Ranking College Football's Most Favorable Schedules for 2021 Contenders

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2021

Ranking College Football's Most Favorable Schedules for 2021 Contenders

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    Matt Cashore/Associated Press

    The trope saying "to be the best, you have to beat the best" rings true in college football. At minimum, winning the national championship requires two victories over Top Four teams. 

    Not every path to the College Football Playoff is similar, though.

    DraftKings lists 19 teams with +5000 odds or better to win the 2021 national title. Using that grouping, we focused on the programs with the most favorable regular-season schedules.

    While the choices are subjective, factors used are home-away splits, perceived competition level and timing of idle weekends. No measurement is perfect, but the combination of location, returning production and timing is a good place to start.

8. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Ohio State is a fitting entrant because it provides a reminder that a favorable slate is not the same as an easy schedule.

    After opening the season at Minnesota, the Buckeyes host Oregon in one of 2021's best nonconference games. Oregon is the two-time defending Pac-12 champion and built for a run at three straight, so this is a gigantic showdown.

    Still, it's a home game for Ryan Day's teamwhich hosts Penn State in late October too.

    Ohio State's toughest road contest will be either Indiana or Michigan, which is manageable. The Buckeyes never have two straight road games, and they avoid each of Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin in Big Ten crossover play too.

    Again, not easy. Definitely not overly treacherous, either.

7. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    To kick off 2021, the Bulldogs can hardly have a more challenging game. They'll face Clemson in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a matchup to solidify an early national title favorite.

    After that contest, though, Georgia has a friendly slate.

    UAB, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Arkansas are likely wins. Heading to Auburn and hosting Kentucky may be tricky, but the Dawgs should be favored in both. Following an idle weekend, UGA heads to Jacksonville to take on rival Florida.

    Down the stretch, the schedule reads Missouri, at Tennessee, Charleston Southern and at Georgia Tech.

    Falling to Clemson would reduce UGA's margin for error, but a season-opening victory puts the Dawgs in an excellent spot. Either way, not playing Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M is a big edge.

6. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Once the Big 12 releases dates for conference games in 2021, Oklahoma's schedule may have a different feel. Perhaps one particular month will be loaded with the Big 12's top competition.

    For now, though, the Sooners have a reasonable outlook.

    In nonconference play, they face Tulane, Western Carolina and Nebraska. Along with the neutral-site clash with Texas, Oklahoma hosts Iowa State, TCU and West Virginiawhile two of their four Big 12 road games are at Baylor and Kansas.

    Oklahoma has lost two straight games against Kansas State and heads to Manhattan this season. But if the Sooners win there, they should be a strong CFP contender.

5. USC Trojans

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Similar to Oklahoma, the timing of USC's conference matchups will be announced at a later date. And like Ohio State, the Trojans avoid the premier teams of the opposite division.

    Because the Pac-12 has a nine-game league slate, each schedule misses two conference members. Somehow, the Trojans will avoid North Division favorites Oregon and Washington while hosting Stanfordthe potential No. 3 team in that half of the league.

    Otherwise, the Trojans' primary road challenges are against Notre Dame, Arizona State and potentially Cal. San Jose State and BYU are quality, yet not daunting, nonconference foes.

    In short: This is awfully nice for USC.

4. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Although the schedule is decently competitive, the Wisconsin Badgers will enjoy a whole lot of home cooking in 2021.

    Wisconsin takes on Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern, all of which could be Top 25 teams. But the only matchup away from Camp Randall Stadium is a neutral-site clash with Notre Dame at Soldier Field in Chicago.

    Can't complain too much about that, right?

    The biggest obstacle for Wisconsin may be playing 10 straight weekends, starting with the Sep. 25 tilt against Notre Dame.

3. Clemson Tigers

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    As noted earlier, Clemson opens the season with Georgia. That showdown will carry major national implications and interest. The rest of the Tigers' schedule is full of inconveniences.

    Clemson's five road matchups are North Carolina State, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville and South Carolina. Could any of them be thorns? Sure! However, only NC State has a best-case scenario of contending in the ACC, and South Carolina is a lower-tier SEC team.

    Additionally, the Tigers won't play any of Miami, North Carolina or Virginia Tech in the regular season.

    Clemson hasn't dropped a pre-October game since 2014; incidentally, one of the two early-season losses that year was to Georgia. But even if Clemson loses its margin for error immediately, the remaining slate is forgiving.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    North Carolina's task is clear: Start hot.

    During the first seven weekends, the Tar Heels meet five of their six Coastal Division opponents. They'll travel to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech but host Virginia, Duke and Miami. Throw in Florida State at home, and UNC is primarily in Chapel Hill for the most impactful stretch of the ACC season.

    While the Heels' performance to that point will determine their national upside, the schedule is broken apart nicely.

    After hosting Miami on Oct. 16, North Carolina has an idle weekend before heading to Notre Damewhich will have taken on USC the week prior. The Tar Heels have a preparation edge, for sure.

    The non-Clemson portion of the ACC tends to wreck itself in upsets, but UNC and star quarterback Sam Howell are best positioned to compete with the six-time defending champs.

1. Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Yes, conference affiliation is a large factor in deeming the Bearcats' schedule the most favorable among contenders. Also, yes, Cincinnati is challenging itself with trips to Indiana and Notre Dame, while AAC programs SMU, Tulsa and UCF are quality teams. This shouldn't be confused as an easy schedule, either.

    Nevertheless, the Bearcats have a comparable slate to a low-end ACC school. Plus, they'll be at home against SMU, Tulsa and UCFwhich is incredibly great luck too.

    The slate is a double-edged sword for Cincinnati, which experienced a total lack of respect in the 2020 CFP rankings because of an undervalued strength of schedule. An undefeated season with victories over Indiana and Notre Dame still might not be enough to impress the CFP selection committee.

    But, hey, a perfect record and mini-controversy is much better than the alternative for the Bearcats.


    Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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