Tough Pills to Swallow (Part II)

Also see: Tough Pills to Swallow (Part I)

While the college football season looms and most teams have hopes of success, there are those that dare to defy such a goal. They want to own the scars of contest and bruises from the fight for that one thing they just can't get to ... a bowl game. Last time, we covered the lesser-known schools with that distinction.

This time, we invite in the some of the more prominent names in the sport. And yes, some of the schools on this list won't get to the below-mediocre standard set through their opposition. Some will actually achieve great success. For some, however, it could be the same story as in years before. You may win, but it won't be often.

10) Iowa State

A list I'm not terribly happy to put my alma mater on. Mainly, that's due to the fact that the Cyclones have slid back to the lower rungs of the Big 12, even with good experience at the quarterback position. Other than the annual Meeting of the Corn with Iowa, their non-conference schedule doesn't leave much on the plate.

They make up for it in conference play, though, with a six-game stretch that includes games at Nebraska, Texas Tech, and Missouri. The other three ... home dates with Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State. Combined with the Hawkeyes, that's seven out of eight without a lot of downtime.

Outlook: Gene Chizik's first year in Ames will definitely focus on rebuilding, which is a shame for QB Brett Meyer. It seemed like he has had the talent to carry his team to more success, a la Mizzou alum Brad Smith or former Cyclone signal caller Seneca Wallace.

Record: 4-8

9) Kentucky

Off a rare bowl-qualifying (and winning) season, the Wildcats are getting a small groundswell of buzz from fans and media types alike. But to build on a surprising 2006, UK will need to show a little more moxie to their usual loaded schedule. Along with the normal SEC East foes, Rick Brooks' bunch will go to Arkansas (last year's West champion) and host LSU (a consensus top-three in '07).

The list of familiars includes their annual battle of the Bluegrass against Louisville, along with Florida and Tennessee in Lexington. The Wildcats also shuffle off to face South Carolina and Georgia on the road.

Outlook: Five wins should be a lock for UK. So that means getting back to a bowl will come from one of those seven toughies above. Oddly enough, the best chances for that victory seem to be on the road. Even with all the turmoil this offseason in Fayetteville, the Hogs still have Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the backfield. I think the 'Cats sneak out with one in Columbia, where I'm not quite as enamored with Steve Spurrier's work at South Carolina ... yet.

Record: 6-6

8) Texas A&M

Dennis Francione has come under a lot of heat for not continuing the Maroon and White's past glory. If he isn't on the hot seat in some people's minds, the '07 layout might turn that thought process around. The Aggies play five road games against legitimate bowl threats from BCS conferences (four, of course, in its own). A&M will start a seven-out-of-nine stretch in the Orange Bowl against a revamped Miami.

Then, its time for conference play. The eight Big XII games on the schedule included two three-game pockets of tough chew. Oklahoma State, at Texas Tech, and at Nebraska represent the midseason tests, while at Oklahoma, at Missouri, and home to Texas round out the year.

Outlook: This is could be an interesting situation comes season's end. The Aggies seem to be clearly behind Oklahoma and Texas, but they could win all the other games on their schedule. Will that be enough for Francione to stay in College Station? And worse yet, what happens if they don't get to double-digit wins. Looks like we'll find out.

Record: 9-3

7) Boston College

The Eagles will have some confidence coming into this year, knowing that they were in the driver's seat to last season's conference championship game. They couldn't finish the job in '06, but a swagger (along with execution) will be necessary to get into the same position in '07.

BC can start the year off right when they open at home against Wake Forest. After a week three trip to Georgia Tech, the Chestnut Hill boys will work through their mostly easy non-league schedule before picking up the pace again on Oct. 13th. That's when they visit Notre Dame to start a stretch that includes road stops at Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Clemson. Throw in Florida State and Miami in Boston to complete their brutal second half of the season.

Outlook: The Eagles will have to adjust to the new philosophies of first-year head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, but there should be enough talent returning on both sides of the ball to make the transition a smooth one. I give them the edge over the 'Noles and 'Canes at home, pushing them to the Atlantic Division title.

Record: 10-2

6) Washington State

The Palouse is a little quieter since the days of Mike Price, when nine-win seasons became a trend. However, as a guy that lived out in eastern Washington for most of the last four years, you can't count the Cougars out of any game. They'll need more of that magic the next few months if they want to get back some of the glory of their "bowling" days.

The road gets rigid off the bat with a trip to Madison to face a stocked Wisconsin squad. A six-game stretch in the middle of the season won't help matters much. Start with a visit to USC, add more travels to Arizona, Oregon, and Cal, then put Arizona State and UCLA in the mix to ensure just a bit more spice. And Wazzu might be smarting a little heading into the annual Apple Cup, but they do get Oregon State at home.

Outlook: Mike Doba's teams have been good for a shocker here and there. This year's could come against the other "State" schools (Arizona and Oregon) in Pullman. With those wins, plus four more victories against lesser squads, WSU will be on the fence for a bowl game once again.

Record: 6-6

5) Tennessee

Last year, I plugged Florida in around this spot (number seven to be exact). All they did was run through almost everyone, including Ohio State, to win the national title. This could be the story of the Vols in '08. The connection? Underachieving senior quarterbacks. But can Erik Ainge be this year's Chris Leak?

Ainge will have to go through a pretty tough gauntlet to get to New Orleans on January 7th. The first three games are prime example. The trio of at Cal, home against Southern Miss, and at rival Florida make things difficult from the start. The Vols get to host Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Then again, they'll see a swarm of maroon in Tuscaloosa and visit up-and-comer Kentucky, who might be fighting to become bowl eligible.

Outlook: If they can get through the rough start, things should look lofty for UT. However, I don't see them getting out of the month of September with less than two losses. Revenge and home cookin' are on the Bears side, along with history for the Gators. It's unfortunate, because I have them winning out after their stop in Gainsville.

Record: 10-2

4) Florida State

Some people think Bobby Bowden has been passed by. Last year was the second-worst record in the coach's 31 seasons in Tallahassee. Amongst a lack of quarterback play and big-time superstuds, the Seminoles are trying to find their way back to the top of the league they regularly dominated.

In my opinion, doing that this year might be asking a little to much, especially considering their road schedule. FSU starts out with the annual Bowden Bowl at Clemson and proceeds to play roadies against Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia Tech, and the defending champion Gators. Throw in a neutral site game with Alabama, which leaves six bruising tests outside the confines of Doak Campbell Stadium. Two notable home games will be against Maryland and rival Miami.

Outlook: I've got the 'Noles winning seven straight after stumbling out the door against Clemson. That will put FSU at 7-1 going into the last four, with three of them on the road (BC, VT, and Florida). The BC game is especially important to win the Atlantic Division. But I give the edge to the Eagles based on more consistent quarterback play. And I don't see the talent matching up against the Hokies or Gators, meaning a rough end to Bowden's '07 campaign.

Record: 8-4

3) USC

The Trojans didn't get to where they are by playing Sister Mary Margaret of the poor every week. They've tested themselves time after time in a tough conference (the nation's second-best in my opinion) and had some very credible non-conference wins. That "Fight On" tradition only continues this year when you gaze at USC's road trips.

Week two sends the preseason favorites to Lincoln in a possible trap game against Nebraska. Trust me, the Cornhuskers are lurking in the fields, waiting for their opportunity. Then the season really ramps up late, with visits to Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal, and Arizona State. Throw in a grinding Arizona, Oregon State, and nemesis UCLA in the Coliseum and you've got the last seven games of the USC calendar.

Outlook: That being said, this is a stacked Trojans team. From QB John David Booty to WR Patrick Turner, the linebacking core to head coach Pete Carroll, they have all the bases covered in 2007. Just because they can take down everyone on the schedule doesn't mean it doesn't have its bumps. Look for quite a few games decided by less than six points, all of them in USC's favor.

Record: 12-0

2) Michigan State

I haven't given much love to the Big Ten in this column. Last year, it could definitely be said that the conference was top-heavy, and those two lofty teams couldn't even win their bowl games. But a new year could see more balance overall, and that's not good news for the Spartans, who come into the year more fresh than many with new head coach Mark Dantonio.

Along with ushering in a new quarterback to replace Drew Stanton, Sparty will get a new era underway staring up at most of their opponents. Don't get me wrong, the Dantonio reign will start fast. However, weeks four (at Notre Dame) and five (at Wisconsin) start an uphill climb. The last five-game stretch is brutal. It reads as the following: at Ohio State, at Iowa, vs. Michigan, at Purdue, vs. Penn State. Not the ideal way to get through your first winter in East Lansing. But hey, you've got to start somewhere.

Outlook: That fast start I eluded to should be two wins against UAB and Bowling Green. They should also have a two-game winning streak against Northwestern and Indiana before heading to Columbus. I give Pitt the edge in the week three home matchup, despite Dantonio's knowledge of the Panthers coming from the Big East.

Record: 4-8

1) Washington

The three years I've done this list, there's been one constant, and you're reading about them. The Huskies have had a couple tough seasons (schedule and performance-wise) under Ty Willingham. But this one might be the feather in the cap. And as I do so very often, I must agree with ESPN, who also said that U-Dub has the toughest slate of the 2007 season.

What's the difference between the Dawgs and all the other contenders? First, there's the 13-game schedule. Then, the fact that half of those contests are against top-30 teams (according to at least one of the preseason polls). Most of the toughies come at home, but who would want a schedule with Boise State, Ohio State, USC, Oregon, Arizona, and Cal? And I haven't even discussed trips to UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State, and Hawaii. Thus, I finish with two words ... brutal gauntlet.

Outlook: Anyone that knows me knows I'm in the tank for Willingham. I'm a huge fan of his character and the character he teaches to his players. The Huskies showed what looked like major progress early in 2006. That was before crashing down to Earth and missing a chance at a bowl. This season may not give him a chance at another one, which is the sad, but awful truth of the business.

Record: 4-9

So now the countdown begins to the first day of September, when all eyes will turn to stadiums across the country. But don't strain yourself. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. What games are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments.

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