ESPN picks the teams with the hardest & easiest schedules

First the Hardest

Can’t accuse these teams of ducking anyone

Southern California might be poised to win its third national championship in five seasons. Florida State and Miami are ready to rebound, and South Carolina might be ready to break through in the SEC. But which team’s schedule might preclude it from reaching those goals? ESPN.com takes a look at college football’s most difficult schedules in 2007.

Washington 1. WASHINGTON: For coach Tyrone Willingham’s sake, the Huskies’ administration had better have plenty of patience.

Washington plays a brutal schedule, including these five games to open the season: at Syracuse, home contests against Boise State and Ohio State, at UCLA and at home against Southern California. The Pac-10 conference slate also includes home games against Oregon on Oct. 20 and California on Nov. 17, as well as road games at Arizona State on Oct. 13 and Oregon State on Nov. 10. At least the Huskies will have some sort of a bowl game, even if they finish below .500 — Washington finishes the season at Hawaii on Dec. 1.

Nonconference opponents: Syracuse (road), Boise State (home), Ohio State (home), Hawaii (road)
Toughest game: vs. Southern California, Sept. 29
Easiest game: at Stanford, Nov. 3

Florida State 2. FLORIDA STATE: The new-look Seminoles, with changes throughout Bobby Bowden’s coaching staff, will be tested early and often. FSU opens the season with a nationally televised game at Clemson on Labor Day (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). The ninth “Bowden Bowl” is the first of four challenging ACC road games; FSU also plays at Wake Forest, Boston College and Virginia Tech. The Seminoles play only five home games — an Oct. 20 date against Miami headlines the Doak Campbell Stadium schedule — along with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sept. 29. The last four games might make or break FSU’s season: road games at Boston College and Virginia Tech, home against Maryland and at defending national champion Florida on Nov. 24. Nonconference opponents: UAB (home), Colorado (road), Alabama (neutral), Florida (road)
Toughest game: at Virginia Tech, Nov. 10
Easiest game: vs. Duke, Oct. 27

South Carolina 3. SOUTH CAROLINA: If the Gamecocks truly are ready to challenge Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the SEC East, coach Steve Spurrier’s team will earn it. South Carolina’s nonconference schedule leaves a little to be desired, but no one can question the difficulty of its overall schedule. The Gamecocks play four of the most talented SEC teams on the road: at Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas. They also play home games against defending national champion Florida and archrival Clemson to finish the season. Nonconference opponents: Louisiana-Lafayette (home), South Carolina State (home), North Carolina (road), Clemson (home)
Toughest game: at LSU, Sept. 22
Easiest game: vs. South Carolina State, Sept. 15

Southern California 4. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Trojans greatly benefited from playing most of the Pac-10 Conference’s most talented teams at home last season. But the schedule flips in 2007 with USC traveling to Oregon, Cal and Arizona State. The Trojans also have a pair of marquee nonconference games: at Nebraska on Sept. 15 and at Notre Dame on Oct. 20. Southern California’s most difficult stretch begins Oct. 20, when the Trojans play four of five games away from home. Nonconference opponents: Idaho (home), Nebraska (road), Notre Dame (road)
Toughest game: at Nebraska, Sept. 15
Easiest game: vs. Stanford, Oct. 6

Miami 5. MIAMI: New Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon certainly won’t ease into his first head coaching job. The Hurricanes open the season against Marshall, then play at Oklahoma on Sept. 8. Miami also faces a Sept. 20 home game against Texas A&M. The ACC schedule includes road games at North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Nonconference opponents: Marshall (home), Oklahoma (road), Florida International (home), Texas A&M (home)
Toughest game: at Oklahoma, Sept. 8
Easiest game: vs. Duke, Sept. 29

Auburn 6. AUBURN: The Tigers don’t have a true marquee nonconference opponent on the schedule, but Kansas State and South Florida might be sleeping giants.Plus, the SEC road games are downright ridiculous, as the Tigers play at Florida on Sept. 29, at Arkansas on Oct. 13, at LSU on Oct. 20 and at Georgia on Nov. 10.

They close the season at home against Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Nonconference opponents: Kansas State, South Florida, New Mexico State, Tennessee Tech
Toughest game: at LSU, Oct. 20
Easiest game: vs. Tennessee Tech, Nov. 3

Texas A&M 7. TEXAS A&M: Other than a Sept. 20 game at Miami, the Aggies’ nonconference schedule shouldn’t be too daunting (unless Fresno State bounces back in a big way). But the back end of the Big 12 conference schedule could be demoralizing. The Aggies play four of their last six games on the road, starting Oct. 13 at Texas Tech. Road games at Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri soon follow. Texas A&M closes the season at home against Texas on Nov. 23. Nonconference opponents: Montana State (home), Fresno State (home), Miami (road), Louisiana-Monroe (home)
Toughest game: at Oklahoma, Nov. 3
Easiest game: vs. Montana State, Sept. 1

Michigan State 8. MICHIGAN STATE: Along with a Sept. 22 road game at Notre Dame, the Spartans play most of their difficult Big Ten games away from home. Michigan State plays at Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue. The Spartans also play Michigan and Penn State at home during a brutal five-game stretch to close the season. Welcome to the Big Ten, Mark Dantonio. Nonconference opponents: UAB (home), Bowling Green (home), Pittsburgh (home), Notre Dame (road)
Toughest game: at Wisconsin, Sept. 29
Easiest game: vs. UAB, Sept. 1

UCLA 9. UCLA: The Bruins received some favors from the Pac-10 schedule makers, with four Pac-10 home games and only one back-to-back road trip (at Washington State on Oct. 27 and Arizona on Nov. 3). But give UCLA credit for its challenging nonconference schedule, which includes BYU at home on Sept. 8, Utah on the road on Sept. 15 and Notre Dame at home on Oct. 6. UCLA plays California, Arizona State and Oregon at home, but travels to Washington State and Southern California.

Nonconference opponents: BYU (home), Utah (road), Notre Dame (home)
Toughest game: at Southern California, Dec. 1
Easiest game: at Stanford, Sept. 1

Notre Dame 10. NOTRE DAME: Two of the military academies and Duke are still on the schedule, but how many teams would want to play Georgia Tech, Penn State, Michigan, UCLA, Boston College and USC? The Fighting Irish play the Nittany Lions and Wolverines in back-to-back road games, and consecutive road contests at Purdue and UCLA won’t be easy, either. Home games against Boston College and USC in October will determine whether Charlie Weis’ third season at Notre Dame is a success. Toughest game: vs. USC, Oct. 20
Easiest game: vs. Duke, Nov. 17

Easy schedules should help these teams succeed

Which teams will fatten their BCS résumés against soft nonconference schedules? Which Heisman Trophy candidates will pad their statistics against the likes of Charleston Southern, Northern Colorado and Tennessee-Chattanooga? ESPN.com takes a look at the least difficult schedules in college football in 2007.

Kansas 1. KANSAS: The Jayhawks’ nonconference schedule includes more cream puffs than your favorite bakery: Central Michigan, Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International (all at home). Kansas doesn’t play Texas or Oklahoma in Big 12 Conference play, and the Jayhawks will face Nebraska in Lawrence, Kan., and Missouri in Kansas City.

Nonconference opponents: Central Michigan (home), Southeastern Louisiana (home), Toledo (home), Florida International (home)
Toughest game: at Texas A&M, Oct. 27
Easiest game: vs. Southeastern Louisiana, Sept. 8

Hawaii 2. HAWAII: Warriors quarterback Colt Brennan won’t have many problems putting up Heisman Trophy-like numbers against Hawaii’s schedule. The Warriors play two nonconference games against Division I-AA teams Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern, along with a road game at UNLV and home game against Washington. The Warriors’ WAC schedule includes home games against Fresno State and Boise State and road games at San Jose State and Nevada. Nonconference opponents: Northern Colorado (home), UNLV (road), Charleston Southern (home), Washington (home)
Toughest game: vs. Boise State, Nov. 23
Easiest game: vs. Charleston Southern, Sept. 23

Arkansas 3. ARKANSAS: The Razorbacks’ slate is a perfect example of why SEC teams have a poor reputation when it comes to out-of-conference scheduling. The Hogs will get fat on a nonconference schedule that includes home games against Troy, North Texas, Division I-AA Tennessee-Chattanooga and Florida International. SEC road games at Alabama, Tennessee and LSU prevented this from being the country’s easiest schedule. Nonconference opponents: Troy (home), North Texas (home), Chattanooga (home), Florida International (home)
Toughest game: at LSU, Nov. 23
Easiest game: vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga, Oct. 6

Indiana 4. INDIANA: In a season in which the Hoosiers don’t play Big 10 heavyweights Michigan and Ohio State, they beefed up their nonconference schedule with the likes of Division I-AA Indiana State, Western Michigan, Akron and Ball State. Indiana plays rival Purdue and Penn State at home, but travels to Iowa and Wisconsin. Thanks to the soft schedule, look for the Hoosiers to play in a bowl game for the first time since 1993. Nonconference opponents: Indiana State (home), Western Michigan (road), Akron (home), Ball State (home)
Toughest game: at Wisconsin, Oct. 27
Easiest game: vs. Indiana State, Sept. 1

Connecticut 5. CONNECTICUT: The Huskies might have put together a tougher schedule by returning to the Atlantic 10. Their nonconference schedule includes games against Division I-AA Maine and two of the worst I-A teams — Duke and Temple. The Huskies play seven of their 12 games at home, including key Big East dates against Louisville and Syracuse. Nonconference opponents: Duke (road), Maine (home), Temple (home), Akron (home), Virginia (road)
Toughest game: at West Virginia, Nov. 24
Easiest game: vs. Maine, Sept. 8

Navy 6. NAVY: The Midshipmen play only four Division I-A teams that finished with winning records last season: Rutgers, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois. Five of Navy’s 2007 opponents won four games or fewer last season, including Duke (0-12), Temple (1-11), North Texas (3-9), Army (3-9) and Air Force (3-8). Toughest game: at Rutgers, Sept. 7
Easiest game: vs. Duke, Sept. 22

Northwestern 7. NORTHWESTERN: The Wildcats could see a big turnaround in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s second season, thanks to a not-so-daunting schedule. Nonconference games against Division I-AA Northeastern, Nevada, Duke and Eastern Michigan (at Detroit) are potential victories. Home games against Minnesota and Indiana could bring the victory total to six, making Northwestern eligible for a bowl game. Nonconference opponents: Northeastern (home), Nevada (home), Duke (home), Eastern Michigan (neutral)
Toughest game: at Ohio State, Sept. 22
Easiest game: vs. Northeastern, Sept. 1

Texas Tech 8. TEXAS TECH: Give the Red Raiders some credit for scheduling a pair of nonconference road games … at SMU and Rice. A home game against UTEP might be challenging, but a Sept. 29 game against Division I-AA Northwestern State will be a rout. Texas Tech plays home games against two of the Big 12 conference’s most talented teams, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Nonconference opponents: SMU (road), UTEP (home), Rice (road), Northwestern State (home)
Toughest game: at Texas, Nov. 10
Easiest game: vs. Northwestern State, Sept. 29

Ohio State 9. OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes won’t miss Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the rest of their departed stars during the nonconference schedule. Not against Division I-AA Youngstown State, Akron and Kent State, anyway. At least a Sept. 15 game at Washington will be played outside the state of Ohio. The Buckeyes play two of their most difficult Big 10 games on the road, at Penn State on Oct. 27 and at Michigan on Nov. 17. Nonconference opponents: Youngstown State (home), Akron (home), Washington (road), Kent State (home)
Toughest game: at Michigan, Nov. 17
Easiest game: vs. Youngstown State, Sept. 1

Texas 10. TEXAS (Sucks): The Longhorns get kudos for scheduling a home game against TCU, a possible BCS sleeper. But the rest of the schedule sets up very well for coach Mack Brown. The other three nonconference games should be routs, against Arkansas State, Central Florida and Rice. The Longhorns play top Big 12 foes Nebraska and Texas Tech at home, along with the Red River Shootout against Oklahoma in Dallas. Nonconference opponents: Arkansas State (home), TCU (home), Central Florida (road), Rice (home)
Toughest game: vs. Oklahoma (Dallas), Oct. 6
Easiest game: vs. Arkansas State, Sept. 1

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