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Top 25 toughest schedules

Washington faces killer slate; SEC has five in top 10

Posted: Thursday June 21, 2007 12:52PM; Updated: Thursday June 21, 2007 4:03PM
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Tyrone Willingham
Tyrone Willingham and his Huskies face an unbelievably challenging schedule this year.

By Steve Megargee, Special to SI.com, Rivals.com

Washington probably won't earn an invitation to a BCS bowl game this season, but the Huskies could play a major role in deciding which teams are still playing after New Year's Day.

The Huskies' schedule includes defending Rose Bowl champion USC, Fiesta Bowl champ Boise State and BCS runner-up Ohio State. Washington closes the regular season at Hawaii, a Western Athletic Conference team earning plenty of preseason BCS buzz.

Add up Washington's challenging Pac-10 slate and you have the nation's toughest schedule.

Washington doesn't have a Division I-AA opponent on its schedule and faces only two teams (Syracuse and Stanford) that had losing records last season. The Huskies' schedule includes nine teams that played in bowl games last season and six schools that won at least 10 games a year ago.

While a Pac-10 team tops our list of the nation's 25 toughest schedules, the SEC dominates the rest of the list with five teams in the top 10. Even though many of the SEC schools don't play strong nonconference opponents, the strength of the league itself makes its schedules among the toughest in college football.

1. Washington

Washington schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 31 at Syracuse
Sept. 8 Boise State
Sept. 15 Ohio State
Sept. 22 at UCLA
Sept. 29 USC
Oct. 13 at Arizona State
Oct. 20 Oregon
Oct. 27 Arizona
Nov. 3 at Stanford
Nov. 10 at Oregon State
Nov. 17 California
Nov. 24 Washington State
Dec. 1 at Hawaii

Combined 2006 record of Division I-A opponents: 105-62 (.629)
Bowl teams: Nine
Home games: Seven
Teams that finished last year in the AP Top 25: Five (four at home). Hawaii was a USA Today Top 25 team but didn't make the final AP poll.
Division I-AA opponents: None

Why they're No. 1: An injury to quarterback Isaiah Stanback was probably the only thing that kept Washington out of the postseason last year, but it's tough to imagine the Huskies earning a bowl bid with this murderous schedule. No other school on this list faces more teams that played in bowl games last year. No team from a BCS conference has a nonconference schedule that even compares to the list of opponents Washington will face from outside the Pac-10. Washington opens with an always-tricky trip to the Carrier Dome. The Huskies better beat Syracuse because three of their next four opponents (Boise State, Ohio State and Southern California) played in BCS games last season. The only game on this schedule that looks like a breather is Stanford, until you realize Washington was the only team the Cardinal beat last season.

2. South Carolina

South Carolina schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 La.-Lafayette
Sept. 8 at Georgia
Sept. 15 S. Carolina St.
Sept. 22 at LSU
Sept. 29 Miss. State
Oct. 4 Kentucky
Oct. 13 at North Carolina
Oct. 20 Vanderbilt
Oct. 27 at Tennessee
Nov. 3 at Arkansas
Nov. 10 Florida
Nov. 24 Clemson

Combined record of Division I-A opponents: 84-57 (.596)
Bowl teams: Seven
Home games: Seven
AP Top 25 teams: Five (one at home)
Division I-AA teams: One

Why they're No. 2: The SEC features so many tough teams that its members dominate this list, but South Carolina's schedule is the toughest in the league. The Gamecocks must face Georgia, Louisiana State, Tennessee and Arkansas -- all on the road. By the time the Gamecocks finally return home for good, they must welcome defending national champion Florida and rival Clemson in a pair of emotionally charged games. Steve Spurrier appears to have the Gamecocks on the verge of contention in the SEC East, but he could have a hard time challenging for a title this year because the schedule is so demanding.

3. Florida State

Florida State schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 3 at Clemson
Sept. 8 UAB
Sept. 15 at Colorado
Sept. 29 Alabama
Oct. 6 N.C. State
Oct. 11 at Wake Forest
Oct. 20 Miami (Fla.)
Oct. 27 Duke
Nov. 3 at Boston College
Nov. 10 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 Maryland
Nov. 24 at Florida

Combined record of Division I-A opponents: 82-72 (.532)
Bowl teams: Eight
Home games: Five (not including Alabama at Jacksonville)
Division I-AA opponents: None
AP Top 25 teams: Four (one at home)

Why they're No. 3: In an era when most big-time programs try to schedule at least seven home games, Florida State will play just five times at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Seminoles' demanding road schedule includes trips to Clemson, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Florida. Although the Seminoles face Alabama close to home in Jacksonville, we're expecting at least half the spectators to root for the Crimson Tide. Florida State also was the rare BCS team that didn't schedule a Division I-AA opponent. Critics might point to the relatively weak combined 2006 record of Florida State's opponents, but we're assuming Miami and Alabama will bounce back from disappointing seasons.

4. Michigan State

Michigan State schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 UAB
Sept. 8 Bowling Green
Sept. 15 Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame
Sept. 29 at Wisconsin
Oct. 6 Northwestern
Oct. 13 Indiana
Oct. 20 at Ohio State
Oct. 27 at Iowa
Nov. 3 Michigan
Nov. 10 at Purdue
Nov. 17 Penn State

Combined record of Division I-A opponents: 90-62 (.592)
Bowl teams: Seven
Home games: Seven
Division I-AA opponents: None
AP Top 25 teams: Five (two at home)

Why they're No. 4: Although Big Ten teams don't play a round-robin conference schedule, the Spartans play all four of the conference's top teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State). The schedule also isn't arranged in the most favorable pattern. The Spartans make trips to Notre Dame and Wisconsin on back-to-back weeks in September. They also end the regular season with five games against teams that played in bowls last season.

5. Auburn

Auburn schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Kansas State
Sept. 8 South Florida
Sept. 15 Mississippi State
Sept. 22 New Mexico St.
Sept. 29 at Florida
Oct. 6 Vanderbilt
Oct. 13 at Arkansas
Oct. 20 at LSU
Oct. 27 Ole Miss
Nov. 3 Tennessee Tech
Nov. 10 at Georgia
Nov. 24 Alabama

Combined record of Division I-A opponents: 80-61 (.567)
Bowl teams: Seven
Home games: Eight
Division I-AA teams: One
AP Top 25 teams: Four (none at home)

Why they're No. 5: What Auburn's road schedule lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. The Tigers' four away games this season are all against teams that finished in the Top 25 last season: Arkansas, Louisiana State, Georgia and defending national champion Florida. Auburn doesn't rank higher on this list because the Tigers should benefit from playing eight home games, including a I-AA opponent (Tennessee Tech) and a second-tier WAC team (New Mexico State).


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