Success in college football can be just as dependent on opponents avoided as opponents defeated. Hey, the road with fewer potholes is the road more easily traveled.
Creative scheduling can ensure three or four non-conference victories, but once league play begins, championship aspirations and bowl appearances can be enhanced by the luck of the draw.
That's not an issue in the Big East and Pac-10, which play round-robin conference schedules. But in the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and SEC, the schedule can be a distinct advantage.
For instance, perhaps Kansas would have posted 12 victories, emerged as a surprise team and played in the Orange Bowl no matter who was on its schedule last season. But not having to face Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech from the Big 12 South surely helped. The Jayhawks won't have the same luxury this season. This season's schedule requires Kansas to travel to Oklahoma and play host to the Longhorns and Red Raiders.
"We've always said that we want our program to be able to compete with the best teams in the league," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "And the fact that we are picking up Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech is something that we look forward to.
"We want to be able to play against all the best teams in our league. And be able to beat them."
Maybe Iowa State can duplicate Kansas' feat of 2007. The Cyclones don't play any of the South Division heavyweights this season. Or maybe it will be Texas A&M, which avoids Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska ? picked as the North Division's top three teams in the Big 12 preseason poll.
And there are two sides of the coin. For every road that got easier, another became more difficult. For example, Georgia drops Ole Miss (which finished 3-9 last season) and replaces the Rebels with defending national champion LSU. Meanwhile, Tennessee lost a home game with Arkansas ? which is predicted to finish last in the SEC West ? and gets a road game against Auburn, the preseason favorite in the SEC West.
Of course, contending for championships requires more than just a perceived advantageous schedule. Three years ago, Purdue entered the season ranked No. 15 in The Associated Press' preseason poll. The Boilermakers returned an experienced team that had finished 7-5 the previous year. Furthermore, they did not have to face Ohio State or Michigan in league play, so the table appeared set for a big season. The table was turned. Purdue lost its first six conference games and struggled to a 5-6 finish.
Here's a list of conference opponents teams in the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and ACC do not face this season (the Big East and Pac-10 play round-robin league schedules):
Boston College: Duke, Miami, Virginia
Clemson: Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Duke: Boston College, Florida State, Maryland
Florida State: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia
Georgia Tech: Maryland, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Maryland: Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami
Miami: Boston College, Clemson, Maryland
North Carolina: Clemson, Florida State, Wake Forest
N.C. State: Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Virginia: Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State
Virginia Tech: Clemson, North Carolina State, Wake Forest
Wake Forest: Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
MOST ADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Even though North Carolina State defeated Virginia 29-24 last season, the Wolfpack has to be happy with dropping the Cavaliers - who went 9-3 last season - and replacing them with 1-11 Duke.
MOST DISADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Maryland doesn't play Georgia Tech, which it defeated 28-26 last season. Instead, the Terps have to play defending conference champion Virginia Tech ? and in Blacksburg no less.
Baylor: Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State
Colorado: Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Tech
Iowa State: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech
Kansas: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M
Kansas State: Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas
Missouri: Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
Nebraska: Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M
Oklahoma: Colorado, Iowa State, Missouri
Oklahoma State: Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska
Texas: Iowa State, Kansas State, Nebraska
Texas A&M: Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri
Texas Tech: Colorado, Iowa State, Missouri
MOST ADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Texas A&M drops Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, the top three teams in the North preseason poll. The Aggies instead get Kansas State, Iowa State and Colorado, none of which posted winning records last season.
MOST DISADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Kansas picks up Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, who were a combined 30-10 in 2007. Last season's South Division opponents ? Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M ? combined to go 17-21.
Illinois: Michigan State, Purdue
Indiana: Michigan, Ohio State
Iowa: Michigan, Ohio State
Michigan: Indiana, Iowa
Michigan State: Illinois, Minnesota
Minnesota: Michigan State, Penn State
Northwestern: Penn State, Wisconsin
Ohio State: Indiana, Iowa
Penn State: Minnesota, Northwestern
Purdue: Illinois, Wisconsin
Wisconsin: Northwestern, Purdue
MOST ADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Last season, Michigan State lost road games to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa by a touchdown or less. This season, those teams have to travel to East Lansing.
MOST DISADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Ohio State plays at Wisconsin and Illinois. Last season in Columbus, Illinois beat the Buckeyes and Wisconsin led the Buckeyes going into the fourth quarter.
Alabama: Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Arkansas: Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Auburn: Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina
Florida: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State
Georgia: Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State
Kentucky: Auburn, LSU, Mississippi
LSU: Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Ole Miss: Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee
Mississippi State: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina
South Carolina: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State
Tennessee: Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi
Vanderbilt: Alabama, Arkansas, LSU
MOST ADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Florida doesn't play SEC West favorite Auburn, which defeated the Gators in Gainesville last season. Instead, the Gators play Arkansas ? picked to finish last in the West. And the Gators probably don't even mind that the game is in Fayetteville.
MOST DISADVANTAGEOUS CHANGE: Georgia's home game against Ole Miss (a 45-17 victory in '07) is replaced by a road contest against defending national champion LSU.