The absolute most important thing to understand any time you’re previewing the upcoming college football season, and especially when you’re doing a deeper dive on schedules, is that “ain’t nobody playing anybody.”
It’s a time-honored phrase and one coated in its own vernacular depending on where you reside and what team you live and die with every fall Saturday afternoon. It’s also a phrase that will invariably reach a crescendo come College Football Playoff selection time in December.
Until then, we’ll hand out a few preseason superlatives when it comes to the 2019 college football schedule, some to be proud of and some sure to cause considerable angst. As the Head Ball Coach, aka Steve Spurrier, used to say (quoting his old coach Pepper Rodgers), a coach is only as good as his players and his schedule.
And maybe there’s something to that because the two teams that played for the national championship a year ago — Alabama and Clemson — combined to face just five Power 5 teams that managed more than eight wins during the 2018 regular season. The Crimson Tide and Tigers also combined to produce 16 selections in the 2019 NFL draft, including eight players taken in either the first or second round.
Now, on to our selections:
Toughest overall Power 5 schedule
A handful of schools could make cases, particularly South Carolina, but nothing rises to the level of the gantlet staring Gus Malzahn and Auburn in the face this season. The Tigers face six of the top 12 teams in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early preseason rankings, and four of those games are away from home. The Aug. 31 opener is against No. 10 Oregon in Arlington, Texas, followed by true road games against No. 12 Texas A&M on Sept. 21, No. 8 Florida on Oct. 5 and No. 9 LSU on Oct. 26. Of course, the “good news” is that Auburn returns home for its November grind … against No. 3 Georgia on Nov. 16 and No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 30. The proverbial hot seat has become all too familiar for Malzahn. When is it not for the head football coach on the Plains? But with a schedule like this, Malzahn’s seat just got hotter — if that’s possible.
Easiest overall Power 5 schedule
Justin Fuente could use a big season, and Virginia Tech’s schedule looks like it just might cooperate. The only game against an opponent ranked in ESPN’s latest preseason rankings comes on the road against Notre Dame on Nov. 2, but the Hokies have an open date the week before playing the Irish. Moreover, they won’t have to leave the state of Virginia for five of their last seven games. And, oh yeah, they avoid Clemson, NC State and Syracuse from the ACC’s Atlantic Division during the regular season. After winning just six games a year ago, Virginia Tech’s pathway to double-digit wins in 2019 doesn’t look all that unrealistic.
Most interesting schedule
As an FBS independent, scheduling can be tricky for BYU, but the Cougars should be in for a wild ride — one way or the other — in 2019. Not only are they the only team in college football to open the season against four straight Power 5 opponents (Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington), but those four games all come in successive weeks. The caveat is that the Aug. 29 opener against Utah is a Thursday night game. The folks in Provo are going to love the home schedule. In addition to Utah, USC, Washington and Boise State all come to LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Toughest open to the season
Stanford plays six straight weeks to open the season before getting a bye, and three of those games are against teams in ESPN’s preseason rankings. The Cardinal open with Northwestern at home on Aug. 31, then face USC and UCF on the road in back-to-back weeks, return home to face Oregon on Sept. 21, play at Oregon State the next week and then come back home to face Washington on Oct. 5.
Toughest close to the season
This was an easy call. Boston College ends the season with four road trips in its last five games, and the only home game in that stretch is against Florida State. The Eagles travel to Clemson on Oct. 26, travel to Syracuse on Nov. 2, face FSU at home Nov. 9, and then after an open date, travel to Notre Dame on Nov. 23 and to Pittsburgh on Nov. 30.
Cushiest open to the season
Ohio State faces Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati at home to open the season, then travels to Indiana and comes back home to face Miami (Ohio). Pretty safe bet that Ryan Day and the Buckeyes will be 4-0 going to Nebraska on Sept. 28.
Cushiest close to the season
Kentucky closes the season with a November that has a distinct Volunteer State flavor to it, and three of the four games are at home. Tennessee on Nov. 9, UT-Martin on Nov. 23 and Louisville on Nov. 30 will all come to Kroger Field. The only away game is against Vanderbilt on Nov. 16. None of UK’s four November foes finished with a winning record a year ago.
Take your pick between Texas A&M and Michigan State as to which Power 5 school plays the toughest road schedule in 2019. The Aggies play at Clemson on Sept. 7 and then close the season with road games against Georgia on Nov. 23 and LSU on Nov. 30. Meanwhile, the Spartans play at Northwestern on Sept. 21, at Ohio State on Oct. 5, at Wisconsin on Oct. 12 and at Michigan on Nov. 16.
Does anybody have an easier slate at home this season than Virginia Tech? The Hokies face Old Dominion, Furman, Duke, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Pitt in Blacksburg. Then again, it’s not like Alabama is overextending itself at home this season, either. The Crimson Tide face New Mexico State, Southern Miss, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU and Western Carolina in Tuscaloosa.
Power 5 shy
The Big Ten gets the “award” for having the most teams not playing a Power 5 opponent or Notre Dame during the nonconference portion of their schedules. Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin all fall into that category.
Power 5 shy on steroids
Arkansas, Ohio State and Tennessee are the only three Power 5 teams in the country not playing any Power 5 opponents or Notre Dame in their nonconference schedules and playing all of their nonconference games in their home stadiums. Kudos to the ACC, though. All 14 ACC teams are playing at least one nonconference game against a Power 5 school or Notre Dame.
Power 5 happy
Owning the SEC
For the second straight season, Clemson has two nonconference games against SEC foes — Texas A&M at home and South Carolina on the road. Dabo Swinney is 13-5 against SEC teams since the start of the 2012 season, which includes five wins over South Carolina, three wins over Auburn, two wins over Alabama and wins over Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M.
Beast of the East
Alabama returns to South Carolina on Sept. 14 for the first time since 2010, when Steve Spurrier, Stephen Garcia, Alshon Jeffery and the Gamecocks ambushed the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide 35-21. Not only was that the last time Alabama lost to an SEC Eastern Division team, but it’s the only time a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team has lost to an SEC opponent by 14 points or more. Alabama is 68-8 against all SEC opponents since that loss.
Bright lights of L.A.
UCLA ventures outside of Los Angeles only twice during the months of October and November, to face Stanford on Oct. 17 and Utah on Nov. 16. The Bruins play at USC on Nov. 23, but that game is at the Coliseum.
Colorado will open the season with three consecutive games against in-state or traditional rivals — Colorado State in Denver, Nebraska in Boulder and Air Force in Boulder. Thanks to some ace research by Colorado’s David Plati and his staff, there are only 13 other instances in which an FBS school has opened the season against two straight rivals since 1971, when 11-game schedules came into being. Plati and his crew could not find an instance of an FBS school opening with three straight rivals. This will be the first meeting between Colorado and Air Force since 1974.
On the road again
In just under a five-week span from Sept. 21 to Oct. 17, UCLA plays three true Pac-12 road games against Washington State on Sept. 21, Arizona on Sept. 28 and Stanford on Oct. 17, which is preceded by an open date. Mississippi State will also be living out of its suitcase from Sept. 28 through Nov. 2. In those six weeks, the Bulldogs will go on the road to face Auburn on Sept. 28, Tennessee on Oct. 12, Texas A&M on Oct. 26 and Arkansas on Nov. 2. They get an open date on Oct. 5, so four of the five games during that stretch are on the road.
No backing down for Holgo, Houston
As Dana Holgorsen embarks on his first season at Houston, the Cougars are taking on all comers. They open the season by playing at Oklahoma, then face Washington State two weeks later in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium. Three of their first four games are on short weeks, giving them four games in 19 days.
Don’t get caught napping
Which Power 5 teams could get tripped up by Group of 5 teams? Among the possibilities: Oregon faces Nevada on Sept. 7, a week after the Ducks open the season against Auburn. North Carolina faces Appalachian State at home on Sept. 21. Mack Brown started his head-coaching career in Boone. Wake Forest opens the season on Aug. 30 at home against Utah State. Stanford plays at UCF on Sept. 14, and Pitt takes on UCF at home on Sept. 21.
Staying in the sunshine
Miami plays nine of its 12 games in the state of Florida, including the opener against Florida on Aug. 24 in Orlando, a road game at Florida State on Nov. 2 and a road game at Florida International on Nov. 23.
Seven of Notre Dame’s opponents have a bye before they play the Irish — New Mexico, Bowling Green, USC, Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy and Boston College. The Irish are 10-1 under Brian Kelly coming off their own bye week. Moreover, Georgia will be coming off a game against Arkansas State and Virginia coming off a game against Old Dominion.
Frequent flier miles
The drive from Stanford University to Spectrum Stadium, where UCF plays its home football games, is 2,880 miles. Fortunately for the Cardinal, they won’t be driving for that Sept. 14 affair. Nonetheless, that’s a mighty long way to go for a football game.
September to remember
There are some intriguing matchups the first three weeks of September, including LSU at Texas, Texas A&M at Clemson, Army at Michigan and Stanford at USC on Sept. 7. On Sept. 14, Stanford plays at UCF, Oklahoma plays at UCLA, and Clemson plays at Syracuse. Then on Sept. 21, Notre Dame travels to Georgia, and Michigan travels to Wisconsin.
SEC November scrimmage weekend
On Nov. 23, Alabama plays Western Carolina, Auburn plays Samford, Kentucky plays UT-Martin, and Vanderbilt plays East Tennessee State. Something says the SEC ticket brokers won’t be raking in the cash that weekend.
Pitt goes the first five weeks of the season without leaving the state of Pennsylvania, although one of the games is at Penn State on Sept. 14.
Conference game that’s a nonconference game
ACC foes Wake Forest and North Carolina will play Sept. 13, but it won’t count as a conference game. Each team has only three other nonconference games.
Deep in the heart of Texas
Texas plays only one game outside the state (at West Virginia on Oct. 5) until it travels to Iowa State on Nov. 16. The Longhorns have a “road” game against Rice at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sept. 14, the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma in Dallas on Oct. 12 and a game against TCU in Fort Worth on Oct. 26.
Group of 5 travel
Kent State is hoping to improve on a 2-10 season in Year 2 under Sean Lewis, who at 33 is the youngest FBS head coach. The Golden Flashes’ nonconference road schedule won’t be of much assistance. In their first five games of the season, they play road games at Arizona State on Aug. 29, at Auburn on Sept. 14 and at Wisconsin on Oct. 5.
Toughest early season road trip
Toughest Group of 5 nonconference schedule
Kent State isn’t taking the easy way out, visiting Arizona State, Auburn and Wisconsin in the first five weeks of the season.