Analysis: Toughest schedule? South Carolina can make the claim; Michigan too
South Carolina has the type of brutal schedule that could help the Gamecocks be a better team that winds up with a worse record than last year.
The Gamecocks host both of the participants in last year’s College Football Playoff championship game: Clemson and Alabama. They also travel to Georgia, the runner-up in the national championship game two years ago.
South Carolina’s schedule shapes up as arguably the nation’s toughest.
“I’m not worried about the schedule,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “I’m worried about the Gamecocks. That’s all. I’m worried about the things that we can control. Again, I think that’s why you come to a place like South Carolina or you come to the Southeastern Conference, to play against the best and be in the limelight every week and have great opportunities every single Saturday.”
South Carolina opens the season with a neutral-site game against North Carolina in the debut of Mack Brown’s second stint with the Tar Heels. The Gamecocks follow that with a home game against Football Championship Subdivision program Charleston Southern.
Then the Gamecocks host Alabama, visit Missouri and host Kentucky to close September. South Carolina visits Georgia and hosts Florida on consecutive weekends before visiting Tennessee and hosting Vanderbilt. South Carolina ends the season by hosting Appalachian State, visiting Texas A&M and hosting in-state rival Clemson.
South Carolina faces six teams that were ranked 16th or better in the final Associated Press Top 25 last season. That doesn’t even include Appalachian State, which has gone 41-11 over the last four seasons.
Other teams have particularly tough schedules, too:
Aug. 31: vs. Oregon at Arlington, Texas. Sept. 7: Tulane. Sept. 14: Kent State. Sept. 21: at Texas A&M. Sept. 28: Mississippi State. Oct. 5: at Florida. Oct. 19: at Arkansas. Oct. 26: at LSU. Nov. 2: Mississippi. Nov. 16: Georgia. Nov. 23: Samford. Nov. 30: Alabama.
Notes: Auburn faces four of the top eight teams in last year’s season-ending Top 25. The Tigers also travel to Texas A&M and open with a neutral-site game against Oregon. Auburn does get three relatively easy matchups with Tulane, Kent State and FCS program Samford.
Aug. 31: Georgia Southern. Sept. 7: at Texas. Sept. 14: Northwestern State. Sept. 21: at Vanderbilt. Oct. 5: Utah State. Oct. 12: Florida. Oct. 19: at Mississippi State. Oct. 26: Auburn. Nov. 9: at Alabama. Nov. 16: at Mississippi. Nov. 23: Arkansas. Nov. 30: Texas A&M.
Notes: LSU travels to Sugar Bowl champion Texas to go along with a brutal SEC schedule that features a trip to Alabama and home games with Florida and Texas A&M. LSU does have an FCS team (Northwestern State) on its schedule, but the Tigers’ two Group of Five opponents (Georgia Southern and Utah State) went a combined 21-5 last year.
Aug. 31: Middle Tennessee. Sept. 7: Army. Sept. 21: at Wisconsin. Sept. 28: Rutgers. Oct. 5: Iowa. Oct. 12: at Illinois. Oct. 19: at Penn State. Oct. 26: Notre Dame. Nov. 2: at Maryland. Nov. 16: Michigan State. Nov. 23: at Indiana. Nov. 30: Ohio State.
Notes: The strength of this schedule is its balance. The Wolverines don’t face an FCS team. Their two Group of Five opponents (Middle Tennessee and Army) reached bowl games last season. Army ended the year ranked 19th.
Aug. 31: Fresno State. Sept. 7: Stanford. Sept. 14: at Brigham Young. Sept. 20: Utah. Sept. 28: at Washington. Oct. 12: at Notre Dame. Oct. 19: Arizona. Oct. 25: at Colorado. Nov. 2: Oregon. Nov. 9: at Arizona State. Nov. 16: at California. Nov. 23: UCLA.
Notes: There’s not a single breather on this schedule. USC’s three nonconference opponents (Fresno State, BYU and Notre Dame) went a combined 31-9 last season. USC’s cross-divisional opponents in its Pac-12 schedule include North powers Oregon, Washington and Stanford.
Aug. 31: Northwestern. Sept. 7: at Southern California. Sept. 14: at Central Florida. Sept. 21: Oregon. Sept. 28: at Oregon State. Oct. 5: Washington. Oct. 17: UCLA. Oct. 26: Arizona. Nov. 9: at Colorado. Nov. 16: at Washington State. Nov. 23: California. Nov. 30: Notre Dame.
Notes: Stanford’s three nonconference opponents (Northwestern, UCF and Notre Dame) went a combined 33-7 last season. Stanford faces four teams that finished last season ranked 13th or higher. The Cardinal’s September schedule includes trips to USC and UCF plus a home game with Oregon on consecutive weekends.
Aug. 29: Texas State. Sept. 7: at Clemson. Sept. 14: Lamar. Sept. 21: Auburn. Sept. 28: vs. Arkansas at Arlington, Texas. Oct. 12: Alabama. Oct. 19: at Mississippi. Oct. 26: Mississippi State. Nov. 2: Texas-San Antonio. Nov. 16: South Carolina. Nov. 23: at Georgia. Nov. 30: at LSU.
Notes: Texas A&M faces four of the top eight teams from the season-ending AP poll. The Aggies play three of those games on the road, including visits to Georgia and LSU the last two weeks of the season. This schedule has plenty of heavyweights but also includes FCS program Lamar plus Texas State and UTSA, two teams coming off 3-9 seasons.