The college football season is almost here, yet still a bit too far to be tangible. Now is the time for looking at the schedule and trying to project what is to come. Here are ten teams that lucked out with their 2013 slates and could see it buoy their win totals. Probable trouble spots are in bold.
Non-Conference: Buffalo, San Diego State, at Cal, Florida A&M
Home: Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State, Indiana
Road: at Northwestern, at Purdue, at Illinois, at Michigan
Ohio State led a charmed life last season. That has continued with this year’s schedule. They meet Cal early in the Bear Raid turnover. Wisconsin should be working out the kinks. The Buckeyes lose both Michigan State and Nebraska from their 2012 schedule. Someone, such as Purdue or Penn State, should give them their best shot. It won’t be good enough. Urban’s boys being anything but 11-0 heading into Michigan should be a complete disappointment.
Non-Conference: Rice, Sam Houston St., SMU, UTEP
Home: Alabama, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Miss. St.
Road: at Arkansas, at Ole Miss, at LSU, at Missouri
The Aggies play an SEC West schedule. Given that caveat, this slate is relatively benign. Four non-conference body bags. They avoid South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. This schedule should cushion what could be a lean year for A&M (losing seniors, Sumlin’s recruits not being quite ready). If Sumlin and Manziel can somehow beat Alabama at home, the rest of that schedule looks quite accommodating.
Non-Conference: Central Mich, Notre Dame, Akron, at Connecticut
Home: Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State
Road: at Penn State, at Michigan State, at Northwestern, at Iowa
Michigan swaps Alabama for UConn non-conference. They get the three other teams they lost to in the 2012 regular season – Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State – at home, where Brady Hoke is 14-0. This is a young team. Much will depend on Devin Gardner’s development. But winning three of the five games in bold should get them to 10 wins and a possible BCS shot. That’s certainly attainable.
Non-Conference: Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, at Kentucky, FIU
Home: Rutgers, UCF, Houston, Memphis
Road: at Temple, at USF, at UConn, at Cincinnati
Louisville will start highly ranked. Their last year in the “the American” will offer no opponent to make them prove they belong there. Who is the best opponent on this schedule? Rutgers? UCF? Cincinnati? Maybe a revitalized USF or Kentucky on the road could give them a game. It’s hard to see a loss. That said, it was hard to see a loss last season when the Cardinals got blown out by Syracuse and lost to UConn at home.
Non-Conference: Nicholls St., at Virginia, Tennessee
Home: Cal, Washington State, UCLA, Utah, Oregon State
Road: at Colorado, at Washington, at Stanford, at Arizona
The Ducks have some time to work out their play calling. They miss USC and Arizona State from the South. They play UCLA at home. Unlike most other Pac 12 teams, they don’t have to play themselves. They should take care of business non-conference and at home. Maybe Washington emerges, finally. Perhaps the college football hipsters are right about Arizona. We’re guessing it comes down to Stanford for the division, the conference title and a shot at the BCS game.
Non-Conference: North Carolina, at UCF, Coastal Carolina, Clemson
Home: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida
Road: at Georgia, at Arkansas, at Tennessee, at Missouri
What Spurrier wouldn’t give to have last year’s team with this year’s schedule. South Carolina avoids Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M (Both Florida and Georgia play LSU). They play Florida and Clemson at home, in the latter half of November, giving time for their young defense to settle in. If they can finagle a win over Georgia the second week, they may be favorites to represent the East in Atlanta.
Non-Conference: UMass, Tennessee Tech, at ASU, BYU
Home: Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana, Penn State
Road: at Ohio State, at Illinois, at Iowa, at Minnesota
Wisconsin has a new coach, Gary Andersen, and a moderate schematic shift. This was the opportune time to get a very weak conference schedule. The Badgers missed Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State from the Legends Division. If they can keep it clean against Purdue, Indiana, Penn State, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota that is an 8-4 basement. BYU and Northwestern wins at home would bring that to 10-2.
Non-Conference: Nevada, Bethune Cookman, Idaho, at Florida
Home: Maryland, N.C. State, Miami, Syracuse
Road: at Pittsburgh, at Boston College, at Clemson, at Wake Forest
FSU is in transition just about everywhere. They still will have better talent and depth than just about every team they play. The Seminoles have to travel to Death Valley and the Swamp, but do little else. They don’t play North Carolina or Virginia Tech. That pesky, mediocre ACC team that would pick them off on the road in a night game? They play those teams at home. Jimbo Fisher looks primed for another season of doing just enough to be deemed “successful” and no more.
Non-Conference: Wyoming, Southern Miss, UCLA, South Dakota St.
Home: Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa
Road: at Purdue, at Minnesota, at Michigan, at Penn State
If Bo Pelini is to break through his 9-10 win ceiling and win the Big Ten, this is the year. Not just because OSU and Michigan will widen the gap in coming ones. The Cornhuskers play eight home games, including tough ones against UCLA, Northwestern and Michigan State. Their only tough road games are Michigan and, potentially, Penn State. They don’t have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin until a potential title game. That’s a schedule where a 9-10 win caliber team could win 11-12.
Non-Conference: Virginia Tech, Colorado State, Georgia State, Chattanooga
Home: Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU
Road: at Texas A&M, at Kentucky, at Mississippi St., at Auburn
Alabama has ample margin for error, even if they won’t need it. Their non-conference schedule is a joke. There may be only two teams, LSU and Texas A&M, that could trouble them. Those are the only two games where the line is within 17. Those teams enter the season with outstanding question marks. If they escape from College Station with a win, they should cruise to the SEC title game.
[Photos via USA Today Sports]