Can't accuse these teams of ducking anyone

Updated: July 3, 2007, 3:15 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

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

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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