Forty observations on the 2019 college football schedule — hardest, easiest, weirdest, toughest stretches and more:
1. For the second straight season, Notre Dame has scheduled itself into a serious pickle. Last year it was the November cross-country travel — a grind the Fighting Irish nonetheless survived on their way to an undefeated regular season. This year, it’s the alarming number of open-date disadvantages facing the Irish — exactly half the time, Notre Dame will be facing an opponent coming off more rest and preparation time.
Seven times, opponents will have an open date before playing the Irish. In six of those games, the Irish will not be coming off an open date. The list: Bowling Green on Oct. 5, USC on Oct. 12, Virginia Tech on Nov. 2, at Duke on Nov. 9, Navy on Nov. 16, Boston College on Nov. 23.
Yes, five of them are at home, and most of the opponents figure to be significant underdogs — but the setup could tilt the playing field away from Notre Dame’s favor. Potentially most important, four of those games are in succession in November, when injury attrition usually is a major factor.
Last time I can remember a schedule so littered with open-date disadvantages was Alabama in 2010, when the Crimson Tide faced six straight Southeastern Conference opponents who had a week off. In five of those games, ‘Bama did not have the prior Saturday off. Athletic director Mal Moore voiced his displeasure on the topic to the SEC office, as did approximately three million Alabama fans.
How did that turn out? The Tide lost two of the five where it was at a rest disadvantage, at South Carolina to begin the string and against Auburn at the end. That was also the last time Alabama lost three games in the regular season.
Notre Dame, of course, doesn’t have a league office to villainize, though it can at least make mention of the issue to the Atlantic Coast Conference, with whom it schedules five games per season. Three opponents with open-date advantages against the Irish are from the ACC.
2. You may notice that the word “bye week” was not used in the above note. Because “bye” is an incorrect term. It refers to a team advancing in a tournament, and regular-season scheduling is not a tournament. Keep that in mind when people erroneously use “bye week” all fall in reference to Notre Dame’s schedule (and others).
3. Fans gearing up for the annual fight about schedule strength will want the following information. Power Five conference percentages of true road games, from most to fewest: Big 12, 30 percent; Pac-12, 27.8 percent; ACC, 26.8 percent; Big Ten, 19.1 percent; SEC, 10.7 percent.
True road games against other Power Five opponents:
ACC 11 (Clemson at South Carolina, Florida State at Florida, Syracuse at Maryland, North Carolina State at West Virginia, Boston College at Rutgers, Boston College at Notre Dame, Louisville at Kentucky, Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, Virginia at Notre Dame, Pittsburgh at Penn State, North Carolina at Wake Forest — yes, it is a designated non-league game this year).
Big 12 nine (Oklahoma at UCLA, TCU at Purdue, Oklahoma State at Oregon State, Texas Tech at Arizona, Kansas State at Mississippi State, West Virginia at Missouri, Kansas at Boston College).
SEC four (LSU at Texas, Texas A&M at Clemson, Georgia at Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt at Purdue).
Pac-12 three (USC at Notre Dame, Arizona State at Michigan State, California at Mississippi).
Big Ten three (Nebraska at Colorado, Iowa at Iowa State, Northwestern at Stanford).
4. Toughest schedule in America belongs to South Carolina. The Gamecocks play what appears on paper to be the three best teams in the nation: Alabama on Sept. 14, at Georgia on Oct. 12 and Clemson on Nov. 30. Don’t forget games against teams Phil Steele rates No. 10 (Florida), No. 17 (Texas A&M, on the road) and No. 29 (Missouri, also on the road), plus a neutral-site opener against North Carolina. Good luck, Gamecocks.
5. Easiest Power Five schedule belongs to Virginia Tech. The Hokies could use it, after recording their first losing season since 1992. The non-conference features Notre Dame, but the other three opponents are Old Dominion and two FCS teams, Furman and Rhode Island. (That’s a result of a canceled contract with East Carolina, culminating a feud between the two schools.) Tech also plays in the lesser ACC division (the Coastal) and the divisional crossover opponents are Boston College and Wake Forest (not Clemson).
6. Toughest August/September schedule: Vanderbilt plays Georgia, at Purdue, LSU and North Illinois. BYU plays Utah, at Tennessee, USC, Washington and at Toledo. USC plays Fresno State, Stanford, at BYU, Utah, at Washington. UCLA plays three on the road (Cincinnati, Washington State, Arizona), plus San Diego State and Oklahoma.
7. Toughest October schedule: Michigan plays Iowa, at Illinois, at Penn State and Notre Dame. Auburn has no home games, playing at Florida, at Arkansas and at LSU. (The Tigers do make up for it by playing the entirety of November at home.) West Virginia plays Texas, Iowa State, at Oklahoma, at Baylor.
8. Toughest November schedule: Texas A&M finishes at Georgia and at LSU. Georgia plays Florida, Missouri, at Auburn, Texas A&M and at Georgia Tech — with Missouri and Auburn both having an open-date advantage. Maryland plays Michigan, at Ohio State, Nebraska, at Michigan State. Baylor plays at TCU, Oklahoma, Texas and at Kansas. Notre Dame plays its pileup of games against teams coming off open dates (see above) and then finishes at Stanford.
9. Speaking of Stanford: the Cardinal may have the trickiest first half of the season. They open at home against Northwestern on Aug. 31, a full three weeks before students will be back on campus to begin the fall quarter. Then comes bi-coastal consecutive trips to USC and UCF. Then a Pac-12 North showdown with Oregon on Sept. 21, when students are moving back into dorms. That’s followed by a trip to Oregon State and then defending Pac-12 North champion Washington arrives Oct. 5.
10. America’s favorite home-and-home series returns: Liberty and New Mexico State play twice, for the second straight year. This year’s dates, to be circled in red by a captivated American citizenry: Oct. 5, in Las Cruces, New Mexico; Nov. 30, in Lynchburg, Virginia. (The teams split last season’s meetings, as certainly everyone remembers.)
11. This is part of Liberty’s tortured scheduling, which includes four straight road games between Oct. 26 and Nov. 23: at Rutgers, at Massachusetts, at BYU, at Virginia.
12. Only one team will play every regular-season game on God’s green grass: Georgia Tech.
13. Fifteen teams will play every regular-season game on artificial turf.
14. The Notre Dame-Michigan game will be played Oct. 26, which is the latest in the season those two have squared off since 1942. Since 1961, the Wolverines have played just one non-conference game within the Big Ten schedule later than this one — Ball State in November in 2006.
15. Power Five teams that play consecutive road games twice: Michigan State, Syracuse, Boston College, UCLA, Stanford. Syracuse is the only Power Five team to open with consecutive road games, at Liberty and at Maryland.
16. Body-clock games: Kent State is at Arizona State for a 10 p.m. ET kickoff. Purdue at Nevada, Oklahoma State at Oregon State, Minnesota at Fresno State and Texas Tech at Arizona all kick off at 9:30 local time for the visitors. But the winner for worst body-clock kickoff for the second straight year is Hawaii-Army — this time for the Black Knights. Kickoff is set for 11:59 p.m. ET on Nov. 30. Last year Hawaii had to deal with a noon ET start at West Point.
17. The Dana Holgorsen Era at Houston begins with four games in 18 days, three in a row on six-day turnarounds. The Cougars are at Oklahoma on Sunday, Sept. 1, host Prairie View on Saturday, Sept. 7, play Washington State at the Texans’ stadium on Friday, Sept. 13, and then visit Tulane on Thursday, Sept. 19.
18. Team going nowhere: Georgia plays every game in Athens, Atlanta or a neighboring state, with out-of-state trips only to Vanderbilt (roughly 300 miles), Tennessee (235 miles), Jacksonville (340 miles) and Auburn (175 miles).
19. Other team going nowhere: Texas State doesn’t leave the Lone Star State until Oct. 26. (Granted, it’s a big state.)
20. Teams going everywhere: Southern Mississippi, Miami (Ohio), Kent State, Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan all play seven road games. All of NIU’s seven on the road are at least 300 miles from campus.
21. Toughest back-to-back setup: Louisiana Monroe hosts Memphis on Oct. 5 but then must travel to Texas State for a Thursday game Oct. 10. There is nothing easy about getting from Monroe, Louisiana, to San Marcos, Texas. Doing it on a five-day turnaround doubles the pleasure.
22. Five-day turnaround that likely isn’t as problematic as it used to be: North Carolina State hosts Louisville on Nov. 16 and then is at Georgia Tech on Nov. 21. ACC teams used to hate playing the Yellow Jackets on a short week, due to condensed prep time for Paul Johnson’s option offense. But Paul Johnson isn’t there anymore, which should normalize the Wolfpack’s preparation for that game.
23. For the third straight season, Wyoming gets a Power Five opponent at home in Laramie. This time, Missouri visits for the opener Aug. 31. The previous two home games against Power Five teams didn’t go so well for the Cowboys: a 49-13 loss to Oregon in 2017 and a 41-19 loss to Washington State last year.
24. If Mizzou wins in Laramie, it then follows with five in a row at home against middling competition: rebuilding West Virginia, Southeast Missouri, South Carolina, Troy and Mississippi. If Kelly Bryant clicks as the Tigers’ new quarterback, they could be 6-0 heading into consecutive SEC road games against Vanderbilt (three straight wins over the Commodores), Kentucky (four straight losses) and Georgia (reality check).
25. Other teams that play five straight games at home: Miami from Sept. 14-Oct. 19; Wisconsin from Sept. 7-Oct. 12.
26. Ohio State figures to play in front of only two truly hostile crowds this season: at Nebraska on Sept. 28 and at Michigan on Nov. 30. The other road games — Indiana, Northwestern, Rutgers — are historically soft tickets and there will be plenty of scarlet in the stands.
27. For the fifth straight year, Penn State will play its first three games within the state of Pennsylvania. This year, all three are at home: Idaho, Buffalo, Pittsburgh. In previous years the Nittany Lions made early trips to Pitt (2016 and ’18) and Temple (2015).
28. For the fifth consecutive year, Oklahoma has no back-to-back conference road games. Six Big 12 schools will play back-to-backs this season, six did last season as well, and eight did in 2017. But not the Sooners, since 2014. Don’t forget the gift basket for the league office, Lincoln Riley.
29. Hardest openers for coaches in new jobs: Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins (hosts defending national champion Clemson); Louisville’s Scott Satterfield (hosts Notre Dame on Labor Day); Houston’s Dana Holgerson (at Oklahoma on Sunday, Sept. 1).
30. Easiest openers for coaches in new jobs: Temple’s Rod Carey (hosts Bucknell, which finished No. 240 in the 2018 Sagarin Ratings); Troy’s Chip Lindsey (hosts Campbell, No. 222 in ’18); Charlotte’s Will Healy (hosts Gardner-Webb, No. 231 in ’18).
31. SEC divisional showdown dates: LSU at Alabama in the West, Nov. 9; Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville in the East, Nov. 2.
32. Big Ten divisional showdown dates: Ohio State at Michigan in the East, Nov. 30; Minnesota at Iowa in the West, Nov. 16.
33. ACC divisional showdown dates: Clemson at Syracuse in the Atlantic, Sept. 14; Virginia Tech at Miami in the Coastal, Oct. 5.
34. Big 12 non-divisional showdown date: Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, Oct. 12. (The league even gives both the Sooners and Longhorns some preferred bracketing around the Red River game, with both of them playing West Virginia and Kansas either immediately before or immediately after their showdown. On paper, those are the Nos. 9 and 10 teams in the league.)
35. Pac-12 divisional showdown dates: Utah at USC in the South, Sept. 20; Oregon at Washington in the North, Oct. 19.
36. American Athletic Conference divisional showdown dates: Central Florida at Cincinnati in the East, Oct. 4; Memphis at Houston in the West, Nov. 16.
37. Mountain West divisional showdown dates: Air Force at Boise State in the Mountain, Sept. 20; Fresno State at San Diego State in the West, Nov. 15.
38. Conference USA divisional showdown dates: Florida International at Marshall in the East, Nov. 30; UAB at North Texas in the West, Nov. 30. (CUSA wins the scheduling prize for having what looks like its two biggest games on the final day of the regular season.)
39. Mid-American Conference divisional showdown dates: Ohio at Buffalo in the East, Oct. 5; Western Michigan at Toledo in the West, Oct. 5.
40. Sun Belt divisional showdown dates: Georgia Southern at Appalachian State, Oct. 31; Louisiana at Arkansas State in the West, Oct. 17.
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