June 2, 2007

Irish again face grueling schedule

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At a Glance
A quick look at how Steve Megargee ranks the schedules, starting with the most difficult:
1. Notre Dame 6. Texas Christian
2. Utah 7. Brigham Young
3. Troy 8. Southern Mississippi
4. East Carolina 9. Tulsa
5. Rice 10. Western Michigan
Whoever wins the Notre Dame quarterback competition won't get a chance to ease into his new job.

Notre Dame plays host to Georgia Tech in its season opener before going on back-to-back road trips to Penn State and Michigan. The schedule doesn't get any easier until November.

The first nine opponents on Notre Dame's schedule posted a combined record of 78-40 last season. Eight of Notre Dame's first nine foes played in bowl games.

Notre Dame shouldn't have much trouble with its final three opponents (Air Force, Duke and Stanford), but the Irish may have already lost a handful of games by the time they reach that point in the schedule.

There's no question the Irish have the toughest schedule of all 21 non-BCS conference teams that played in bowl games last year. Ranking the schedules of the other non-BCS teams is much more difficult. We didn't have a problem coming up with the two toughest and two easiest schedules on this list, but sorting out everyone else turned into quite a challenge.

Today we're rating the 10 toughest schedules of non-BCS teams that advanced to bowls last year. Sunday we'll look at which 11 bowl teams from outside BCS conferences have the easiest schedules.

1. Notre Dame
Notre Dame Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Georgia Tech
Sept. 8 at Penn State
Sept. 15 at Michigan
Sept. 22 Michigan State
Sept. 29 at Purdue
Oct. 6 at UCLA
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 USC
Nov. 3 Navy
Nov. 10 Air Force
Nov. 17 Duke
Nov. 24 at Stanford
Why: If you turned Notre Dame's schedule upside down, the young Irish offense would have a chance to mature before facing any big-name opponents. As it is, Notre Dame will get some serious on-the-job training. Eight of Notre Dame's first nine opponents went to bowl games last season. The Irish play just twice at Notre Dame Stadium in the first six weeks of the season before a five-game homestand late in the year. Even though the Irish end the season with Duke (0-12 last year) and Stanford (1-11), Notre Dame's 12 opponents in 2007 had a combined record of 83-71 last season. Only one other team on this list plays 12 opponents who played at the Division I-A level and posted a combined record over .500 last season.
Toughest game: Sept. 15 at Michigan: Southern California is the best opponent on Notre Dame's schedule and has beaten the Irish five consecutive times, but the Trojans must come to South Bend this year. Notre Dame's young offense also may have gained some valuable experience by the time the Irish face USC on Oct. 6. That's why we believe the Irish may face an even tougher challenge going to Michigan on Sept. 15 in the third game of the season.
Cakewalk: Nov. 17 vs. Duke: This ranks among the least attractive matchups at Notre Dame Stadium since NBC began televising Irish home games in 1991.
Trap game: Sept. 22 vs. Michigan State: Michigan State is the only team among Notre Dame's first nine opponents that didn't go to a bowl last year, but the Irish can't overlook the Spartans. Michigan State has won in each of its last five trips to Notre Dame Stadium. The Spartans had an apparent coaching upgrade with Mark Dantonio replacing John L. Smith, so Notre Dame shouldn't expect them to collapse in the fourth quarter again.
Changes from last season: Duke and Boston College replace Army and North Carolina on Notre Dame's schedule. The Irish picked the wrong year to pick up Boston College, which may have its most talented team since the Doug Flutie years.
2. Utah
Utah Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 at Oregon State
Sept. 8 Air Force
Sept. 15 UCLA
Sept. 22 at UNLV
Sept. 29 Utah State
Oct. 5 at Louisville
Oct. 13 SD State
Oct. 18 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Colorado State
Nov. 10 Wyoming
Nov. 17 New Mexico
Nov. 24 at BYU
Why: Utah and Notre Dame are the only teams on this list playing a full schedule of teams that played at the Division I-A level and posted a combined record of over .500 last year. Four of the Utes' opponents (Oregon State, Louisville, Texas Christian and Brigham Young) won at least 10 games last season. Utah's two toughest Mountain West Conference games against Texas Christian and Brigham Young are on the road.
Toughest game: Oct. 5 at Louisville: Utah finished 80th in the nation in pass defense last year despite having All-American and second-round NFL Draft pick Eric Weddle in its secondary. Now that the Utes don't have Weddle, how will they stop Brian Brohm and Co.?
Cakewalk: Sept. 29 vs. Utah State: The Aggies were one point away from a winless season last year.
Trap game: Sept. 8 vs. Air Force: Although the Falcons went 4-8 last season, they're adopting more of a pass-oriented offense this fall after relying almost exclusively on their rushing attack during the Fisher DeBerry era. Such a drastic change could make it tough for early season opponents to prepare for them.
Changes from last season: Utah dropped Boise State and Division I-AA program Northern Arizona from the schedule and will instead face Oregon State and Louisville. Assuming Louisville and Boise State balance each other out, facing Oregon State instead of Northern Arizona is a significant net upgrade.
3. Troy
Troy Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 at Arkansas
Sept. 8 at Florida
Sept. 14 Oklahoma State
Sept. 22 at Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 29 Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 6 at Florida International
Oct. 20 North Texas
Oct. 27 at Arkansas State
Nov. 3 at Georgia
Nov. 10 at Western Kentucky
Nov. 20 Middle Tennessee
Dec. 1 Florida Atlantic
Why: The Sun Belt arguably is the nation's weakest Division I-A conference, but Troy compensated for that by arranging a brutal non-conference schedule that includes road trips to Arkansas, Florida and Georgia. Three years after the Trojans upset Missouri at home for the biggest regular-season win in the program's history, another Big 12 team visits Troy when Oklahoma State comes to town.
Toughest game: Sept. 8 at Florida: Troy traveled to Florida State last year and actually led the Seminoles in the fourth quarter. Can the Trojans give the defending national champions a similar scare?
Cakewalk: Nov. 10 at Western Kentucky: It's really not fair to call any road game a cakewalk, but we like the Trojans' chances against a program still making the transition to the Division I-A level.
Trap game: Oct. 6 at Florida International: Troy shouldn't be fooled by the fact that Florida International went winless last year. The Golden Panthers lost to 2006 bowl teams Middle Tennessee, South Florida and Maryland by a combined margin of six points.
Changes from last season: Troy dropped Florida State, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Alabama State and Alabama-Birmingham from the schedule. The Trojans instead will face Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Georgia and Western Kentucky. Facing four teams from BCS conferences instead of three makes this year's schedule tougher than last year's slate.
4. East Carolina
East Carolina Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 at Virginia Tech
Sept. 8 North Carolina
Sept. 15 Southern Mississippi
Sept. 22 at West Virginia
Sept. 29 at Houston
Oct. 6 Central Florida
Oct. 13 at UTEP
Oct. 20 NC State
Oct. 27 UAB
Nov. 3 at Memphis
Nov. 10 at Marshall
Nov. 24 Tulane
Why: East Carolina doesn't have a I-AA team on its schedule. Although East Carolina's opponents had a combined record of 69-81 last year, we're guessing North Carolina and North Carolina State will play much better this fall. The Pirates also have road games with two legitimate national title contenders in Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Toughest game: Sept. 1 at Virginia Tech: The Pirates have the unenviable assignment of heading to Blacksburg for Virginia Tech's first game since the campus shootings.
Cakewalk: Oct. 27 vs. UAB: We really shouldn't call this a walkover since UAB beat East Carolina 17-12 last year, but this still looks like the most probable victory on the Pirates' schedule. The Blazers return only seven starters from a team that went 3-9 last year and ended the season on a six-game losing streak.
Trap game: Oct. 13 at UTEP: This is the only time East Carolina goes on the road during a four-game midseason stretch, so the elements are in place for a letdown.
Changes from last season: East Carolina will play Virginia Tech and North Carolina instead of Navy and Virginia this year. The Pirates also must go to West Virginia after playing host to the Mountaineers last season. Houston, UTEP and Tulane have replaced Tulsa, Rice and Southern Methodist on East Carolina's Conference USA schedule.
5. Rice
Rice Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Nicholls State
Sept. 8 at Baylor
Sept. 15 Texas Tech
Sept. 22 at Texas
Oct. 3 at Southern Miss
Oct. 13 at Houston
Oct. 20 vs. Memphis
Oct. 27 at Marshall
Nov. 3 UTEP
Nov. 10 at SMU
Nov. 17 vs. Tulane
Nov. 24 at Tulsa
Why: Rice plays five 2006 bowl teams and faces a pair of schools that posted 10-win seasons last year in Texas and Houston. The Owls go on the road to face each of last year's Conference USA division champions: Houston and Southern Mississippi. Rice's non-conference schedule also includes a trip to Baylor and a home game with Texas Tech. The Owls could benefit from a late-season stretch that includes five consecutive games with teams that finished .500 or worse last year.
Toughest game: Sept. 22 at Texas: Rice could lose four of its first five games. After opening with Nicholls State, the Owls' next four games are against Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech and Southern Mississippi.
Cakewalk: Sept. 1 vs. Nicholls State: This Division I-AA team went 4-7 last year with a 56-7 loss at Nebraska and a 31-21 setback at Louisiana Tech.
Trap game: Oct. 20 vs. Memphis: After playing four consecutive games against 2006 bowl teams Texas Tech, Texas, Southern Mississippi and Houston, the Owls may be due for a letdown when they return home to play a Memphis squad that went 2-10 last year.
Changes from last season: Rice's schedule is a little bit easier now that the Owls have dropped UCLA, Florida State and Army from their list of non-conference foes. Rice instead will open the season against Nicholls State, Baylor and Texas Tech. Southern Mississippi, Memphis and Marshall replace Alabama-Birmingham, UCF and East Carolina on Rice's Conference USA schedule.
6. Texas Christian
TCU Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Baylor
Sept. 8 at Texas
Sept. 13 at Air Force
Sept. 22 SMU
Sept. 29 Colorado State
Oct. 6 at Wyoming
Oct. 13 at Stanford
Oct. 18 Utah
Nov. 3 New Mexico
Nov. 8 at BYU
Nov. 17 UNLV
Nov. 24 at SD State
Why: Texas Christian must go on the road to face Texas and Brigham Young, but the Horned Frogs' schedule includes only one other team (Utah) that had a winning record last year. TCU gets extra credit for not scheduling any I-AA opponents and instead making non-conference road trips to Stanford and Baylor, a pair of teams that potentially could give the Frogs trouble. TCU also gets bonus points for playing in the Mountain West, which demonstrated in bowl season that it might be the strongest of the non-BCS conferences.
Toughest game: Sept. 8 at Texas: Texas Christian beat Oklahoma two years ago and knocked off Texas Tech last season, so the Horned Frogs certainly won't be intimidated to play a Big 12 power this early in the season.
Cakewalk: Nov. 17 vs. UNLV: The Horned Frogs close their home schedule with a team that went 2-10 and lost 25-10 to TCU at Las Vegas last season.
Trap game: Oct. 13 at Stanford: Although Stanford won just one game last year, the Cardinal figure to improve quite a bit under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The Frogs shouldn't take anything for granted on the road. They certainly shouldn't look ahead to their showdown with Mountain West rival Utah that takes place five days later.
Changes from last season: Texas Christian upgraded its schedule by adding Texas, Southern Methodist and Stanford while dropping Texas Tech, UC Davis and Army.
7. Brigham Young
BYU Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Arizona
Sept. 8 at UCLA
Sept. 15 at Tulsa
Sept. 22 Air Force
Sept. 29 at New Mexico
Oct. 13 at UNLV
Oct. 20 Eastern Washington
Oct. 27 at SD State
Nov. 3 Colorado State
Nov. 8 TCU
Nov. 17 at Wyoming
Nov. 24 Utah
Why: Brigham Young gets Mountain West rivals Texas Christian and Utah at home and faces only two other teams (UCLA and Tulsa) that had winning records last year. The Cougars' 11 Division I-A foes combined to go just 65-82 last year, but Arizona and UCLA are expected to improve this season. BYU joined TCU and Utah in benefiting from the Mountain West factor. As Mountain West members, the Cougars have a tougher conference schedule than most of the other teams on this list.
Toughest game: Sept. 8 at UCLA: Since BYU's two most difficult conference games are both at home, the Cougars' biggest challenge should come against a UCLA team that should rank among the Pac-10's best. After losing so many skill-position players on offense, the Cougars could have a tough time moving the ball against Bruce Davis and that tough Bruin defense.
Cakewalk: Oct. 20 vs. Eastern Washington: This Division I-AA program went 3-8 last year and lost to Oregon State and West Virginia by a combined score of 108-20.
Trap game: Nov. 17 at Wyoming: The Cougars go on the road to face Wyoming between showdowns with Texas Christian and Utah.
Changes from last season: Brigham Young will face UCLA and Eastern Washington instead of Boston College and Utah State this season.
8. Southern Mississippi
Southern Miss Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Tennesse-Martin
Sept. 8 at Tennessee
Sept. 15 at East Carolina
Sept. 27 at Boise State
Oct. 3 Rice
Oct. 13 SMU
Oct. 21 at Marshall
Oct. 28 Central Florida
Nov. 3 at UAB
Nov. 10 Memphis
Nov. 17 at UTEP
Nov. 24 Arkansas State
Why: The Golden Eagles have a pair of extremely tough non-conference games at Tennessee and Boise State, but the schedule is otherwise uninspiring. The only other 2006 bowl teams on Southern Mississippi's schedule are Rice and East Carolina, which both went 7-6 a year ago. Southern Mississippi doesn't have to face defending Conference USA champion Houston. In their final seven games, the Eagles don't face a team that posted a winning record last year.
Toughest game: Sept. 8 at Tennessee: The Vols play host to Southern Mississippi in between road games with California and Florida, so the chance of a letdown does exist.
Cakewalk: Sept. 1. vs. Tennessee-Martin: This Division I-AA program lost 29-3 to Ohio last year in its only game against a I-A team.
Trap game: Oct. 3 vs. Rice: The Golden Eagles play this game one week after a huge non-conference showdown at Boise State.
Changes from last season: Southern Mississippi always seems to schedule at least one Southeastern Conference foe per season. It faces Tennessee this fall after losing to eventual national champion Florida last year. Boise State, Arkansas State and Tennessee-Martin replace Virginia Tech, Southeastern Louisiana and North Carolina State as the Eagles' other non-conference foes. Rice, Southern Methodist and UTEP replace Tulsa, Houston and Tulane on Southern Mississippi's Conference USA schedule.
9. Tulsa
Tulsa Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 at Louisiana-Monroe
Sept. 15 BYU
Sept. 21 Oklahoma
Sept. 29 UAB
Oct. 6 at UTEP
Oct. 13 Marshall
Oct. 20 at Central Florida
Oct. 27 SMU
Nov. 3 at Tulane
Nov. 10 Houston
Nov. 17 at Army
Nov. 24 at Rice
Why: Tulsa has two tough non-conference tests against Brigham Young and Oklahoma, but both games are at home. The only other 2006 bowl teams on Tulsa's schedule are Houston and Rice. Tulsa also gets Houston at home. Tulsa does get bonus points for not scheduling any Division I-AA teams, but it doesn't have a road game against anyone who had a winning record last year.
Toughest game: Sept. 21 vs. Oklahoma: Although this game may be at Tulsa, we're guessing many of the fans will be rooting for the Sooners.
Cakewalk: Nov. 17 at Army: The Golden Hurricane shouldn't take any road games for granted, but it's hard to ignore that Army won only three games last year and ended the season on a six-game losing streak. Two of Army's wins came in overtime.
Trap game: Aug. 30 at Louisiana-Monroe: Louisiana-Monroe is one of the weakest teams on Tulsa's schedule, but Thursday night road games are always tricky. Louisiana-Monroe also might be motivated by the rare opportunity to play a nationally televised home game.
Changes from last season: The addition of Oklahoma upgrades a schedule that didn't include any teams from BCS conferences last year. Tulsa also faces Louisiana-Monroe and Army this season after playing Stephen F. Austin, North Texas and Navy out of conference last year. Alabama-Birmingham, Marshall and UCF have replaced East Carolina, Memphis and Southern Mississippi on Tulsa's Conference USA schedule.
10. Western Michigan
Western Michigan Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 at West Virginia
Sept. 8 Indiana
Sept. 15 at Missouri
Sept. 22 Central Conn. State
Sept. 29 at Toledo
Oct. 6 Akron
Oct. 13 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 20 Ball State
Oct. 27 at Eastern Michigan
Nov. 6 Central Michigan
Nov. 17 at Iowa
Nov. 24 Temple
Why: Western Michigan opens its schedule with three games against teams from BCS conferences (West Virginia, Indiana and Missouri) and also has a late-season test at Iowa. The Broncos face five 2006 bowl teams and only get one of them (Central Michigan) at home. But they also have two games against teams that went 1-11 last season (Eastern Michigan and Temple), plus a midseason matchup with Division I-AA program Central Connecticut State.
Toughest game: Sept. 1 at West Virginia: Western Michigan led the Mid-American Conference in rushing defense and limited NCAA rushing leader Garrett Wolfe of Northern Illinois to 25 yards on 18 carries, but stopping West Virginia's vaunted ground attack should prove much tougher.
Cakewalk: Sept. 22 vs. Central Connecticut State: This Division I-AA program went 8-3 last year but didn't face a Division I-A team.
Trap game: Oct. 27 at Eastern Michigan: Although Eastern Michigan only won once last season, Western Michigan struggled to beat the Eagles 18-15 a year ago. The Broncos better not be looking ahead to their game with defending MAC champion Central Michigan that takes place 10 days later.
Changes from last season: West Virginia, Iowa, Missouri and Central Connecticut State replace Florida State, Virginia, Ohio and Miami (Ohio) on Western Michigan's schedule.

More: ACC | Big Ten | Big 12 | Big East | SEC | Pac-10 | Non-BCS II | Ultimate Road Trip

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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