College Football 2011: Calling Out the Cream Puffs With the 10 Softest Schedules
As we place the finishing touches on an exciting signing day full of intrigue and surprises galore, it is time to look forward to next season.
And while the incoming freshmen will in some circumstances contribute immediately, the even greater predictor of future success for each college football team is their upcoming schedule.
Schedules are a tricky situation for athletic directors. On the one hand, you may want a few warm up games to get your team on the right path. However, if you have too many of those games your toughness will be questioned.
On the other hand, if you put together a tough slate, you run the risk of encountering an early season loss that could prove disastrous for any title aspirations.
This past season, several examples of both were evident.
That being said, we will explore the former and the 10 easiest schedules in College Football in 2011 ranked from weakest to toughest.
Quick disclaimer: this is limited to potential contenders. Obviously, Tulsa has an easier schedule than Stanford, but Tulsa doesn't have a realistic chance of winning it all. We expect Tulsa to have an easy schedule. We expect Stanford to have a tough schedule.
Uconn is no longer just a basketballl school anymore. They took a big step this past year and they have a very strong future ahead of them.
They do not, however, have a tough schedule next season.
Fordham, at Vanderbilt, Iowa State, at Buffalo, and home against Western Michigan.
From there, it gets only marginally harder. In all honesty, this team only has two tough games, both on the road against Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Boise State has become the poster child for easy schedules.
Sure, they reach out and schedule a handful of out of conference games meant to boost their very weak conference slate.
Two years ago, they started off the season by stunning Oregon.
This past year, however, their non-conference schedule proved to be really weak. Ironically, it was their conference schedule that proved their undoing.
Next year, Boise State returns a very strong team. To help bolster their schedule, they brought in an SEC team. Other than that, their schedule is by far the weakest among title contender.
They begin at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta against Georgia which should be a very tough game.
After that, the schedule falls off a cliff. They play at Toledo, have two home games against Tulsa and Nevada and then they play at Fresno State.
Their toughest conference game, TCU, will be at home, and they only have three road conference games, San Diego State being the toughest of that group.
This team should roll if they get past Georgia.
Florida State has a lot to be happy about.
Not only did they put together an epic recruiting class, but they have one heck of an easy schedule next year.
Sure, they have their annual Florida game that will be at their rival this year and they will play Oklahoma early on during the season, but there is a lot to love about this schedule.
They have home non conference games against ULM and Charleston Southern, their toughest road games will be at Boston College and Clemson, and their toughest conference foes will all be coming to their house.
Good things lie ahead Seminoles!
Virginia Tech learned a valuable lesson last year: do not schedule Boise State. In fact, they may have learned not to schedule anyone tough at all.
Their non-conference slate is a joke. Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall.
Once they move on to conference play it doesn't get much more difficult. Their four conference road games are Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Wake Forest. They shouldn't have trouble with any of these games.
Their home conference schedule showcases their only tough matchups but they should get past Clemson, Boston College, North Carolina, and even Miami although the Hurricanes are probably their only real challenge.
West Virginia had an up and down year in 2010.
That is the bad news.
The good news is that they are likely the favorite in an automatic bid conference.
West Virginia has one true stumbling block this year in SEC powerhouse LSU.
But if they can get past that game, they have smooth sailing for the rest of their schedule.
Mix in a little Norfolk State with a touch of Bowling Green and shake together with only a couple tough road conference games (Cincinnati and maybe USF) and you have the makings of a cream puff schedule.
Of course never underestimate perennial powerhouse Maryland!
TCU has only one more season left in the Mountain West before they head to the Big East. Perhaps they thought that they would celebrate their last year in style by having one of the easiest schedules in the country.
Their non-conference games took a hit when Texas Tech decided to pull out of their game. They still have a couple options for their last non-conference gig, but it likely will be a lower-tier team. ESPN thinks it will be Texas State.
The other games are home against SMU and away at Baylor. Their conference schedule got a lot weaker when Utah and BYU left the conference.
Obviously Boise State will be a tough game, but it is likely one of only two or maybe three that the Horned Frogs will play. This could be a bloodbath out west.
It may seem like I am picking on the Big East, but I'm really not. The point is that if you have a weak conference schedule, you need to make up for that with tough non-conference games.
For the bulk of the top Big East teams, they have elected to avoid this concept.
Pittsburgh still has a lot of talent returning (although Dion Lewis should have stayed another year), but they are going to ease into the year. Sure, they have tough games at Iowa, home against Utah and who knows what Notre Dame will be this year. But they start out with home games against Buffalo and Maine.
That being said, Pitt definitely has the toughest of all the Big East teams.
Their toughest challenge this year will be at West Virginia, but most of their tough conference games are at home.
It's a new dawn in the Big 12, and the greatest beneficiary in the short term is Oklahoma.
To celebrate this new beginning, the Sooners have put together one heck of a cream puff schedule.
Sure, Texas will have a bounce back year and the Oklahoma State game is on the road and is always a battle. But the bulk of the schedule is comprised of games against Tulsa, Ball State, and Iowa State.
Only Oklahoma State stands between the Sooners and a repeat.
Not to be outdone by their in-state rival, Oklahoma State has an equally easy schedule.
OSU has a nice home game against Arizona that should at least make them break a sweat.
But prior to that they play Louisiana-Lafayette. From there, it doesn't get much tougher. Playing in Texas is always tough and Missouri is likely hungry after being spurned by the Big Ten.
But overall, this schedule will not be confused with a gauntlet.
Before I sat down to do these rankings, I thought Andrew Luck was crazy for returning for his senior season. After looking at his upcoming schedule, I think he is a lot more sane.
Their non-conference schedule is a joke with San Jose State and Duke early on and their annual late season game with Notre Dame. Sure, Notre Dame is improving, but Stanford should not have trouble with the Irish.
In fact, their first seven games should be fairly easy with only a game at Arizona and home against UCLA as potential stumbling blocks.
The second half of the season brings a game at USC and of course the defending Pac 10 Oregon Ducks at home, but the majority of their tough games are at home and they should be chugging along once they get to Eugene, Oregon.