Today we finish up our four-part look at 2012 schedules with the toughest and easiest schedules in each of the Big Six leagues.
Obviously, not all conferences are created equally, so the toughest and easiest categories for each league are for those leagues only.
Format: The 12-team league has an eight-game conference schedule, with every team having four home games and four on the road.
Toughest: Duke. There are three eminently winnable nonconference games at home. But that's the extent of the good news. The other nonconference contest is a trip to Stanford. There are road games against Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. And the conference home games are difficult, too: Clemson, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia.
Easiest: North Carolina. The only truly difficult nonconference game is a trip to Louisville. The Heels miss ACC crossover games with Clemson and Florida State, the best teams in the Atlantic Division. They also have their toughest Coastal Division contests at home (Miami and Virginia Tech). And three of their final four games are at home.
[Related: Best nonconference games of 2012]
Format: The eight-team league has a seven-game conference schedule. Teams with four conference home games and three road games are Cincinnati, Louisville, Temple and USF. Teams with three conference home games and four road games are Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse.
Toughest: Syracuse. The Orange play four nonconference games against Big Six conference opponents, which is tied for the most in the nation with Massachusetts. Two of those are on the road, including a November trip to Missouri, and the two at home are against Northwestern and USC. There are four league road games and just three Big East games at home, and while four of the first five games overall are at home, the Orange play four of their last five on the road. The one home game in that span is against Louisville, which looks as if it will be the preseason pick to win the league.
Easiest: Cincinnati. The Bearcats have a rough nonconference game against Virginia Tech (though it's somewhat of a neutral-site affair, in Landover, Md.), but two FCS teams and two MAC teams make up the rest of the nonconference schedule, There are just three league road games and none of them are back-to-back. There isn't a true road game until Oct. 20, and three of the four games in November are at home. The toughest league game, Louisville, is on the road, though.
Format: The 10-team league plays a complete nine-game round-robin schedule, with every team facing each league opponent. Teams with five league home games and four on the road are Iowa State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia; teams with four home games and five on the road are Kansas, Kansas State and TCU. Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech have four of each because each plays one league game at a neutral site.
Toughest: TCU. Welcome to the Big 12, Horned Frogs. TCU has Virginia and SMU in nonconference contests. In league play, the Horned Frogs face tough road tests against Oklahoma State, Texas and West Virginia. And the closing stretch is a monster: at Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, vs. Kansas State, at Texas and vs. Oklahoma.
Easiest: West Virginia. The league office was rather kind to its other new member. The toughest nonconference game is either Marshall or Maryland. There are road games against Texas and Oklahoma State, but the other two league games away from home are against Iowa State and Texas Tech. There's an open date in late October, before a visit from TCU. Playing Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks in early November obviously is tough, but that is the season's only tough two-week stretch.
Format: The 12-team league plays an eight-game conference schedule, with each team having four league games at home and four on the road.
Toughest: Nebraska. There's a relatively challenging nonconference schedule, which includes games against Southern Miss, Arkansas State and at UCLA. The Big Ten crossover opponents that the Huskers miss are Illinois, Indiana and Purdue (i.e., three eminently winnable games); the crossover foes are Ohio State (road), Penn State and Wisconsin, the three best teams in the Leaders Division. There also are Legends Division road games against Michigan State and Iowa, while division foe Michigan also visits Lincoln.
Easiest: Indiana. The worst team in the league has the easiest schedule. Shouldn't it always work that way? The nonconference schedule is Indiana State, Massachusetts, Ball State and Navy; Indiana State is a FCS member and UMass is in its first season in FBS. The Hoosiers miss Big Ten crossover games with Michigan and Nebraska and play their toughest crossover opponent, Michigan State, at home. There also are home games with Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. While they have two nonconference games on the road, it's not as if they are playing top-10 teams (UMass and Navy). The toughest league road game is Penn State, which should fall a long way fall last season. The caveat here: While the schedule is easy, this team isn't good. A losing record still beckons.
Format: The 12-team league has a nine-game conference schedule. Teams with five league home games and four on the road are Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington State. Teams with four conference home games and five on the road are Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, USC, Utah and Washington.
Toughest: Washington. The Huskies have a mega-tough nonconference road game against LSU; there's also a good nonconference test at home against San Diego State. The Huskies' league misses this season: Arizona State and UCLA, neither of whom is supposed to be all that good (i.e., good chances for wins are gone). There are no back-to-back home games in league play (technically, there are no real home games at all, as Husky Stadium is being renovated and Washington is playing at CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks). Worst of all, the first three league games: vs. Stanford, at Oregon and vs. USC. Nothing like trying to break in a new defense early in the season against the league's top three teams.
Easiest: Utah. The toughest nonconference game is at home (BYU). The Utes don't play Oregon or Stanford. The toughest league game (USC) is at home. And the toughest road game is Washington, which comes Nov. 10.
Format: The 14-team league has an eight-game conference schedule. Every team has four home games and four road games in league play except Florida (three on the road) and Georgia (three at home) because they meet in an annual neutral-site game in Jacksonville.
Toughest: Ole Miss. The Rebels have road games against Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU. There also are home games against Auburn, Texas and Texas A&M. Good luck, Hugh Freeze. Alabama also deserves mention. The Tide opens against Michigan in Arlington, Texas, in the nation's best nonconference matchup of the season. The Tide plays SEC West foes Arkansas and LSU on the road. Both of Alabama's SEC divisional crossover games (Missouri and Tennessee, in back-to-back weeks) are on the road; no other team in the league faces that task.
Easiest: Mississippi State. The nonconference schedule is a joke: FCS member Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama (in its first season as a FBS member) and Middle Tennessee. That's one FCS team and three Sun Belt opponents. The Bulldogs miss the four best teams in the SEC East (Florida, Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina). They also get Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M at home. Yes, there are road games against Alabama and LSU, but the Bulldogs weren't going to win those even if they were in Dan Mullen's backyard. It's better to have Auburn, Arkansas and A&M visiting than the Tide and the Tigers. Georgia, which misses Alabama, Arkansas and LSU, is a close second in the category. Georgia has a tougher nonconference schedule, must play its four toughest league games (Auburn, Florida, Missouri and South Carolina) away from home and its home conference games (Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt) would be just as winnable on the road.
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