On the cusp of August, which is when the games begin, here are 40 observations on the college football schedule to get you cranked up (as if you weren’t already):
1. As usual, no power program is seeing as much of America as Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish play six games away from home — true road games against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Northwestern and USC, plus neutral-site games in San Diego (Navy) and The Bronx (Syracuse). Notre Dame Stadium will be the site of just one game after Oct. 13, a Nov. 10 visit from Florida State.
2. After this regular season, the Irish will have visited 35 towns and 13 states during Brian Kelly’s nine years on the job — living up to their national program billing. Compare that to Florida, which from 2010-18 will only have seen 20 towns and play zero games west of Arlington, Texas, or north of Columbia, Missouri.
3. Despite the far-flung nature of the schedule, Notre Dame probably will only face two truly hostile stadium atmospheres: Virginia Tech and USC. And if the Trojans are having a bad season, even the latter is questionable.
4. The all-time homebody schedule belongs to Auburn. The Tigers play just four true road games, all in bordering states or their home state, plus a neutral-field game in Atlanta. Auburn’s first true road game is Oct. 6, and its only plane flight of the season is to play at Mississippi on Oct. 20. However, Auburn also has the two hardest road games in the country in the last three Saturdays of the season: at Georgia and at Alabama.
5. Iowa and Illinois join Auburn in getting the deepest into the season without playing a true road game. Their first is Oct. 6 — the Hawkeyes at Minnesota and the Illini at Rutgers. Keep an eye on the 92nd meeting between Wisconsin and Iowa in Iowa City on Sept. 22 — tied for the earliest date that rivalry has ever been contested.
6. Speaking of Big Ten games that have been moved up in the calendar: Penn State-Ohio State is Sept. 29, the earliest meeting between the two since 2006.
7. Weirdest scheduling of 2018: Liberty and New Mexico State, new FBS independents, play twice. The first game is at New Mexico State on Oct. 6 and the second is at Liberty on Nov. 24. That’s emblematic of a Flames schedule that is an absolute debacle. They play consecutive games in the Land of Enchantment, first at New Mexico on Sept. 29 and then at Las Cruces. In both games, Liberty is at a bye-week disadvantage. In November, the Flames play consecutive road games at Massachusetts, Virginia and Auburn. These are the travails of scheduling as a brand-new FBS program.
8. Smartest neutral-field scheduling of 2018 goes to Ohio State. The Buckeyes play Texas Christian in Arlington on Sept. 15, and while geography certainly favors the Horned Frogs, the in-stadium crowd might not. TCU is a small school that only filled its 45,000-seat stadium to capacity once last year, which means there should be plenty of room for Buckeyes fans in 100,000-seat JerryWorld. So Ohio State gets a showcase for Texas recruits in front of what should be no worse than a split crowd.
9. The Big Ten has engineered its late-season schedule to maximize divisional play. Of the league’s 27 conference games in November, 22 are intradivisional games — East against East and West against West. The race to Indianapolis for the league championship game will play out down the stretch, which means late-season health and adequate depth will be vital.
10. In a no-fun sign of the times, zero teams will play every game on natural grass. Oklahoma gets the deepest into the season before playing on artificial turf — at Texas Tech on Nov. 3. Plenty of teams are playing all their games on fake grass.
11. Most teams would be happy to open with three home games. Stanford, maybe not so much. The Cardinal plays San Diego State, USC and UC Davis before fall quarter classes start, which will not help the home atmosphere.
12. Power Five teams playing zero non-conference games against Power Five opponents: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Utah, Oregon, Washington State, Arizona, Oklahoma State. The Badgers and Utes need a BYU rebound from last year’s 4-9 disaster for strength of schedule purposes.
13. Teams playing 11 Power Five opponents: Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue, USC, Texas, West Virginia.
14. If you’re looking for a Saturday of potential upsets, circle Sept. 8. Eight Power Five teams play road games against Group of Five opponents: Arkansas at Colorado State; Maryland at Bowling Green; Utah at Northern Illinois; Arizona at Houston; Baylor at UTSA; Kansas at Central Michigan; North Carolina at East Carolina; and Georgia Tech at South Florida.
15. You might recall that the SEC office wasn’t thrilled with LSU’s power play to relocate a hurricane-postponed 2016 game against Florida to Baton Rouge. And you might wonder whether LSU being saddled with two bye disadvantages — against Mississippi State on Oct. 20 and Arkansas on Nov. 10 — is coincidence or scheduler’s revenge.
16. The other SEC team with two bye disadvantages is South Carolina — Missouri on Oct. 6, Mississippi on Nov. 3 — but they get one back against Tennessee on Oct. 27. The Gamecocks also are the only SEC team that twice has to play consecutive Saturday league games on the road: Vanderbilt and Kentucky on Sept. 22 and 29; Mississippi and Florida on Nov. 3 and 10.
17. The absolute worst body clock game of the season, and perhaps of all-time, is Hawaii at Army on Sept. 15. Kickoff is at noon ET. That’s 6 a.m. Honolulu time. That’s unfair.
18. Other early-season body block games: Oregon State has a 9 a.m. PT kickoff at Ohio State and Navy has an 11 p.m. ET kickoff at Hawaii, both Sept. 1. Arizona has a 9 a.m. PT kickoff at Houston, New Mexico has a 10 a.m. MT kickoff at Wisconsin, UCLA has a 10 a.m. PT kickoff at Oklahoma, Connecticut has a 10:15 p.m. ET kickoff at Boise State and Michigan State has a 10:45 p.m. ET kickoff at Arizona State, all on Sept. 8. UTEP has a 10 a.m. MT kickoff at Tennessee on Sept. 15.
19. For the fifth straight year, perpetually cash-strapped Louisiana-Monroe will play seven or more road games. The Warhawks play three straight on the road Sept. 29-Oct. 13, and also play two straight on the road before that (Sept. 8-15) and after (Nov. 10-17). Tough sledding.
20. As previously noted, the SEC has mastered the scheduling game to its own advantage. With the proliferation of neutral-site games, America’s best league is the only one that is playing zero true road games the first weekend of the season. And 13 of the 14 are playing geographically advantageous games (Mississippi vs. Texas Tech in Arlington is the lone exception).
21. Hardest schedule: Maryland. The Terrapins are in the Big Ten East, which means there are games against Ohio State and Michigan State at home, Michigan and Penn State on the road. They also have a game at Iowa. And the season starts with what should be a significantly improved Texas team — which at least is a home game.
22. Easiest schedule (for a decent team): Memphis. If the Tigers can adequately replace the spectacular pass-and-catch combination of Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller, they could have a shot at a Central Florida season — undefeated and uninvited to the playoff. Memphis would have little argument in that case, given the schedule: at Missouri and at Navy look like the hardest games, with UCF and Houston coming to Liberty Bowl Stadium.
23. Hardest September: Texas A&M. New Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher plays perennial College Football Playoff teams Clemson and Alabama in his first month on the job, plus Arkansas in JerryWorld.
24. Easiest September: Oregon plays America’s worst non-conference schedule: Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State, a combined 4-32 last year, then hosts Stanford and finishes the month at California.
25. Hardest October: Tennessee is the unlucky SEC East team that annually plays Alabama. But this year the Volunteers also play Auburn in a divisional crossover game, probably the second-best SEC West team. Add in an Oct. 27 game at South Carolina, which is coming off a bye week while the Volunteers are coming off the Crimson Tide, and you have a nightmare month.
26. Easiest October: West Virginia gets the automatic W against Kansas on the 6th, makes the no-longer-easy trip to Iowa State on the 13th, has a bye week and then takes on rebuilding Baylor on Oct. 25.
27. Hardest November: If Rutgers has established any meager momentum in the season’s first two months, watch it disappear in this closing stretch: at Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, at Michigan State.
28. Easiest November: If Tennessee survives October, it finishes with Charlotte, Kentucky and Missouri all at home, then a trip to Vanderbilt.
29. This is the first time in 20 years that Michigan has opened (Notre Dame) and closed (Ohio State) the regular season playing true road games. The year will go much better if Jim Harbaugh wins both, or at least splits.
30. Surprisingly, Oklahoma has lost at least once at home and/or in Dallas for the last seven straight seasons, while going undefeated in true road games the last three seasons. Biggest home/neutral threat this year is Texas in Dallas on Oct. 6, but the Sooners had better be ready for the opener against a Florida Atlantic team that is on a 10-game winning streak. Chip Kelly and UCLA visit Sept. 8, and Army brings its problematic option game to Norman on Sept. 22.
31. Boston College opens against Massachusetts and Holy Cross, a start only Bay Staters could love.
32. Northern Illinois plays six road games by Nov. 1, including trips to Iowa, Florida State and BYU. There are three straight on the road from Sept. 22-Oct. 6, and two straight later with a five-day turnaround: at BYU on Oct. 27 and at Akron on Thursday, Nov. 1. The one redeeming quality: Utah visits Sept. 8, the first Pac-12 opponent to come to DeKalb.
33. Second-worst travel double to NIU’s BYU-Akron swing in five days: South Florida going to Massachusetts and Tulsa in six days in early October.
34. And then there is Navy’s travel triple: Notre Dame in San Diego on Oct. 27, at Cincinnati on Nov. 3, at Central Florida on Nov. 10. That’s a lot of air miles and a lot of potential weather changes.
35. Ball State doesn’t leave Indiana and Houston doesn’t leave Texas until Oct. 13, but they’re intrepid explorers compared to TCU. The Horned Frogs don’t leave the Lone Star State until Oct. 27, and only leave the Metroplex once in the first seven games (at Texas on Sept. 22).
36. Larry Fedora is under pressure this year, coming off a 3-9 debacle that followed an underachieving 8-5 in 2016. He added to the pressure with his bizarre commentary on football as an America value at ACC media days. And now he starts this pressurized season with two in a row on the road: at California, which won last year in Chapel Hill, and at East Carolina, which lives to upset ACC teams.
37. If things go badly, it might be too late for Fedora to save himself with a November slate of games in the neighborhood: home against Georgia Tech, Western Carolina and North Carolina State, with a road game at nearby Duke.
38. The BYU-Utah Holy War will end the season for the first time since 2010.
39. If you’re a fan of Boise State’s blue turf, you won’t see much of it in September. The Broncos only play one home game in the first month, against Connecticut in a late-night kickoff Sept. 8.
40. The nation’s strangest rivalry of recent times has been Arkansas-Mississippi, and it will be played this year on Oct. 13 in Little Rock. The Razorbacks have won four straight despite being underdogs in all four, inflicting painful and often bizarre defeats upon the Rebels. The combined margin of victory of the last three meetings: six points. But Ole Miss has won the last three meetings in Little Rock; Arkansas hasn’t beaten the Rebels there since 1988.
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