Ranking College Football's 10 Easiest Schedules for 2020 Contenders
Not all college football schedules are created equally.
Depending on how strong each conference is in any given year and how each team decides to stack its nonconference schedule, some schools simply have easier roads to successful seasons.
Ahead, we've taken a closer look at how each contender's schedule stacks up for the 2020 season and selected the 10 teams with the easiest paths.
Any team that appeared on Bleacher Report's Super Early Top 25 Rankings, published on Jan. 13, was considered a contender for the sake of this conversation, and teams were ranked based on how many matchups they have against those contending programs.
Let's dive right in.
10. Oklahoma Sooners (No. 5 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (18) Oklahoma State, (20) Texas, (21) Baylor, (24) Iowa State, (HM) Tennessee
Unless Tennessee exceeds expectations on the heels of a disappointing 8-5 season, Oklahoma will need to build its College Football Playoff resume during Big 12 play.
The Sooners open the season at home against an FCS opponent in Missouri State who went an abysmal 1-10 a year ago. That's followed by another home game against the Volunteers.
They wrap up the nonconference slate on the road against Army, and anything besides a 3-0 record and a convincing margin of victory during those first three games will be a disappointment.
Interestingly, their four toughest conference tests are also their first four games of the conference schedule, so we should have a good idea by the end of October whether the Sooners are headed for the CFP.
Redshirt freshman and former 5-star recruit Spencer Rattler is the early favorite to replace Jalen Hurts under center, and he will be instrumental to the team's success.
9. Oklahoma State Cowboys (No. 18 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (5) Oklahoma, (20) Texas, (21) Baylor, (24) Iowa State
Oklahoma State is set to play one of the easiest nonconference schedules of any Power Five contender next season.
Each of its first three games will be played at home, and all three of its opponents had a losing record last year. Oregon State (5-7) is the only Power Five matchup, while Tulsa (4-8) and Western Illinois (1-11) should pose little challenge.
Three of their first four conference games are on the road, including an Oct. 24 meeting with Big 12 favorite Oklahoma in Norman, and that could be a decisive stretch for the Cowboys.
Running back Chuba Hubbard returns in the backfield after leading the nation with 2,094 rushing yards and scoring 21 touchdowns. Dual-threat quarterback Spencer Sanders is also back after throwing for 2,065 yards and 16 touchdowns while adding another 628 yards and two scores on the ground.
The Cowboys will need multiple wins against ranked Big 12 opponents to be a factor on the national level.
8. Arizona State Sun Devils (No. 19 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (10) Oregon, (16) USC, (24) Utah
Arizona State closed out the 2019 season on a high note, upsetting No. 6 Oregon in its second-to-last regular-season game and completing the year on a three-game winning streak to finish 8-5. It put a bow on things with a Sun Bowl win over Florida State.
Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels threw for 2,943 yards with 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions to establish himself as the future of the program, and there is plenty of optimism heading into 2020.
However, the Sun Devils face an uphill battle to build a convincing resume. While they face Oregon, USC and Utah during the Pac-12 slate, their nonconference schedule is not going to do them any favors.
They open the season with an FCS opponent in Northern Arizona, followed by a UNLV team that went 4-8 last year. Their final nonconference opponent is BYU, which pulled off upset wins over USC and Boise State last season but ultimately finished 7-6 with some bad losses to Toledo and South Florida.
Unless it can score a victory over Oregon and at least one of its other top conference foes, it's hard to see Arizona State making any serious noise.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers (No. 15 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (11) Wisconsin, (14) Michigan, (HM) Iowa
Life in the Big Ten West remains a much smoother road than the Big Ten East where Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan all reside.
While Minnesota will face the Wolverines at home in a crossover game on Oct. 17, it will avoid both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions in 2020 unless they collide in the Big Ten Championship Game.
That gives the Golden Gophers an enviable path through conference play aside from a road matchup with Wisconsin, and their non-conference slate also poses little challenge.
Florida Atlantic is coming off an 11-win season and will not be a cakewalk in the season opener, but Minnesota will no doubt be favored at home. Its other non-conference foes are FCS afterthought Tennessee Tech and BYU with a home game against Iowa sandwiched in between.
Quarterback Tanner Morgan will begin the season with plenty of Heisman Trophy hype after throwing for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns on an 11-2 team that surprised more than a few people last year.
6. Utah Utes (No. 24 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (16) USC, (19) Arizona State, (HM) Washington
Utah is losing a ton of talent with quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss, safety Julian Blackmon, edge-rusher Bradlee Anae, defensive tackle Leki Fotu and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Terrell Burgess all graduating or moving on to the NFL.
That, in and of itself, is going to make it difficult to match last year's No. 16 finish in the final AP poll.
The Utes built their resume on conference play in 2019. Their two regular-season losses came against USC and Oregon, and nonconference wins over BYU, Northern Illinois and Idaho State did little to boost their stock.
The 2020 season will be more of the same with an uninspired nonconference slate that includes BYU, Montana and Wyoming. Avoiding Pac-12 favorite Oregon only further impacts the strength of their schedule.
5. Clemson Tigers (No. 1 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (8) Notre Dame, (HM) Louisville, (HM) Virginia
Clemson steamrolled the competition en route to a 12-0 record during the regular season last year, with their only real tests coming against then-No. 12 Texas A&M (24-10) and North Carolina (21-20).
The ACC is expected to be a bit stronger this coming season, but the Tigers' schedule lines up favorably once again thanks to the fact that they reside in the ACC Atlantic division. North Carolina (22) and Virginia Tech (24) both cracked B/R's Super Early Top 25, but Clemson avoids playing them during the regular season since they both reside in the ACC Coastal.
The toughest test of the season is undoubtedly a road game against Notre Dame on Nov. 7, and that could stand as the lone hurdle to another undefeated regular season.
Akron and The Citadel will both be a breeze in their nonconference schedule, and they should also be heavily favored in the regular-season finale against SEC foe South Carolina.
With quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne both returning alongside a stacked roster full of blue-chip recruits, Clemson is positioned to dominate a weak schedule yet again.
Clemson takes the top spot among Power Five teams, but there are four more contenders to consider for these rankings.
4. UCF Knights (No. 23 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (22) North Carolina, (HM) Cincinnati, (HM) Memphis
Unlike fellow AAC contenders Cincinnati and Memphis, UCF has a tough nonconference test in North Carolina to help build its resume.
That season-opening game will play a significant role in where the Knights ultimately rank among the Group of Five contenders.
They play Cincinnati at home and Memphis on the road in the regular-season finale, and those outings will be their two other significant tests in pursuit of a New Year's Six bowl.
Dillon Gabriel, a 3-star recruit from the 2019 class who chose UCF over USC and Georgia, led the Knights to a 10-3 record as a freshman while throwing for 3,653 yard and 29 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.
3. Cincinnati Bearcats (HM in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (23) UCF, (HM) Memphis
Cincinnati and Memphis have nearly identical situations from a scheduling standpoint.
Both teams face three mediocre opponents (Austin Peay, Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan for the Bearcats) with a sub-.500 Big Ten team (Nebraska for the Bearcats) rounding out their nonconference slate.
The biggest difference is that Memphis gets to play AAC favorite UCF at home, while the Bearcats face the Knights on the road. That ultimately landed Cincinnati in the No. 3 spot with Memphis at No. 2.
That said, Cincinnati does have home-field advantage in the head-to-head matchup with Memphis, so that closes any gap between the two teams even further.
In the end, if either team can pull off an upset of UCF and pick up a head-to-head victory, it would be in a great position to finish as the top Group of Five program.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder threw for 2,164 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding another 650 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, and he'll be back to lead the way in 2020.
2. Memphis Tigers (HM in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: (23) UCF, (HM) Cincinnati
Memphis earned the Group of Five bid to a New Year's Six bowl last year and finished No. 17 in the final AP poll, ahead of Appalachian State (19), Navy (20), Cincinnati (21), Air Force (22), Boise State (23) and UCF (24), among others. The Tigers had a nonconference win over Ole Miss, a pair of victories over Cincinnati and a win over then-No. 15 SMU on their 2019 resume.
This year, they will likely need to beat both UCF and Cincinnati to have a chance at another New Year's Six appearance.
Nonconference opponents Arkansas State, UTSA and Tennessee-Martin do little to move the needle, while Purdue is a power-conference team coming off a 4-8 season amid a long stretch of mediocrity.
Redshirt freshman running back Kenny Gainwell tallied 1,459 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns while adding another 610 receiving yards and three scores on 51 catches. He'll be the catalyst on the offensive side as the Tigers look to duplicate last year's success.
1. Boise State Broncos (No. 17 in B/R's Super Early Top 25)
Super Early Top 25 Opponents: None
However, the lack of competition in the Mountain West means any conference loss is a dagger. Florida State, BYU and Marshall will be three of the Broncos' nonconference foes for the second straight year, while Georgia Southern fills the fourth spot in place of Portland State.
BYU handed them their only loss of the regular season last year in a 28-25 road game, and they'll need to avoid a similar letdown in 2020 if they want to have any chance of claiming the top Group of Five spot.
Expect running back George Holani to shoulder much of the offensive load once again after he racked up 1,220 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns as a true freshman.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted.