Most Difficult Schedules in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC
While the Big Ten and Pac-12 look toward the future, the rest of the Power Five conferences—ACC, Big 12 and SEC—are still preparing for a 2020 college football season.
Whether the games will be played is unknown. We understand that; you understand it. But as long as the possibility remains, B/R will continue previewing the campaign.
All three power leagues have unveiled their tentative schedules for 2020. Though the 10-team Big 12 plays a full round robin each season, circumstances have guided both the ACC and SEC to increase eight-game conference slates to a 10-game version.
And some of these schedules look exceptionally difficult.
Since preseason expectations are often valuable but never perfect, the list is somewhat subjective. But the primary factors are perceived difficulty of opponents and home-road matchups.
ACC: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Virginia and Wake Forest
Florida State Seminoles
After opening the season with Georgia Tech and a nonconference game, there's no rest for Florida State. The next four matchups are difficult and mostly on the road.
To close September, the 'Noles head to Miami hoping to snap a three-year skid in the rivalry. Following an open week, they travel to Notre Dame, host North Carolina and fly to Louisville. That four-game stretch is likely to define head coach Mike Norvell's first season in Tallahassee.
Oh, right. Clemson waits in November too. No big deal.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Continuing the transition from a triple-option attack to a spread offense is tricky enough. Missing practice time complicates that change. Playing this schedule at the same time is downright brutal.
Georgia Tech's first two games are at FSU and home against UCF, a Top 25 team in the initial Amway Coaches Poll. Although the Jackets are largely at home in October, the month includes visits from the ACC front-runners (Clemson and ND) and an ascending program (Louisville).
Add in a November trip to Miami, and Georgia Tech might be fortunate to reach five wins in 2020.
Pitt must capitalize on a favorable start. This portion of the slate contains a non-ACC game, Syracuse, Louisville, NC State and Boston College. That's by no means easy, but it's definitely not a massive challenge.
That part comes next.
Over the final six games, Pitt journeys to Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson, and has home dates against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. Other than Georgia Tech, the remaining five are among the favorites to reach the ACC title game. Pitt is usually good for an upset or two, but that's an arduous stretch.
The Cavaliers need to be road warriors in 2020. They miss Notre Dame but take on the six other most-respected teams in the ACC—and four of those matchups will happen away from Charlottesville.
After a nonconference opener, UVA travels to rival Virginia Tech and Clemson for the next two games. As if that's not demanding enough, Virginia travels to Miami and hosts North Carolina and Louisville in three straight weeks. Rounding out the road games is a late-November clash at Florida State.
Put simply, a Virginia return to the ACC Championship Game would be a stunning accomplishment.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Compared to Virginia, Wake Forest has the luxury of a home-slanted slate. That doesn't make it any easier.
The Demon Deacons tentatively play five of their first six in Winston-Salem—assuming a nonconference home game stays on the slate—but encounter Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech along the way. And in the last four games of the regular season, the Demon Deacons head to UNC, host Miami and travel to Louisville.
Similar to Georgia Tech, a five-win season seems like a best-case scenario for Wake Forest.
Big 12: Baylor and West Virginia
Unlike the ACC and SEC, the Big 12 simply reworked the order of the schedule. The matchups didn't change.
But exactly one Big 12 team travels to both Oklahoma and Texas in 2020: Baylor, which heads to Iowa State as well. That's a nightmare of a schedule, especially since the Bears need to rebuild what was a senior-heavy defense last season.
First-year coach Dave Aranda is facing a daunting task in 2020.
West Virginia Mountaineers
There's a clear argument to label Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State as the Big 12's top four teams in 2020. Perhaps you'd remove Iowa State or Oklahoma State, but all four appeared in the preseason coaches poll.
West Virginia basically has the worst possible home-road split against those programs.
Oklahoma is clearly the league's top team, so the location—a home game for WVU—doesn't change the notion it's the Mountaineers' most challenging contest. Additionally, they're headed to Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
SEC: Arkansas, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas A&M
Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek called this slate "the most challenging schedule in the history of college football." True or not, this is an incredibly tough slate for the Razorbacks.
On the bright side, they'll host Georgia, LSU and Alabama. But that means playing Georgia, LSU and Alabama. Road trips include Auburn, Texas A&M and Florida—so, you know, six of the 13 highest-ranked teams in the preseason coaches poll.
Throw in a clash with Tennessee, and this schedule could hardly be more unkind to Arkansas.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
While head coach Mike Leach won't ask for sympathy, his debut season at Mississippi State will be rough.
Similar to Arkansas, the Bulldogs have LSU, Alabama and Georgia on the slate—but travel to all of them. The other road games (Kentucky and Ole Miss) are no cakewalk either, and Mississippi State is slated to host Texas A&M and Auburn too.
Leach's press conferences might not be so whimsical in 2020.
For the record, Missouri was destined to add a couple of challenging teams when the SEC tacked on two games. Since the initial slate did not include Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss or Texas A&M, it's not like there were many options.
But, yeesh, Alabama and LSU? Tough luck.
Missouri begins the season at home against Alabama; travels to Tennessee, LSU and Florida in October alone; and hosts Georgia in mid-November. For first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz, this introduction to the SEC is rather inhospitable.
Tennessee knows it will meet Florida, Georgia and Alabama annually, so that trifecta isn't a surprise. But it must've stung when Auburn and Texas A&M joined the schedule.
One positive for the Vols is they welcome Alabama, A&M, Florida and Kentucky to Knoxville. Upsets tend to happen in home environments. Still, taking on three of the SEC West's four toughest teams is a massive change from Alabama alone.
Texas A&M Aggies
On the original schedule, Texas A&M avoided Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. In a season the Aggies wanted to make a run at the College Football Playoff, that was a gift. They'd "only" need to navigate the SEC West gauntlet.
Texas A&M saw Florida and Tennessee added to the calendar, joining trips to Alabama and Auburn with a home date against LSU. At least the Aggies play Vanderbilt and Arkansas?