Schedules should not be factored into a team’s pre-season ranking. That does not mean they aren’t significant. Here are 10 teams that could benefit from what looks to be a relatively softer slate compared to their competitors.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes 2014 schedule is not quite as docile as last season’s, but it is still unimposing. Ohio State drew Illinois and Minnesota as crossover opponents. They miss Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa. They play Michigan in Columbus. Their roughest non-conference opponent is a very mediocre Virginia Tech. This has a very good chance to be the Buckeyes’ third-straight 12-0 regular season, and end with depressing chain pizza.
Wisconsin: Yes, the Badgers play LSU at a neutral site. Beyond that, though, there is little to trouble them. Wisconsin is in the softer West division. They play Maryland and Rutgers from the East, which means no Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State. The Badgers also play Nebraska and Minnesota at home. Their only other tough B1G game is at Iowa.
Iowa: No excuses for Ferentz failure in 2014. Iowa’s toughest non-conference opponent is Pittsburgh. They play Indiana and Maryland as crossover opponents. Their four conference road games – Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois – should be winnable. They get both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home, in the late November cold.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores’ non-conference schedule – Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion – is built for bowl bonuses. Vanderbilt drew Ole Miss and Mississippi State from the West, missing Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M. The Commodores play Florida and South Carolina at home. It’s still an SEC schedule, but Vanderbilt’s next coach will get a more accommodating welcome than Butch Jones and Bret Bielema did last year.
South Carolina: Texas A&M was not the easiest crossover draw. But South Carolina’s schedule remains quite reasonable. They play both the Aggies and Georgia early at home (first road starts for new quarterbacks). Road games against Auburn, Florida and Clemson come after a bye week or an FCS week. Auburn comes after both back to back.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen may be coaching for his job again in 2014. He has an attainable route to a solid bowl season. Four body bags – Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT Martin – make up the conference schedule. Their crossover draw was home against Vandy and at Kentucky, about the easiest conceivable. Beating Arkansas would get them to 7-5, without having to pull off an upset.
Arizona: The Wildcats should win all three non-conference games: UNLV, UTSA and Nevada. They get five home games in the Pac 12, with USC, Washington and Arizona State traveling to Tucson. They miss Stanford. Two of their road games are Washington State and Cal. Rich Rod should have a shot to crack the 8-win barrier.
Oregon: The Ducks do play Michigan State, Arizona, Washington and Stanford. But all four of those games are at home. Oregon ducks Arizona State and USC from the South. Their one tricky road game, outside of the Civil War, is at UCLA. Marcus Mariota should have every opportunity to make turning down the NFL worth it.
Washington: Chris Peterson has a relatively benign run through his first major conference season. Their four non-conference opponents had one FBS conference game win combined in 2013. Best opponent: Illinois. Five of their nine Pac 12 games are in Washington. Two of their road games are at Cal and at Colorado.
Pittsburgh: Paul Chryst has the schedule to make a leap forward in 2014. They play Iowa at home, as well as Delaware, FIU and Akron. The ACC has not listed dates yet. But Pitt will avoid Florida State, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame during the regular season. The Panthers also play Duke, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]
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