40 things to know about the 2017 college football schedule

Nick Saban and Alabama face a real test in their opener against Florida State. (Associated Press)
Nick Saban and Alabama face a real test in their opener against Florida State. (Associated Press)

As the calendar hits August, a Dash (if you will) through 40 observations on the college football schedule:

1. The Southeastern Conference is challenging itself like no other conference in September, with its top seven teams all playing a big-time game away from home within the first nine days of the month. The list: Alabama vs. Florida State in Atlanta on Sept. 2; Florida vs. Michigan in Arlington on Sept. 2; LSU vs. BYU in Houston on Sept. 2; Texas A&M at UCLA on Sept. 3; Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Sept. 4; Georgia at Notre Dame on Sept. 9; and Auburn at Clemson on Sept. 9. Is this league regaining its powerful depth, or is it again Alabama and 13 schmoes? We should have a good indication very early in the season.

2. Similarly, the Big 12 has a chance to stage a high-profile revival or again bury itself early. Seven teams play away from home against Power Five opponents in the first three weekends of the year: West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland, Sept. 3; Oklahoma at Ohio State, Sept. 9; TCU at Arkansas, Sept. 9; Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh, Sept. 16; Texas at USC, Sept. 16; Kansas State at Vanderbilt, Sept. 16; and Baylor at Duke, Sept. 16. Last year the Big 12 failed almost unanimously in early out-of-conference tests, all but sealing its fate as a non-playoff conference.

3. Yes, you read that right: Baylor is playing a Power Five opponent out of conference. Last time it happened: 2009. Nobody has scheduled more timorously over the last several years than the Bears.

4. Sept. 16 is a showcase day for the Atlantic Coast Conference: Clemson visits Louisville in what has become a very good rivalry, very quickly; Miami is at Florida State in a rivalry matchup of preseason divisional favorites; and Pittsburgh gets a home game against likely preseason top 10 Oklahoma State.

5. The ACC also finally succeeded in getting its marquee game played as late as possible on the schedule. Florida State visits Clemson on Nov. 11, the first time since 2005 that the matchup has been the final conference game on both teams’ schedule. Both close with games against in-state SEC rivals – Florida for the Seminoles and South Carolina for the Tigers – and both are playing FCS patsies the week before. So the 10th game of the season could be the day the ACC Atlantic is decided.

6. Boo: For perhaps the first time ever, zero teams play every game on natural grass. Eighteen play every game on artificial turf: Ohio State, Washington State, Kansas State, Wyoming, Utah State, Air Force, UNLV, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Miami (Ohio), Buffalo, Western Kentucky, Charlotte, UT-San Antonio, Arkansas State, Idaho and Coastal Carolina. In an era of “Fake News,” perhaps it was inevitable to have so many games on Fake Grass.

7. Teams with advantageous schedules, Part I: Florida gets the gift LSU home game courtesy of stiff-necked Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva and plays just three true road games.

8. Advantageous schedule, Part II: Arkansas plays four true road games, none before Oct. 7, and none of its opponents have a bye week before facing the Razorbacks.

9. Advantageous schedule, part III: Wisconsin plays neither Ohio State nor Penn State and gets Michigan in Madison; Northwestern plays neither Ohio State nor Michigan and gets Penn State in Evanston.

10. Advantageous schedule, part IV: Washington has five Pac-12 games at home, four on the road, does not play USC and should be heavily favored in at least three of five road games (Rutgers, Oregon State, Arizona State).

11. Advantageous schedule, part V: Washington State opens with five straight on the Palouse, capped by a Friday night game against USC.

12. Advantageous schedule, part VI: Kansas State won’t face a team that won more than seven games last year until Oct. 21.

13. Advantageous schedule, part VII: Pittsburgh avoids the Atlantic Big Three of Florida State, Clemson and Louisville.

14. Advantageous schedule, part VIII: SMU doesn’t leave the DFW Metroplex until Oct. 7 and doesn’t leave the state until Oct. 21.

15. Advantageous schedule, part IX: Wyoming plays four straight at home in September – a remarkable luxury for a Group of Five team – including a visit from Oregon.

16. Advantageous schedule, part X: Alabama plays one game farther than 250 miles from campus – at Texas A&M on Oct. 7.

17. Disadvantageous schedule, part I: Auburn plays three straight SEC road games in a span of four weeks: at LSU on Oct. 14, at Arkansas on Oct. 21, at Texas A&M on Nov. 4. Nobody else in the league plays more than two straight league games on the road. The Tigers also have the previously mentioned trip to Clemson on Sept. 9.

18. Disadvantageous schedule, part II: Indiana has four of its first eight on the road and plays five divisional games before November. The first game against a Big Ten West opponent is division favorite Wisconsin on Nov. 4.

19. Disadvantageous schedule, part III: California plays 10 straight weeks without a bye, draws USC and UCLA from the Pac-12 South, and could start 1-6 in Justin Wilcox’s debut season. The Golden Bears also finish at Stanford and at UCLA.

20. Disadvantageous schedule, part IV: Oklahoma State plays three road games in September. The Cowboys also face Texas and West Virginia on the road on consecutive Saturdays, then come home for a showdown with Oklahoma.

21. Disadvantageous schedule, part V: Between Sept. 23 and Nov. 11, Wake Forest plays five of seven games on the road. The home games are against Florida State and Louisville.

22. Disadvantageous schedule, part VI: South Florida plays three games in 13 days: at Connecticut on Sept. 9, Friday home game against Illinois on Sept. 15, Thursday home game against Temple on Sept. 21.

23. Disadvantageous schedule, part VII: Cincinnati plays three straight on the road: at Michigan on Sept. 9, at Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 16, at Navy on Sept. 23. (Granted, Bearcats fans should make the short commute to Oxford, Ohio, en masse for the middle game in that stretch.)

24. Disadvantageous schedule, part VIII: In its first season under Jeff Tedford, Fresno State faces these back-to-back road games: at Alabama on Sept. 9 and at Washington on Sept. 16; then at Hawaii on Nov. 11 and at Wyoming on Nov. 18. The competition will be brutal in the first back-to-back; the temperature swings will be extreme in the second.

25. Disadvantageous schedule, part IX: Brigham Young plays seven games away from home and has consecutive road games at Mississippi State on Oct. 14 and East Carolina on Oct. 21. It’s not easy to get to Starkville, Miss., or Greenville, N.C., especially when coming from Provo, Utah.

26. Disadvantageous schedule, part X: Syracuse road games are at LSU, three of the top four teams in the Atlantic (Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina State) and the favorite in the Coastal (Miami). Closest road game for Orange fans is 640 miles away in Raleigh. ACC geography strikes again.

27. Misplaced rivalry games: Duke visits North Carolina on Sept. 23, the earliest the two have ever played in a rivalry that dates back to 1922, when Duke was known as Trinity College. Oklahoma visits Oklahoma State on Nov. 4, the earliest the Bedlam game has been played since 2004.

28. Body-clock games: Cal at North Carolina (Sept. 2) kicks off at 9:20 a.m. Berkeley time; Minnesota at Oregon State (Sept. 9) kicks off at 9 p.m. Minneapolis time; Houston at Arizona (Sept. 9) kicks off at 9:30 p.m. Houston time; UCLA at Memphis (Sept. 16) kicks off at 9 a.m. Los Angeles time; Mississippi at Cal (Sept. 16) kicks off at 9:30 p.m. Oxford time.

29. Longest road trip (other than Stanford and Rice playing in Australia): Hawaii at Massachusetts, a distance of 5,000 miles.

30. Power Five teams playing true road games against non-Power Five teams: Oklahoma State at South Alabama; Iowa State at Akron; Kansas at Ohio; Wake Forest at Appalachian State; Miami at Arkansas State; North Carolina at Old Dominion; Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech; Kentucky at Southern Mississippi; Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee; Wisconsin at BYU; Illinois at South Florida; UCLA at Memphis; Utah at BYU; Arizona at UTEP; Stanford at San Diego State; Oregon at Wyoming; Oregon State at Colorado State; Georgia Tech at Central Florida; Missouri at Connecticut; Virginia Tech at East Carolina; and Virginia is at Boise State.

31. About that Virginia Tech-ECU game: It is the Pirates’ chance to extend a four-year streak of beating at least one ACC opponent.

32. Stanford doesn’t play a home game until Sept. 23, latest of any Power Five school, which is fine with the Cardinal. Undergraduate campus housing doesn’t open until Sept. 19, and classes don’t start until Sept. 25.

33. Utah State doesn’t play a Saturday home game until Oct. 7.

34. Tulane is at Navy on Sept. 9 and at Oklahoma on Sept. 16. Tough trips and tough preparation for wildly different offensive schemes.

35. UCLA plays six road games, two Friday nights, one Sunday and has the previously mentioned early-wakeup road game at Memphis.

36. Oklahoma’s streak of never playing consecutive true road games will reach three years this fall. The Sooners are the only Big 12 team not playing true road games in succession in 2017. Send a fruit basket to the conference office, OU fans.

37. USC twice plays back-to-back road games: Sept. 23 and 29 against Cal and Washington State, respectively; and Oct. 21 and 28 against Notre Dame and Arizona State. Last time USC won in South Bend, Lane Kiffin was the coach.

38. Say a prayer for the Mercer Bears, who just started playing football again in 2013 after shuttering the program in 1941. They play Auburn on Sept. 16 and Alabama on Nov. 18.

39. Alabama aside, the penultimate football Saturday of the regular season is actually legit in the SEC this year. Customarily a weekend set aside for scheduling tune-ups against patsies before a big rivalry matchup, this year the SEC has LSU at Tennessee, Texas A&M at Mississippi, Mississippi State at Arkansas, Kentucky at Georgia and Missouri at Vanderbilt. Much better.

40. Navy visits Florida Atlantic on Sept. 1. Lane Kiffin’s opener as coach of the Owls has unofficially been titled, “Disciplined vs. Un.”