While some major conference teams spend a good chunk of their seasons feasting on cupcakes, others will be tested almost every week from September to December. We rank College Football's Top 10 Toughest 2013 Schedules.
Opponents' record in 2012: 96-60
There are no gimmes on the Sooners' schedule except for Kansas on Oct. 19. OU's two mid-major, out-of-conference opponents (Louisiana-Monroe and Tulsa) went a combined 19–8 last year and should contend for their respective conference titles in 2013. Then, in the last Saturday of September, Bob Stoops' bunch has to travel to South Bend to face No. 14 Notre Dame. All of that is an appetizer for the main course: Nine games against a Big 12 that should be significantly better as a whole than it was a year ago. (Oklahoma is one of four teams in the conference ranked in the preseason Top 20.) Oh, and did we mention that Stoops is handing the reins of his offense to a redshirt freshman QB in Trevor Knight?
Opponents' record in 2012: 96-56
Darrell Hazell's honeymoon in West Lafayette after being tabbed as the Boilermakers' new head coach last December won't last long. Working with a roster that lacks the talent of many Big Ten rivals, Hazell and his staff open the season at a Cincinnati squad that won 10 games in 2012. They'll also likely be the underdog in two of their three out-of-conference home games in September, against Notre Dame and last year's BCS darling Northern Illinois. Five Big Ten teams are in the preseason Top 25, so perhaps Purdue should feel somewhat lucky that they only have to face three of them. But not really.
Opponents' record in 2012: 96-58
You'd be naïve to think that the Gators will have a cake walk against Toledo in their season-opener. They had a hard time putting away another strong MAC squad last year in Bowling Green (eventually winning 27–14). That's followed by Florida's first trip to Miami (Fla.) in a decade, where it’ll face an improved Hurricanes squad that could win the ACC Coastal division. And among UF's final seven games, four of them come against opponents ranked in the preseason Top 15, including daunting road tests at No. 12 LSU and No. 6 South Carolina. The regular-season finale is a home date against preseason No. 11 and bitter rival Florida State. Gator fans are no doubt hoping the team's pop-gun offense from a year ago has improved leaps and bounds this offseason.
Opponents' record in 2012: 103-50
While the future looks bright in Lexington for first-year head coach Mark Stoops and his shockingly strong 2014 recruiting class, the Wildcats still have to deal with this season and the statistically toughest schedule in the country. After opening with Bobby Petrino-led Western Kentucky — who UK lost to last year in OT, 32–31 — the Wildcats have four straight games against preseason Top 10 teams starting on Sept. 14: No. 9 Louisville, No. 10 Florida, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama. And then there's the Nov. 23 game in Athens, Ga., against preseason No. 5 Georgia. Kentucky has the luxury of facing all but the Gamecocks and Bulldogs at home but it will still be an uphill struggle, as the current talent gap between the rest of the SEC and the Wildcats is still pretty big.
Opponents' record in 2012: 99-54
Bret Bielema left Madison for Fayetteville in part to take a step up in competition. He's certainly getting his wish in merciless fashion. Bielema's first four SEC games will come against preseason Top 10 opponents: No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 10 Florida, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama. (The Hogs also end the regular season against Golden Boot rival and No. 12 LSU.) Out of conference, Arkansas should be favored against FCS Samford and Southern Miss. However, the season opener against Louisiana --whose Sun Belt rival, Louisiana-Monroe, shocked the Hogs last September -- and a trip to 2012 Big East runner-up Rutgers will be challenging. That's especially true because of how many question marks Bielema is still dealing with on offense and defense.
Opponents' record in 2012: 89-64
Perhaps one day new Vols head coach Butch Jones is "gonna kick ass" in the SEC, but it likely won't be this year. In fact, Tennessee could be sitting at 2–6 by the end of October. FCS Austin Peay and first-year Sun Belt member South Alabama are guaranteed wins. But a matchup with Bobby Petrino-led Western Kentucky in Week 2 will be tough. A road game at No. 3 Oregon the next week could be ugly for a team that was T-104th in scoring defense last year (35.7 PPG). Of Tennessee's five games after that, four of them come against SEC rivals and Top 10 teams: at No. 10 Florida, vs. No. 5 Georgia, vs. No. 6 South Carolina and at No. 1 Alabama. Before they get back to Rocky Top, they might have to hit Rocky Bottom.
Opponents' record in 2012: 93-60
Is Cal's athletic department trying to kill Sonny Dykes in his first season on the job? The Golden Bears’ first-year head coach is stepping into a nightmare schedule; seven of Cal’s 12 regular-season opponents are ranked in the preseason Top 25, including three in the top five. It starts right off the bat too, with September matchups against No. 22 Northwestern, No. 2 Ohio State and at No. 3 Oregon. There's no let-up after. October includes a trip to No. 21 UCLA and a home date with No. 25 Oregon State, while November is “highlighted” by hosting No. 24 USC and ending the season with archrival and No. 4 Stanford. Back-to-back games against unranked Washington and Arizona, both of which were bowl teams last season, won’t be easy either. We think it's safe to say Cal fans can book their holiday travel tickets now -- and not for a bowl destination.
To see the complete Top 10 of College Football's Toughest 2013 Schedules, go to Lost Lettermen.
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