Commentary

Hawkeyes, Hoosiers have easiest road in '08

Originally Published: August 25, 2008
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

The road to the Jan. 8 BCS National Championship Game in Miami can be long and winding for many of college football's best teams.

For other teams, the 12-game schedule doesn't offer as many potential stumbling blocks or pitfalls.

Here's a look at the 10 easiest schedules among college football teams in 2008:

1. Iowa Hawkeyes

Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz enters the 2008 season on the hot seat after three straight mediocre campaigns and numerous off-the-field problems.

Fortunately for Ferentz, the Hawkeyes won't play Ohio State or Michigan for the second consecutive season. Iowa didn't take advantage of its soft schedule last season, when it finished with a 6-6 record and was left out of a bowl game.

The Hawkeyes should be able to start the season with three consecutive victories. They open the season with home games against Division I-AA Maine, Florida International and rival Iowa State. After playing at Pittsburgh on Sept. 20, Iowa plays Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 27.

Iowa's toughest Big Ten road games are at Michigan State on Oct. 4 and Illinois on Nov. 1. The Hawkeyes play home games against Wisconsin on Oct. 18, Penn State on Nov. 8 and Purdue on Nov. 15.

Nonconference opponents: Maine (home), Florida International (home), Iowa State (home), Pittsburgh (road)

Toughest game: vs. Wisconsin, Oct. 18

Easiest game: vs. Maine, Aug. 30

2. Indiana Hoosiers

After enduring a difficult 2007 in which the Hoosiers lost coach Terry Hoeppner to a brain tumor during the offseason, things should be easier for them in 2008.

Indiana plays eight home games at Memorial Stadium, including four in a row to start the season, and doesn't play Michigan or Ohio State. The Hoosiers open the season Aug. 30 against Western Kentucky, then play Division I-AA Murray State on Sept. 6, Ball State on Sept. 20 and Michigan State on Sept. 27.

Indiana's toughest road games are at Illinois on Oct. 18 and at Penn State on Nov. 15. The Hoosiers play Iowa, Central Michigan and Wisconsin at home and end the regular season at Purdue on Nov. 22, which will be Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller's final game at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Nonconference opponents: Western Kentucky (home), Murray State (home), Ball State (home), Central Michigan (home)

Toughest game: at Illinois, Oct. 18

Easiest game: vs. Murray State, Sept. 6

3. Iowa State Cyclones

Former Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik went 3-9 in his first season as Iowa State's coach. Things should be easier in his second season, thanks to the Cyclones' less-than-arduous schedule.

The Cyclones won't have to play what should be the best three teams from the Big 12 South: Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Iowa State opens the season Aug. 28 against Division I-AA South Dakota State at Jack Trice Stadium, then plays Kent State at home on Sept. 6.

Iowa State's toughest road games are at Iowa on Sept. 13, at Oklahoma State on Nov. 1, at Colorado on Nov. 8 and at Kansas State on Nov. 22. The Cyclones play Kansas, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri at home.

Nonconference opponents: South Dakota State (home), Kent State (home), Iowa (road), UNLV (road)

Toughest game: vs. Missouri, Nov. 15

Easiest game: vs. South Dakota State, Aug. 28

4. Memphis Tigers

The Tigers are expected to be one of the most improved teams in the country, maybe even good enough to challenge UCF and East Carolina for the Conference USA East title.

Coach Tommy West put his team in excellent position to do just that by scheduling a pretty soft slate. The Tigers open the season at Ole Miss on Aug. 30, which figures to be one of its toughest games of the season. But the rest of Memphis' nonconference schedule includes home games against Division I-AA Nicholls State on Sept. 20, Arkansas State on Sept. 27 and rebuilding Louisville on Oct. 10.

The Tigers must play at East Carolina on Oct. 18, but they get to play Southern Miss and UCF at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

Nonconference opponents: Ole Miss (road), Nicholls State (home), Arkansas State (home), Louisville (home)

Toughest game: at Ole Miss, Aug. 30

Easiest game: vs. Nicholls State, Sept. 20

5. Arizona Wildcats

After compiling a 17-29 record in his first four seasons as Arizona's coach, Mike Stoops needs a big year to save his job. The Wildcats' schedule might allow him to do just that.

Arizona wasn't very aggressive in scheduling its nonconference opponents, with home games against Idaho and Toledo and a road game at New Mexico filling the calendar.

The Wildcats play most of the Pac-10's best teams at Arizona Stadium: California on Oct. 18, USC on Oct. 25, Oregon State on Nov. 22 and rival Arizona State on Dec. 6.

Arizona plays at UCLA on Sept. 20 and at Oregon on Nov. 15.

Nonconference opponents: Idaho (home), Toledo (home), New Mexico (road)

Toughest game: vs. USC, Oct. 25

Easiest game: vs. Idaho, Aug. 30

6. Ball State Cardinals

Many MAC teams are stepping out of conference and playing road games at BCS powers. Two-time defending MAC champion Central Michigan plays at Georgia and Purdue. Ohio University plays at Ohio State. Kent State hosts Boston College. Bowling Green plays at Pittsburgh and Boise State.

Ball State's toughest nonconference games are at home against Navy on Sept. 5 and at Indiana on Sept. 20. The Cardinals open the season Aug. 28 against Division I-AA Northeastern and play at Western Kentucky on Oct. 11.

The MAC schedule should be a little tougher. The Cardinals play at Central Michigan on Nov. 19 and don't get to play traditional cellar dwellers Buffalo and Temple.

Nonconference opponents: Northeastern (home), Navy (home), Indiana (road), Western Kentucky (road)

Toughest game: at Central Michigan, Nov. 19

Easiest game: vs. Northeastern, Aug. 28

7. Connecticut Huskies

The Huskies' nonconference schedule is a little tougher than it was a year ago, when they beat Duke, Division I-AA Maine, Temple and Akron and lost to Virginia while finishing 9-4.

But coach Randy Edsall's squad plays a Division I-AA opponent and two of the worst Division I-A teams in the country in 2008. Connecticut opens the season against Hofstra at Rentschler Field on Aug. 28, then plays at Temple on Sept. 6. Consecutive home games against rebuilding Virginia and Baylor follow in September. Connecticut's final nonconference game is at North Carolina on Oct. 4.

The Huskies' Big East schedule includes road games at Rutgers on Oct. 18 and at South Florida on Nov. 23. They play Cincinnati, West Virginia and Pittsburgh at home.

Nonconference opponents: Hofstra (home), Temple (road), Virginia (home), Baylor (home), North Carolina (road)

Toughest game: at South Florida, Nov. 23

Easiest game: vs. Hofstra, Aug. 28

8. Navy Midshipmen

One of only four Independents currently in I-A football, Navy has the benefit of handpicking much of its schedule. As the Midshipmen improved under former coach Paul Johnson, they had a harder time filling their 12 dates.

Navy shouldn't slip much under new coach Ken Niumatalolo because its 2008 schedule isn't too difficult. Navy should be an underdog in only four of its games: at home against Rutgers on Sept. 20, at Wake Forest on Sept. 27, at home against Pittsburgh on Oct. 18 and against Notre Dame in Baltimore on Nov. 15.

The Midshipmen open the season Aug. 30 against Division I-AA Towson at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and also play home games against SMU and Temple. Navy closes the regular season Dec. 6 against Army at Philadelphia.

Toughest game: at Wake Forest, Sept. 27

Easiest game: vs. Towson, Aug. 30

9. Duke Blue Devils

Former Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe faces an uphill climb in trying to transform the Blue Devils into winners, but a soft schedule might make his job much easier from the start.

Believe it or not, the Blue Devils might have a chance to win at least three of their first four games. Duke opens the season with four consecutive home games: against Division I-AA James Madison on Aug. 30, Northwestern on Sept. 6, Navy on Sept. 13 and Virginia on Sept. 27.

The ACC schedule includes tough road games at Wake Forest on Nov. 1, Clemson on Nov. 15 and Virginia Tech on Nov. 22. But the early schedule should give the Blue Devils some much-needed confidence.

Nonconference opponents: James Madison (home), Northwestern (home), Navy (home), Vanderbilt (road)

Toughest game: at Clemson, Nov. 15

Easiest game: vs. James Madison, Aug. 30

10. Clemson Tigers

The Tigers are overwhelming favorites to win their first ACC championship since 1991, and they'll have a chance to really get momentum rolling if they beat Alabama in Atlanta's Georgia Dome in the Aug. 30 opener.

After playing the Crimson Tide, Clemson plays four consecutive home games: against The Citadel on Sept. 6, NC State on Sept. 13, South Carolina State on Sept. 20 and Maryland on Sept. 27.

The ACC schedule includes road games at Wake Forest on Oct. 9, Boston College on Nov. 1 and Florida State on Nov. 8. But the Tigers don't have to play three of the best teams from the ACC's Coastal Division -- Virginia Tech, North Carolina or Miami.

Clemson also might be in position to finish the regular season strong. The Tigers' schedule ends with a home game against Duke on Nov. 15, a road game at Virginia on Nov. 22 and home against rival South Carolina on Nov. 29.

Nonconference opponents: Alabama (at Atlanta), The Citadel (home), South Carolina State (home), South Carolina (home)

Toughest game: at Wake Forest, Oct. 9

Easiest game: vs. South Carolina State, Sept. 20

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

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