Notre Dame faces toughest slate

Originally Published: August 28, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Florida State, Georgia and LSU are considered legitimate BCS bowl contenders, in part because their schedules seem more manageable than most.

Notre Dame's schedule? Not so much.

If Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly is going to elevate his program from mediocrity, he'll have to do it against the country's most difficult schedule, starting with Saturday's long road trip to play Navy in Dublin, Ireland.

Here's a closer look at the most demanding schedules in college football this season:

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame might have a difficult time matching its 8-5 finish to 2011 after playing what is arguably the most arduous schedule in the country. The Irish's road schedule -- which includes contests at preseason No. 13 Michigan State, at No. 4 Oklahoma and at No. 1 USC -- is competitive enough. But the Irish also play home games against No. 8 Michigan and No. 21 Stanford and face Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago on Oct. 6.

2. Ole Miss Rebels

Former Rebels coach Houston Nutt went 2-10 in his last season at Ole Miss, and new coach Hugh Freeze might not fare much better against a very difficult schedule this season. The Rebels play a ridiculously difficult road schedule, including games at No. 2 Alabama, at No. 10 Arkansas, at No. 6 Georgia and at No. 3 LSU. Ole Miss also plays No. 15 Texas at home on Sept. 15.

3. Washington Huskies

Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian might know his team's postseason fate after the first six weeks of the season. Between Sept. 8 and Oct. 13, the Huskies play four nationally ranked opponents: No. 3 LSU (road), No. 21 Stanford (home), No. 5 Oregon (road) and No. 1 USC (home). Then Washington plays four of its last six Pac-12 games on the road, including trips to Arizona and California.

4. Kansas Jayhawks

Charlie Weis might believe he's still coaching at Notre Dame by the end of October. The Jayhawks, who went 2-10 under former coach Turner Gill last season, play ranked opponents in five of their first eight games: No. 20 TCU (home), No. 22 Kansas State (road), No. 19 Oklahoma State (home), No. 4 Oklahoma (road) and No. 15 Texas (home). They also play at No. 11 West Virginia to close the regular season.

5. Michigan Wolverines

Michigan, the defending Allstate Sugar Bowl champion, opens the season against defending BCS national champion Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday night. The Wolverines also play No. 13 Michigan State at home, along with road games at No. 17 Nebraska and at No. 18 Ohio State. At least Michigan won't have to play Wisconsin during the regular season.

6. South Carolina Gamecocks

USC coach Steve Spurrier probably wasn't joking when he quipped that he'd rather be playing Ole Miss than LSU this season. The Gamecocks not only have to play No. 3 LSU on the road on Oct. 13, but they also host SEC West contender Arkansas at Williams-Brice Stadium on Nov. 10. South Carolina plays three other games against nationally ranked opponents: No. 6 Georgia (home), No. 23 Florida (road) and No. 14 Clemson (road).

7. Baylor Bears

Life without Robert Griffin III won't be a walk in the park for the Bears. While Baylor's nonconference schedule leaves a little bit to be desired (with the exception of Sunday's opener against SMU), it plays three consecutive games against nationally ranked Big 12 foes: No. 11 West Virginia (road), No. 20 TCU (home) and No. 15 Texas (road). The Bears also close the regular season by playing three of their last four games against ranked opponents: No. 4 Oklahoma (road), No. 22 Kansas State (home) and No. 19 Oklahoma State (home).

8. Florida Gators

The Gators' schedule isn't as difficult as it was in Will Muschamp's maiden voyage as a head coach last season (when UF played LSU, Auburn and Alabama from the SEC West), but it's still pretty demanding. The Gators play No. 3 LSU and No. 9 South Carolina at home and face No. 6 Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. The Gators close the regular season at No. 7 Florida State on Nov. 24.

9. Michigan State Spartans

If the Spartans are going to make their way back to the Big Ten championship game, they'll have to earn it. Michigan State opens the season Friday night against No. 24 Boise State in East Lansing and then plays another nonconference game at home against Notre Dame on Sept. 15. MSU's Big Ten schedule includes a Sept. 29 home game against No. 18 Ohio State and three consecutive games against ranked opponents: at No. 8 Michigan on Oct. 20, at No. 12 Wisconsin on Oct. 27 and home against No. 17 Nebraska on Nov. 3.

10. California Golden Bears

If Cal coach Jeff Tedford is going to climb off the hot seat, the Bears might have to pull off an upset or two this season. Along with a difficult Pac-12 slate, the Bears play nonconference games against Nevada this Saturday and at Ohio State on Sept. 15. After playing the Buckeyes, the Bears open their Pac-12 schedule at No. 1 USC on Sept. 22. At least Cal gets to face No. 21 Stanford and No. 5 Oregon at home.

Mark Schlabach | email

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