buffaloes host a hyped Nebraska squad. Colorado's final game of September is at Arizona State.

    In October, the Buffs have a pair of Friday gamesat Oregon and home to USCplus a trip to Washington State. November is particularly brutal, though. Stanford and Washington head to Boulder before Colorado closes the regular season at Utah.

    Reaching a bowl in Tucker's debut would be a success.

9. Michigan Wolverines

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Road/neutral: Five | Top 25: Six

    On the bright side, Michigan holds the advantage of a home crowd opposite Notre Dame and Ohio State this season. Not much else about the schedule is on the bright side.

    Although the Wolverines will be favored against Army, the visitors won 11 games and took Oklahoma to overtime in 2018. Following a bye week, Michigan travels to a raucous Camp Randall Stadium environment to meet Wisconsin.

    Iowa has earned five of the last six series victories, which only includes one triumph over Jim Harbaugh but is a reminder of how pesky the Hawkeyes can be. The Maize and Blue finish out October with Penn State (in Happy Valley) and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks, too.

    And then rivals Michigan State and Ohio State await in November for a Michigan team desperate to rejoin the nation's elite in Harbaugh's fifth season.

8. USC Trojans

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Road/neutral: Six | Top 25: Five

    Odds are we'll know everything important about USC by mid-October.

    The Trojans open with Fresno State before a season-definingand potentially program-changingfive-game span. They'll host Stanford, travel to BYU, face South Division favorite Utah for a Friday night showdown and then go on the road to play Washington and Notre Dame.

    If USC is any worse than 4-2, rumors regarding head coach Clay Helton's job security will again come to the forefront.

    For good measure, the Trojans have a Friday trip to Colorado and a date with Oregon still on the docket. Helton cannot afford to finish 7-5 or worse.

7. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Road/neutral: Five | Top 25: Four

    Through the first two months, Georgia has a relatively manageable slate. Notre Dame, South Carolina and Kentucky all come to Athens, and the Bulldogs' toughest road game is Tennessee. Notre Dame is a tough opponent, but 7-0 is reasonable.

    November, however, is nasty.

    The annual neutral-site clash with Florida precedes a stretch containing Missouri, at Auburn, Texas A&M and at Georgia Tech. Perhaps other than a revamped Georgia Tech program, all of those schools have clear Top 25 potential this season.

    If they successfully navigate this slate at 11-1 or 12-0, the Bulldogs will have an opportunity to reach the College Football Playoff.

6. Stanford Cardinal

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    Road/neutral: Five | Top 25: Six

    David Shaw's seat isn't anywhere close to hot, but the story for Stanford in 2019 is nearly identical to that of USC. We'll know quickly if the Cardinal are contenders.

    Stanford's first six games include Northwestern, at USC, at UCF, Oregon, at Oregon State and Washington. Four of those six won at least nine games last season, and the media projected USC to finish second in the South Division. 

    "It's not about who we play," Shaw said, per Jeff Faraudo of the Mercury News, "it's about how we play."

    And the Cardinal had better play tremendously in that stretch, considering trips to Colorado and Washington State, as well as a home matchup with Notre Dame, loom in November.

5. Florida Gators

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    Road/neutral: Six | Top 25: Three

    Florida must take advantage of its home-filled opening to the season, or else the Gators will be fighting to stick around the Top 10.

    On Aug. 24, Dan Mullen's squad has in-state foe Miami at a neutral site. After a tune-up against UT Martin, Florida heads to Kentucky before hosting Tennessee and, two weeks later, Auburn.

    And the schedule only gets rockier from there.

    The Gators travel to LSU and South Carolina on back-to-back October weekends and have Georgia (neutral), Missouri (road) and Florida State (home) in the final month. Anything less than perfection in the first six games opens the possibility of an unsatisfying 8-4 record.

4. LSU Tigers

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    Road/neutral: Five | Top 25: Five

    To some degree, the Nov. 9 tilt opposite rival Alabama is the only contest that matters for LSU.

    Ed Orgeron's club has championship dreams, but the Crimson Tide regularly shatter them. LSU has neither defeated the Tide since the 2011 regular season nor cracked 17 points in any of those contests. Until that changes, the rest of the schedule is a sidebar.

    Granted, there is another big headline in 2019. The Tigers have an early September duel at Texas, a rising program with a goal of proving it is legitimately "back" this season.

    LSU also hosts a trio of coaches poll preseason Top 16 squads in Florida, Auburn and Texas A&M, and the Tigers travel to Mississippi State.

3. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Road/neutral: Five | Top 25: Five

    Every year, Texas A&M is guaranteed to face Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State. That's a product of the division.

    Adding both Clemson and Georgia to the slate is just unfortunate.

    If there's any consolation for the Aggies, they'll spend most of September and October at home. Though A&M travels to Clemson, all of Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State head to Kyle Field.

    That home-heavy stretch is what keeps A&M's schedule at No. 3—just behind the top two—and it's crucial for the Aggies to take advantage of it because they close the regular season at Georgia and LSU. Excluding championship games, no team has a more difficult season-ending back-to-back.

2. Auburn Tigers

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    Road/neutral: Five | Top 25: Six

    This hot seat is feeling toasty!

    Financial obligations to Gus Malzahn complicate the discussion, but the seventh-year coach is facing a potentially career-altering year with a merciless schedulewhile relying on a freshman quarterback.

    Whether it's Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix, the QB will make his starting debut against Oregon at a neutral site. Tune-ups with Tulane and Kent State offer much-needed growth opportunities prior to a stretch at Texas A&M, home to Mississippi State and at Florida.

    The worst-case scenario of 3-3 to start 2019 is even more discouraging when Auburn's final six games include LSU (road), Georgia (home) and Alabama (home). At least the Tigers end the campaign with four straight contests at home, helping them avoid the nation's absolute toughest slate.

    Still, Malzahn and Co. probably won't feel comfortable all season.

1. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Road/neutral: Five | Top 25: Five

    Bless your soul, South Carolina.

    Since Alabama, Missouri and Kentucky are on the September docket, the Gamecocks might be a non-factor in the SEC before the month ends. Having Georgia and Florida in October is hard enough, but Texas A&M and Clemson in November make South Carolina's worst-case scenario a fight for bowl eligibility.

    Per Charlie Potter of 247Sports, senior offensive lineman Donell Stanley is undaunted by the challenge.

    "Everybody knows what kind of schedule we've got. We've got a schedule that can make us or break us. We just have to have the mindset every week of coming out and wanting to dominate, and if you aren't with it, you need to leave."

    But against this slate, a positive mindset only means so much. South Carolina's margin for error is practically zero.


    Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.