Are Ya Tough Enough? (Part 2)

Continued from part one.

So now that the lesser-known have had their day, we turn our attention to the big boys of college football. One day, the nation's toughest overall schedules could include a team you only here about as fodder. But for now, let's stick to the powers that be. So which teams will be kept up late at night thinking about their slate of opponents?

10) Georgia Tech

The Yellowjackets' schedule in '06 starts off with a couple of ends. Bookend contests against Notre Dame (beginning) and at Georgia (end) highlight a fairly intelligent slate. And smack dab in the middle of the collection are works such as Trip to Death Valley, The Blacksburg Experience, and How to Host a Hurricane and a Turtle. This should be one well-read Ramblin' Wreck team.

9) Penn State

Joe Paterno had his return to glory last season. However, the Nittany Lions will need to become road warriors this time around. The 2006 travel schedule is a big upgrade from '05. With stops in South Bend, Columbus, Minneapolis, West Lafayette, and Madison on the tour, the Lions better not wear their fancy shoes, 'cuz no red carpets will welcome this bunch.

8) LSU

The Bayou Bengals are taking advantage of their home turf this year, playing eight out of 12 contests in Baton Rouge. But the four road games are toughies. LSU will travel to Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Added to those challenges are home dates with Arizona, Fresno State, and Alabama. A nice mix of tough love from both feet and miles away.

7) Florida

Two things push Urban Meyer's squad above Les Miles'. The first is one less home game. The second is a beastly stretch. Over four straight game,s the Gators will host ‘Bama and LSU, head to Auburn, and finish up at the Cocktail Party with their longtime friends from Georgia. Plug in visits to Knoxville and Tallahassee, with a splash of the Old Ballcoach and his new-look Gamecocks.

6) Iowa State

Yes, this is my alma mater. I, like many Cyclone (and Big 12 North) fans, suffered through years of mediocrity. But the team has become somewhat respectable, while the division is slowly regaining their credibility. The '06 schedule includes a five-out-of-six run against teams ranked in the preseason Top 25.

Trips to Iowa City and Austin start off the block. Then, after a step down to I-AA, the pace picks up with tilts against Nebraska, Oklahoma (on the road), and Texas Tech. I know the competition isn't as fierce as other power conferences, but my school had to get recognized at some point in time.

5) Maryland

This schedule might put some fear back into the turtle. Slow and steady won't cut it when traveling to West Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Boston College. Late-season home-turfers with Florida State and Miami might make the Terps retract inside their shells.

4) Oregon

Part one of our northwest tour takes us to Eugene, where the fans stand close and Mike Belotti loves a challenge. Two early contests at Fresno State and home to Oklahoma might pluck the Ducks from championship contention. If these don't, then there will be plenty of darts thrown their way in the Pac-10.

Consider games at the other top conference contenders (USC, Cal, Arizona State). Plus, you can throw UCLA in the mix when the Bruins head to Autzen Stadium. There isn't a long streak of opponents that will batter them, but the Ducks would have the toughest schedule west of the Mississippi if it weren't for...

3) Washington

... their long-time rival to the north. The Huskies enter year two under Tyrone Willingham with hopes of building on their re-building (did I just write that?). A similarity from last year lies in the fact the UW will take a lot of lumps in '06. After a home-opener with San Jose State, they do a Northwest swap, going to Oklahoma before hosting Fresno State.

The hits keep coming into conference play as home dates with UCLA and ASU only dull the pain from trips to Tucson, L.A. (for USC), Berkeley, and Eugene.

2) Minnesota

We head back to the bruising battery of the Big 10, which has its share of strong contenders for New Years' Day bowls and a national title. When looking at the Golden Gophers, they may not be up in that discussion ... a big reason why they've landed in this one. Sure, they have a built-in advantage of playing in the loud, turf-floored, and enclosed Metrodome. But even that can't help against their brutal slate.

In an eight-game stretch, Glen Mason and crew will host Michigan and Penn State. Maybe that'll give them some rest from visiting Cal, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. There is a bit of good news for Gopher fans. The team gets home-field in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale (vs. Iowa).

1) Northwestern

First of all, it's going to be hard to focus on football after the sudden death of Head Coach Randy Walker earlier this summer. Just playing shows the Wildcats' grit and resolve. But back to the season at hand.

There will be disagreement with this selection. Some think other conferences have the toughest teams, most grandiose venues, and loudest fan support (enter ACC, SEC, Pac-10 here). All well and good ... but have you done a Woody Paige and looked at the Wildcats' schedule?

Okay, maybe not the first three weeks, or their finale versus arch-rival Illinois. However, for seven contests in a row, no one beats this longtime tackling dummy. When averaging all the preseason hype, six of the seven ranked in the top 40 (with Michigan State nudged out at 41).

And to those doubters I have some advice. Have your team go to Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa. Let them host the Boilermakers, Spartans, and Buckeyes. We'll see if they don't come out a little busted up and worn down.

Now the fun begins. Over the next four months, we get to see how the schedules play out. So enjoy yourselves. I know I will.

Comments and Conversation

August 26, 2006

James Westrick:

You overloaded your thinking that the Big-Ten has all the tough teams. Except for Ohio State they don’t match the SEC from top to bottom Consequently, how can Northwestern and Minnesota have the toughest schedule compared to Florida, Tennensee, LSU, Auburn, Arkansas

August 27, 2006

Nico:

I haven’t seen a schedule out there tougher than Florida’s:

They’re playing eight teams that went to bowls last year. They have a four week stretch of Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia. That’s just brutal.

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