Looking at schedules can be fun, enlightening – and dangerous.
It's fun to look for intriguing non-conference games and embarrassingly easy non-conference schedules. It's enlightening to find out who can get off to a fast start because of a kind schedule-maker. But it's also dangerous to read too much into those aspects of football.
For every intriguing non-conference game that lives up to billing, there always are three or four that end up being routs – and always a few that end up being far more important than anyone imagined. And while we may think a schedule looks extremely easy – or extremely treacherous – in June, things have a way of happening that render a lot of those thoughts moot by the end of September.
Still, the "fun and enlightening" part outweighs the negatives, so here are some schedule thoughts in June.
Fast starts look likely
Actually, given each of these teams' aspirations, fast starts are mandatory. Texas, Ohio State and Penn State have national title hopes, while USF and Rutgers have their eyes on the Big East crown and Kansas and Nebraska look to be the top two contenders in the Big 12 North.
Texas: The Longhorns play four of their first five at home; the road game is against Wyoming. The only bowl opponent in that stretch is Texas Tech, in Game 3. The Longhorns should be 5-0 when they head to Dallas to play Oklahoma.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes have four of their first six at home. The road games are against Toledo (in Cleveland) and Indiana; alas, one of the home games is USC. Still, anything less than a 5-1 start is unacceptable.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions play their first four and six of their first seven at home. But it goes beyond that: The road game in that stretch is Illinois; the first three games are Akron, Syracuse and Temple; and the only bowl teams from last season in the first seven games are Iowa and Minnesota. The main reason Penn State is a legit Big Ten – and national title – contender is its schedule. A 7-0 start seems likely for the Nittany Lions, who are one of just seven teams playing eight home games this season.
Kansas: The Jayhawks play five of their first seven at home, and the first road game against a bowl team from last season is in Week 8, against Texas Tech. The road games in that opening stretch are against UTEP and Colorado. Two of the home games look tough: against Southern Miss and against Oklahoma. Still, a 6-1 or 5-2 start looks likely.
USF: Two of the Bulls' first three games are at home against Football Championship Subdivision opponents; the other game is at Western Kentucky, which will be in its first full season in the Football Bowl Subdivision. A 3-0 start looks to be a lock.
Nebraska: The Huskers play three of their four non-conference games against Sun Belt foes at home in the first month; the other game is at Virginia Tech. At least a 3-1 start seems a given.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights play five of their first six at home; the road game is against a Maryland team that will be picked to finish in the bottom half of its ACC division. Two of the home games are against Big East foes: Cincinnati in the opener and Pittsburgh. But there also are two games against FCS teams and another against Florida International among the first five games. If Rutgers wins the opener, it puts itself in excellent shape in the Big East race. At the least, a 5-2 start should be expected, with an outside chance at 7-0.
INSIDE THE SCHEDULES
Teams with eight home games
North Carolina State
Playing two FCS teams
North Carolina State
Playing no "Big Six" non-conference games
NOTE: This is the fourth season in a row Texas Tech is on the list and the third time in four seasons for Wisconsin.
They better take advantage
We've broken this category into three tiers. The teams in the top tier have shots at their conference titles if everything breaks right. The teams in the second tier could be surprise contenders if things fall into place. Teams in the third tier are just trying to avoid last place in their conference or their division.
Tier one Oklahoma State: The Cowboys play their first four and five of their first six at home, and they're one of the seven teams with eight home games. The only road game in that stretch is against Texas A&M. But all is not peaches and cream: Georgia and Houston are the first two games. Still, anything less than a 5-1 start would be considered a disappointment.
Oregon: The Ducks have four of their first five at home. But it will be a brutally tough early season for the Ducks. The road game in that span is the season opener against Boise State, and two of the four home games are against Utah and California. A 2-3 start is conceivable, but at least 3-2 seems more likely. A 4-1 or 5-0 start could mean big things.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack play their first four and five of their first six at home, including two games against FCS members. The road game is against Wake Forest, and two of the home games are against South Carolina and Pitt. A 5-1 or even 6-0 start isn't out of the question, but if the Wolfpack don't win at least four of their first six, they are setting themselves up for a disappointing season. NCSU is one of the seven teams playing eight home games this season.
Tier two Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons play five of their first six at home; the road game is against Boston College, which has had a horrible offseason and looks as if it will struggle this season. But the home games in that span include contests against Baylor, Stanford and NC State. Wake needs to start at least 4-2, or it could be a bowl-less season for the Deacons.
Michigan: The Wolverines play their first four and six of their first eight at home; the road games are against Michigan State and Iowa. In addition, there are three bowl teams from last season among those first six home games – Western Michigan, Notre Dame and Penn State. The Wolverines are one of the seven teams with eight home games. A 5-3 start would be great, though 4-4 or 3-5 looks more likely.
Tennessee: The Vols play five of their first six and seven of their first nine at home, and they're one of the seven teams with eight home games this season. But the first road game is against Florida and the second is against Alabama. Among those heading to Knoxville in that stretch are Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina. A 5-1 start would be fantastic and 4-2 is possible; a 4-2 start also might be needed if the Vols want to get to seven wins this season.
Wisconsin: The Badgers play their first four at home. Three of the opponents – Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Michigan State – went to bowls last season, but if the Badgers don't start at least 3-1, things will get ugly in Madison this season.
Auburn: The Tigers play their first four and five of their first seven at home. The road games in that stretch are against Tennessee and Arkansas, neither of which went to a bowl last season. But four of the home games are against teams that went bowling: Louisiana Tech, West Virginia, Ball State and Kentucky. Still, that isn't exactly a murderous schedule. The Tigers are another of the seven teams that have eight home games, and a 5-2 start is possible, though 4-3 seems more likely. If they start 3-4 – or 2-5, which could happen – expect to hear folks say, "You know, Tuberville wouldn't have started this poorly."
Tier three Maryland: The Terps play four of their first five at home; the road game is against California, and there are home contests with Rutgers and Clemson. If the Terps don't start at least 3-2, there will be no bowl this season.
Boston College: The Eagles play four of their first five at home; the road game is against Clemson, and Florida State and Wake Forest are among the early season home opponents. Any chance at keeping their consecutive-bowls streak alive – it's at 10 – is going to require a 3-2 start by the Eagles.
Texas A&M: The Aggies play their first three and four of their first five at home; the other is a neutral-site game against Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. The only bowl team from last season in that stretch is in Game 5, against Oklahoma State. If A&M wants any shot at a bowl, it needs to start at least 3-2.
Kansas State: The Wildcats play four of their first six on the road. But the two home games in that stretch are against FCS foes, and each of the first three road foes were bowl-less last season. If K-State wants to go bowling, it needs to start 4-2.
Iowa State: The Cyclones play four of their first five at home, and the road game is against Kent State. There's one opponent in that stretch that went bowling last season, and that's Iowa. Anything less than a 4-1 start means it will be another long season in Ames.
Syracuse: The Orange – one of the seven FBS teams playing eight home games this season – have seven of their first eight at home; the road game in that stretch is against Penn State. Thing is, the Orange are playing six bowl teams from last season in their first eight games, so it's doubtful the schedule will be advantageous. Plus, the Orange are playing three Big Ten teams in a row to open the season. A 4-4 record in the first eight would be a monumental accomplishment; more likely is 2-6 or worse.
Who made these schedules?
These teams could be hurt by their schedules. USC's could cause the Trojans to fall out of the national title picture – and could even hurt their chances to win the Pac-10. TCU has designs on a BCS bid, but a loss could end those hopes. The others in this category have conference title aspirations that could be damaged by tough schedules.
USC: The Trojans play four of their first six and six of their first nine on the road. Among the road games: Ohio State, California, Oregon and Notre Dame. Back-to-back "gimmes" against Washington (road) and Washington State (home) on Sept. 19 and 26 are bracketed by the showdowns against Ohio State (Sept. 12) and Cal (Oct. 3). If the Trojans want to have any shot at the national title, they need to start 8-1. The flipside: If Cal or Oregon wants to get USC, this is the season.
Georgia: The Bulldogs play each of their first eight games against "Big Six" opponents, by far the most of anyone in the nation to start the season. Plus, five of their first eight are away from home, and two of the three home games (South Carolina and LSU) are against teams that went bowling last season. The Bulldogs open at Oklahoma State, and that's the toughest contest until they meet Florida in Jacksonville in Game 8. A 6-2 start is a legit goal; 4-4 wouldn't be a huge surprise, though.
Miami: The Hurricanes play their first four games against "Big Six" opponents, the second-longest such streak to open the season in the nation. Plus, each of those four went bowling last season. Miami opens at Florida State on Labor Day night, plays host to Georgia Tech 10 nights later on a Thursday, then plays at Virginia Tech and plays host to Oklahoma. If UM can somehow get out of that stretch 2-2 or better, it bodes well for the 'Canes. But a 0-4 start is possible.
TCU: The Horned Frogs have the talent to be a "BCS-buster" this season, but is the schedule conducive to a 12-0 season? Three of the first five and four of the first seven games are on the road – Virginia, Clemson, Air Force and BYU. The Horned Frogs don't play any back-to-back home games this season; then again, there are no back-to-back road games, either. If TCU wins at Clemson, a 12-0 season beckons. A loss there, though, could lead to a letdown, and two - or even three - losses could happen.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats play five of their first eight on the road, including trips to Rutgers, Oregon State and USF. There aren't back-to-back home games until Nov. 7-13. A 6-2 start would be great, though 5-3 or even 4-4 wouldn't be a surprise.
Houston: On paper, the Cougars look to be the best team in Conference USA, but they play four of their first six on the road, including a visit to Oklahoma State. And one of the home games in that span is against Texas Tech. Still, a 4-2 start should be expected, and 5-1 wouldn't be a huge surprise.
East Carolina: The Pirates are another C-USA contender, but they also have four of their first six on the road, including back-to-back trips to West Virginia and North Carolina. Despite the schedule, anything less than a 4-2 start would be a letdown.
Worth a mention
Ole Miss is a trendy pick to win the SEC West; the Rebels' schedule could help, considering Alabama and LSU have to play in Oxford this fall. And, finally, we thought three teams deserved notice for going on the road four times in their first five games.
Ole Miss: The Rebels play three of their first four on the road. But they play just twice on the road after Oct. 3. And none of their non-conference games are against "Big Six" opponents.
Florida International, Middle Tennessee and Tulsa: These are the only teams that open the season with four of their first five on the road. FIU's first two games are at Alabama and at Rutgers; Tulsa is at Oklahoma in Week 3; and Middle has Clemson in the opener and Maryland in Week 3.
• Boston College has been to 10 consecutive bowls – and has won at least nine games in each of the past five seasons – but new coach Frank Spaziani is going to have a tough time getting those numbers to 11 and six. Late last month, star linebacker Mark Herzlich – who would've been the best defensive player in the ACC – disclosed that he has cancer; he's unlikely to play football again. Last week, the school announced that projected starting quarterback Dominique Davis was going to transfer, apparently in the wake of some academic problems. BC already was going to be without star defensive tackles Ron Brace and B.J. Raji, and linebacker Mike McLaughlin missed spring drills with an Achilles injury and likely won't be able to play until October. The new quarterback will be either redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle, the son of a former NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle, or junior Codi Boek, who spent a good portion of last season at fullback.
• If Colorado coach Dan Hawkins is ticked off at his wide receivers this season, he'll have to also be mad at himself. Hawkins announced last week that he'll serve as his own receivers coach this season. Coaches serve as their own coordinators – Buffalo's Turner Gill, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, SMU's June Jones and Rutgers' Greg Schiano among them – and Texas Tech's Mike Leach is his own quarterbacks coach, but Hawkins will be the only coach in the nation that oversees a position other than quarterbacks. "My first year at Boise as head coach [in 2001], I also coached the tight ends. I am extremely excited about rolling up my sleeves and being a position coach again," Hawkins said. Eric Kiesau was promoted from receivers coach to coordinator last month. Unfortunately for Hawkins, he will have one fewer receiver to work with because Josh Smith – who had 29 catches for 387 yards and three TDs last season – has announced plans to transfer; Smith wants a music major not available at Colorado, and some reports have him headed to Arizona State, though his release from Colorado doesn't cover ASU. Smith has recorded with Arizona State backup quarterback Samson Szakacsy. Szakacsy, in turn, has recorded with Washington walk-on center Gregory Christine as the group Bent Twig, and they released an album last month called "Daily Thoughts."
• If you enjoy offense-minded football, you owe a debt of gratitude to Darrel "Mouse" Davis, 76, who retired last week as offensive coordinator at Portland State. Davis, who had been a coach for more than 50 years, is credited with developing the run-and-shoot offense in the 1970s. He coached June Jones and Neil Lomax at Portland State back then, and was an assistant to Jerry Glanville the past two seasons.
• Some good bloodlines on the coaching staff at Indiana State. The school recently hired Jesse Minter – the son of former Cincinnati coach Rick Minter – as running backs coach and Morgan Turner – the son of Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, a former Illinois coach – as quarterbacks coach. The wide receivers coach will be former NFL wide receiver Troy Walters. Indiana State has won one game total in the past four seasons and enters this season with a 26-game losing streak.
• It's a safe bet that Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe isn't happy with his secondary. Louisville signed two junior college defensive backs, Bobby Burns and Anthony Conner, last week, and both are expected to arrive in August and compete for jobs this fall.
This and that
• The NCAA announced last week that it was suspending membership dues for 2009-10 in an effort to help schools during this economic upheaval. Dues range between $900 and $1,800. That's a nice gesture by the NCAA, and it's good PR. But why do we think schools would rather get a bigger piece of the billion-dollar pie the NCAA gets from CBS for the NCAA tournament?
• The Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA – you know, that professional women's basketball league – announced last week that they had signed a deal with LifeLock, an identity-theft protection company, that will mean that the company's name will replace the team name on their uniforms. A small Mercury logo will be the only team identifier on the jerseys. That got us to thinking: If a WNBA team could make good cash selling its uniform, why not a college team? Well, NCAA rules prohibit it. A trademark or logo of athletics apparel companies can be on a uniform or on equipment, but that's it. And the logo/trademark can't exceed 2 1/4 square inches in area.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.