Forty things every fan should know about the 2012 college football schedule

Pat Forde

Look at the calendar and congratulate yourselves, college football fans. We're inside of three months until kickoff of the first games.

The regular season starts Aug. 30 and won't end until Dec. 1. Then, pretty soon it will be Christmas, and New Year's, and the BCS championship game. See? Football will be here before you know it.

With that in mind, this seemed like a good time for 40 observations on schedules from coast to coast, from have to have-not, from soft to suicidal.

1. Oregon will be wearing out tape of non-conference games from its first two Pac-12 opponents. The Ducks open league play with the radically revamped offense of Arizona under new coach Rich Rodriguez, then get the radically revamped offense of Washington State under new coach Mike Leach. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will be working overtime for those games Sept. 22 and 29 – and then comes new-look Arizona State two games later on Oct. 18.

2. Auburn and Alabama will have to earn it early. The winners of the past three national titles do not start 2012 on easy street. The Crimson Tide plays two of its first three outside state borders for the first time since 1988. And the task this time is considerably harder than it was then. This season, it's Michigan in Arlington, Texas, and Arkansas in Fayetteville. Then, it was Temple in Philadelphia and Kentucky in Lexington. Auburn plays its first two games away from home – Clemson in Atlanta and Mississippi State in Starkville. Last time that happened: 1984, when the Tigers opened 0-2 by losing to Miami at a neutral site and at Texas.

3. Others in the SEC facing challenges: Florida's first two league games are on the road for the first time since 1985. The Gators are the visitors for Texas A&M's SEC debut game Sept. 8, then travel to Tennessee on Sept. 15. Missouri missed the cream-puff memo. The Tigers play Arizona State, preseason Conference USA favorite UCF (on the road) and Syracuse in non-conference games, with only Southeastern Louisiana among the sacrificial-lamb opponents. Vanderbilt is the only SEC school that will play six home games and six on the road.

4. SEC teams that get cushy starts: LSU opens with three at home for the first time since 1999, when Gerry DiNardo got fired for going 3-8. The Tigers also don't have an SEC game until Week 4 for the first time since '03, when they won the national title under Nick Saban. Arkansas opens with four at home (three in Fayetteville, one in Little Rock) for the first time since 2004. Tennessee's first road game is Sept. 29. It opens in Atlanta against North Carolina State, then plays host to Georgia State, Florida and Akron. Could the Volunteers be 4-0 going between the hedges to face Georgia on Sept. 29?

[Related: Big Six schools that have little to gain from road games vs. non-Big Six foes]

5. Then there is Texas A&M, which greets new coach Kevin Sumlin with a trap game. The Aggies open in Shreveport, La., against Louisiana Tech, which returns eight offensive starters from a team that went 8-5, finished the regular season with seven consecutive victories and only lost the Poinsettia Bowl to TCU by a touchdown. Sumlin, meanwhile, is breaking in a new quarterback. Howdy!

6. In the past couple of years, the Big Ten has featured teams that rode front-loaded home schedules to strong starts and successful seasons. In 2010, it was Michigan State. In 2011, it was Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. In 2012, the candidates are Purdue and Iowa. The Boilermakers don't leave the state of Indiana until Oct. 20, with the only road game in the first six coming a short drive north at Notre Dame. Iowa plays its first five at home or at neutral sites against beatable opponents, and does not play Ohio State or Wisconsin.

7. Ohio State has a user-friendly setup as well: four in a row in the Horseshoe to start, eight home games altogether and no back-to-back games on the road. The Buckeyes had the same schedule in 2010, when they went 12-1 (until you factor in vacated games).

8. One year after enjoying eight games in the Big House, Michigan is playing six games away from home, starting with defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas.

9. Indiana continues to schedule like a mid-major, this season playing at Massachusetts on Sept. 8. The Hoosiers played at North Texas last season (which at least is in a recruiting hotbed) and in previous seasons at Western Kentucky and Akron (both manageable drives for whatever football fans Indiana has). No wonder John Calipari thought he could force Indiana into doing what he wanted with the Indiana-Kentucky basketball series.

10. In the Upper Midwest, they play on the fake stuff. Minnesota, Western Michigan and Central Michigan have 12 games scheduled for artificial turf, Phil Steele's yearbook points out.

11. And in the South, they don't. Florida State and Georgia Tech are scheduled to play every game on God's green grass, Steele says.

12. Early nominee for sorest team: Western Michigan. The Broncos play 12 consecutive weeks without a bye, all on artificial turf.

13. Early nominee for most tired team: Idaho. The Vandals play seven games on the road, and the first five trips are hauls from the remote wilderness of Moscow: Bowling Green, LSU, North Carolina, Texas State, Louisiana Tech. And all five of those trips are part of an eight-games-in-eight-weeks stretch.

14. Oklahoma doesn't play its third game in Norman until Oct. 20. Before that, there are two road games, two at home, two open dates and Texas in Dallas. Oklahoma then must deal with a tough closing stretch: at West Virginia, Oklahoma State at home, at TCU. The Sooners play four games in Texas.

15. Texas' aspired improvement after back-to-back down seasons largely will be measured during a three-game stretch from Sept. 29-Oct. 13 at Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma in Dallas.

16. New Big 12 member TCU plays six on the road but only three outside the state of Texas: at Kansas on Sept. 15, at Oklahoma State on Oct. 27 and at West Virginia on Nov. 3. The other three road trips are to SMU, Baylor and Texas.

17. Florida State leaves the Sunshine State just once before Nov. 8 (at North Carolina State on Oct. 6.). Before that, the Seminoles have six at home, plus trips to USF and Miami.

18. Maryland may confuse itself with its dozens of horrific uniform combinations, but not with its schedule. The Terrapins alternate home-road every game, all year, never playing two in a row at home or away. And every game is in the Eastern Time Zone.

19. Virginia Tech has done it again, scheduling its opener on Labor Day and its second game five days later. Last time, the Hokies followed a loss to Boise State with a stunning upset loss to FCS foe James Madison. This time, at least, Virginia Tech found one of the weakest FCS opponents possible for the short turnaround: Austin Peay, which went 3-8 last season and was ranked 224th nationally by Jeff Sagarin.

20. Coming off its first bowl appearance since 2007, Virginia plays four 2011 bowl teams in September: Penn State, Georgia Tech, TCU and Louisiana Tech.

21. Inexperienced Miami opens with two in a row and three of its first four on the road, and faces a stretch of seven consecutive 2011 bowl teams from Sept. 22-Nov. 10. Somebody check on Al Golden on Nov. 11, just to make sure he's OK.

22. Boston College plays six road games, five of them significant journeys from Chestnut Hill, once again affirming the geographic lunacy of playing in the ACC.

23. USC disdains the perks of power. The Trojans play back-to-back home games just once, Nov. 3 (Oregon) and 10 (Arizona State).

24. UCLA has no power to disdain, and no common sense when it comes to scheduling. The Bruins are opening on the road for the third consecutive season. They opened at Kansas State in 2010 (loss) and at Houston in 2011 (loss). They should be able to break that cycle this season at Rice in a Thursday night game on Aug. 30.

25. Keep an eye on Utah. The Utes don't play Oregon or Stanford, and get USC in Salt Lake City. The 2011 record of their six road opponents: 32-45.

26. Colorado has an easy first half of the schedule, but a brutal second half. None of the Buffs' first six opponents had a winning record last season (and that includes an FCS program). But then they could easily lose the last six.

27. Stanford has no road games until Sept. 27, then plays six of its last nine on the road.

28. California plays 12 consecutive weeks, no byes, and has consecutive September road games against Ohio State and USC.

29. Between Sept. 8 and Oct. 13, Washington faces LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC. Snap the chinstrap on extra tight, Huskies.

30. Another Oregon note: The Ducks' first game in an opponent's home stadium is Oct. 18, at Arizona State. The only other game away from home before that is Washington State in Seattle on Sept. 29.

31. Louisville has no home game between Sept. 15 and Oct. 20. The Cardinals have trips to FIU, Southern Miss and Pittsburgh, plus an open date, in that span.

32. USF travels to Ball State and Nevada. What?

33. Cincinnati has no true road game until Oct. 20. The Bearcats open with four at home and Virginia Tech in Landover, Md. – surely a road atmosphere, but still less daunting than a trip to Blacksburg.

34. Boise State is at Nevada to close the season. The Broncos return to the scene of the 2010 Kyle Brotzman debacle.

35. UNLV has been horrible under Bobby Hauck but at least gives him a chance this season. The Rebels open with four in a row at home, including potential upset marks Minnesota and Washington State.

36. New Mexico welcomes new coach Bob Davie with seven road games, including three in a row in September followed by a home game against Boise State. Good thing he gets an opener against Southern.

37. Miami (Ohio) plays seven on the road. But four of them are in-state: Ohio State, Akron, Cincinnati and Bowling Green. All 12 games are on artificial turf.

38. Buffalo is streaky. It plays three in a row on the road Sept. 29-Oct. 13, then four in a row at home Oct. 20-Nov. 10, including Pittsburgh.

39. In what could be a "Fire Mike Price" schedule, UTEP has non-conference games against the Big 12 (Oklahoma), the SEC (Mississippi) and the Big Ten (Wisconsin). And if Price has a seventh consecutive losing season, it will be time.

40. New FBS program UMass plays seven on the road, and even the five at home aren't at home. They're in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, more than 90 miles from campus.

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