- Mark Schlabach, College Football Reporter
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Determining which college football teams have the toughest schedule in the country is largely an inexact science.
When analyzing a team's schedule, you must project which of its opponents improve from a year ago and which regress this season. For example: Notre Dame should be a tougher opponent this season than it was last season. And Hawaii doesn't figure to be nearly as good as it was with coach June Jones and record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan in 2007.
After analyzing the schedules of all 120 Division I-A teams, one thing seems certain: if Georgia begins and finishes the season ranked No. 1 in the country, the Bulldogs will have earned it.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs' 12-game slate includes nine contests against opponents that played in bowl games last season, including LSU and Florida, which won the last two BCS national championships.
All told, Georgia faces eight teams coached by men who have won some sort of national championship. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson, Alabama's Nick Saban, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, LSU's Les Miles and Florida's Urban Meyer have won Division I-A national titles. Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson won two Division I-AA national championships at Georgia Southern, and current Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher won a Division II national title at Valdosta (Ga.) State.
The Bulldogs open the season Aug. 30 against Georgia Southern, then play defending MAC champion Central Michigan on Sept. 6 at Sanford Stadium. Then the schedule really gets tough. Georgia plays back-to-back road games at South Carolina on Sept. 13 and Arizona State on Sept. 20. The trip to Tempe, Ariz., is Georgia's first non-SEC regular-season game west of the Mississippi River since a 15-14 loss at Houston in 1967.
The Bulldogs return to Georgia for consecutive home games against Alabama and Tennessee. After hosting Vanderbilt on Oct. 18, Georgia plays at LSU on Oct. 25 and plays Florida in Jacksonville on Nov. 1. A Nov. 15 road game at Auburn also looms as a potential stumbling block.
Nonconference opponents: Georgia Southern (home), Central Michigan (home), Arizona State (road), Georgia Tech (home)
Toughest game: at LSU, Oct. 25
Easiest game: vs. Georgia Southern, Aug. 30
2. Washington Huskies
For the second season in a row, the Huskies play one of the country's hardest schedules. Washington coach Tyrone Willingham can't afford another nonwinning season after a 4-9 mark in 2007, but the Huskies probably have a very difficult time getting to .500 playing a murderer's row of opponents.
Washington opens the season with a Pac-10 road game at Oregon on Aug. 30, then plays home games against BCS hopeful BYU and defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma. Anything other than a 0-3 record to start the season would be an achievement. An Oct. 25 home game against Notre Dame -- Willingham's former employer -- rounds out the nonconference schedule.
The Huskies' Pac-10 slate also includes road games at USC on Nov. 1 and California on Dec. 6. Washington plays Oregon State, Arizona State and UCLA at home.
Nonconference opponents: BYU (home), Oklahoma (home), Notre Dame (home)
Toughest game: vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 13
Easiest game: at Washington State, Nov. 22
3. UCLA Bruins
New Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel won't get much of a honeymoon after returning to his alma mater. UCLA opens the season with a Sept. 1 home game against Tennessee and then plays at BYU on Sept. 13.
After hosting Arizona on Sept. 20, UCLA plays another potential BCS buster when Fresno State comes to the Rose Bowl on Sept. 27. The Bruins also play Pac-10 road games at Oregon on Oct. 11, California on Oct. 25, Washington on Nov. 15 and Arizona State on Nov. 28.
UCLA closes the season against rival USC at the Rose Bowl on Dec. 6.
Nonconference opponents: Tennessee (home), BYU (road), Fresno State (home)
Toughest game: vs. Tennessee, Sept. 1
Easiest game: vs. Washington State, Oct. 4
4. Oregon State Beavers
Beavers coach Mike Riley has quietly built one of the better Pac-10 programs since returning to Oregon State, winning 19 games during the past two seasons. If Oregon State wins 10 games this season, Riley deserves a pretty hefty raise.
The Beavers open the season with consecutive road games at Stanford on Aug. 28 and Penn State on Sept. 6. Oregon State then plays back-to-back home games against defending WAC champion Hawaii on Sept. 13 and six-time defending Pac-10 champ USC on Sept. 25. An Oct. 2 road game at Utah will also be much tougher than it looks.
The rest of the Pac-10 schedule includes road games at Washington on Oct. 18, UCLA on Nov. 8 and Arizona on Nov. 22. At least the Beavers get to play home games against Arizona State on Nov. 1, California on Nov. 15 and rival Oregon on Nov. 29.
Nonconference opponents: Penn State (road), Hawaii (home), Utah (road)
Toughest game: vs. USC, Sept. 25
Easiest game: vs. Washington State, Oct. 11
5. Baylor Bears
At some point during the 2008 season, new Bears coach Art Briles might be second guessing his decision to leave Houston for Baylor.
The Bears, who finished 3-9 in 2007 and have finished outside the basement of the Big 12 South only once since the league split into divisions, face a daunting schedule. Baylor opens the season with an Aug. 28 home game against Wake Forest. After playing Division I-AA Northwestern State at Floyd Casey Stadium on Sept. 6, the Bears play Washington State at home on Sept. 13 and travel to Connecticut on Sept. 19.
Baylor will get no breaks in its Big 12 schedule, either. The Bears play road games at Oklahoma State on Oct. 18, at Nebraska on Oct. 25, at Texas on Nov. 8 and at Texas Tech on Nov. 29. Baylor also plays home games against Oklahoma on Oct. 4, Missouri on Nov. 1 and Texas A&M on Nov. 15.
Nonconference opponents: Wake Forest (home), Northwestern State (home), Washington State (home), Connecticut (road)
Toughest game: vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 4
Easiest game: vs. Northwestern State, Sept. 6
6. Colorado Buffaloes
Dan Hawkins seems to be well on his way to restoring Colorado's football program, but the Buffaloes have to play much better in 2008 if they're going to navigate their way through a very difficult schedule.
Colorado opens the season with a nonconference game against rival Colorado State at Invesco Field in Denver on Aug. 30. Defending Big East champion West Virginia goes to Folsum Field on Sept. 18, then the Buffaloes play Florida State at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Sept. 27.
Colorado's Big 12 schedule includes an Oct. 4 home game against Texas and road games at Kansas on Oct. 11, Missouri on Oct. 25, Texas A&M on Nov. 1 and Nebraska on Nov. 28.
Nonconference opponents: Colorado State (at Denver), Eastern Washington (home), West Virginia (home), Florida State (at Jacksonville, Fla.)
Toughest game: at Missouri, Oct. 25
Easiest game: vs. Eastern Washington, Sept. 6
7. Syracuse Orange
Syracuse might have to win at least seven games for coach Greg Robinson to keep his job beyond this season -- and it certainly won't be easy against an arduous schedule.
The Orange, who finished 2-10 last season, open the season with an Aug. 30 road game at Northwestern. Consecutive home games against Akron on Sept. 6 and Penn State on Sept. 13 are challenging, too. Syracuse's other nonconference games are a Sept. 20 game against Division I-AA Northeastern at the Carrier Dome and Nov. 22 road game at Notre Dame.
The Orange play four of the Big East's best teams on the road: at West Virginia on Oct. 11., at South Florida on Oct. 18, at Rutgers on Nov. 8 and at Cincinnati on Nov. 29.
Nonconference opponents: Northwestern (road), Akron (home), Penn State (home), Northeastern (home), Notre Dame (road)
Toughest game: at West Virginia, Oct. 11
Easiest game: vs. Northeastern, Sept. 20
8. Troy Trojans
The Trojans should challenge Florida Atlantic for the Sun Belt championship this season, but they'll have to survive a brutal nonconference schedule during the first two months.
After opening the season with an Aug. 28 road game at Middle Tennessee, Troy plays at defending national champion LSU on Sept. 6. On Sept. 20, the Trojans play at Ohio State, which lost to LSU 38-24 in the 2008 BCS championship game. Troy also plays at Oklahoma State on Sept. 27.
Ten days after playing the Cowboys, the Trojans play the Owls in a game that could decide which team wins the Sun Belt championship.
Nonconference opponents: LSU (road), Alcorn State (home), Ohio State (road), Oklahoma State (road), Western Kentucky (home)
Toughest game: at Ohio State, Sept. 20
Easiest game: vs. Florida International, Oct. 18
9. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama's nonconference schedule, which includes home games against Tulane, Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, leaves a lot to be desired. But the Crimson Tide more than make up for it with an Aug. 30 opener against Clemson in Atlanta's Georgia Dome and a brutal stretch of SEC road games.
If coach Nick Saban is going to improve on a 7-6 mark in his first season at Alabama, his team has to be much improved. The Crimson Tide play road games at Arkansas on Sept. 20, at Georgia on Sept. 27, at Tennessee on Oct. 25 and at defending national champion LSU on Nov. 8.
Alabama finishes the regular season with a home game against Auburn at Bryant-Denney Stadium on Nov. 29. The Tigers have beaten the Crimson Tide six times in a row, the longest winning streak in the Iron Bowl for Auburn.
Nonconference opponents: Clemson (at Atlanta), Tulane (home), Western Kentucky (home), Arkansas State (home)
Toughest game: at LSU, Nov. 8
Easiest game: vs. Western Kentucky, Sept. 13
10. Virginia Cavaliers
It figures to be a rebuilding year for Cavaliers coach Al Groh, who must replace star defensive end Chris Long and several other key players. Virginia's schedule might make Groh's task even tougher.
The Cavaliers open the season Aug. 30 against USC at Scott Stadium. Virginia also plays nonconference games against Division I-AA Richmond on Sept. 6, at Connecticut on Sept. 13 and against East Carolina on Oct. 11.
Virginia closes the regular season with a three-game stretch that includes a road game at Wake Forest on Nov. 8, at home against Clemson on Nov. 22 and at rival Virginia Tech on Nov. 29.
Nonconference opponents: USC (home), Richmond (home), Connecticut (road), East Carolina (home)
Toughest game: vs. USC, Aug. 30
Easiest game: vs. Richmond, Sept. 6
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
Wondering which teams face the toughest schedules in 2008? Mark Schlabach has the answers.