When I was a sophomore in college too many years ago, I had a vision. For my second semester, I wanted to try to have classes just on Tuesday and Thursday.
I pored over not just what classes were on Tuesday or Thursday, but also in designing those days’ schedules, which professors were unlikely to mark absences with regularity or require attendance, and frontload those to earlier in the day. That way I could conceivably miss even more class (by sleeping in) without being penalized.
This was my quest, and with the completion of the quest came a truly incredible semester of my life. And if I had put half as much effort into actually completing coursework, my college experience probably would have paid off much more long-term and I’d be more enlightened.
My point is, I pay a lot of attention to schedules. And they do matter.
When I look at a college football team to evaluate its credentials, it’s generally a four-part process for me.
- How has it recruited?
- Do is it have a coaching staff that can take those recruits and transform them into productive college players?
- Does it have a favorable schedule without too many bad spots?
- Is there value on any of its prices compared to market sentiment?
The fact that scheduling is such a core tenet of my (and all college football handicappers’) evaluations means that it requires attention, effort and focus. You are generally rewarded as a bettor by what you find in the schedules.
2018’s Best College Football Schedules
Without further ado, here are some good and…not as good…schedule situations in college football this season. I won’t say bad, because I believe in optimism.
All win totals from 5Dimes as of Aug. 15
Win total: 8 (-130/+100)
It may seem weird to include an SEC team on this list, because it’s the SEC. But consider this: Florida is the only Power 5 school to have two FCS teams on its schedule this season (Charleston Southern and Idaho).
That alone probably should put you in this section. The Gators open with three straight at home, including Colorado State, which needs to rebuild its entire offense and has a new OC and DC. That’s three wins to open the season.
Florida also draws well from the SEC West, avoiding Alabama and Auburn, instead getting Mississippi State on the road and hosting LSU (who I’m down on).
Mississippi State is no picnic, but avoiding Alabama and Auburn is a huge win regardless of the replacments. This type of schedule should enable Dan Mullen to win a bunch of games in Year 1 despite his players shooting at gamblers with air rifles. Mullen performs as an underdog, and this roster is still loaded with talent.
Win total: 9 (+115/-145)
This is an underrated setup. There’s a lot of talk about the difficulty of the Pac-12 North, and rightfully so, with Washington and Stanford fielding top-15 level teams, and Cal improving, but that doesn’t mean a Pac-12 North team can’t have a favorable schedule.
Oregon opens with four straight home games. Bowling Green (a team I actually really like as a win-total over this year), Portland State, and San Jose State are the cannon fodder on the first three. Oregon will easily dispatch all three without having to show too many wrinkles.
The Ducks then stay at home and get Stanford in Week 4, so they get to practice and essentially scrimmage at home for a month to get into shape for the Cardinal. Meanwhile, Stanford will have played San Diego State and USC already, where showing the kitchen sink may be required to get out with wins. Advantage Oregon.
For Oregon’s second tough game, vs. Washington, they’re also at home, and the Ducks will be coming off a bye. The Huskies are on a road back-to-back, having to go to UCLA the week before heading to Eugene. Those are Oregon’s two toughest games and both have very favorable set-ups (the Ducks don’t play USC out of the South, another plus).
Oregon does have to go to Utah, Arizona and Washington State, so it’s not like it stays at home the whole year, but the schedule alone almost makes the Ducks a sleeper in the North.
Win total: 8
A second Pac-12 team, this one from the South. The Wildcats do go to Houston in nonconference play, a tricky spot for sure (and what a mobile QB matchup we’ll get) but the conference schedule really can’t be beat.
Arizona avoids Stanford and Washington, the two teams you would pick to miss if given the choice. It hosts USC, which is its most obvious competition for the South title.
The Wildcats have just four conference road games this year, and one of them is Oregon State, the worst team in the Pac-12.
There’s a reason Arizona’s odds are alongside Utah’s to win the division even even though the Wildcats have less talent than the Utes doo. I talk about nine of 10 regular-season wins all the time as a “must” for a Heisman contender, and even though Khalil Tate plays on the West Coast, you can see a path to 9-3 for the Arizona QB, which at least would put him in consideration.
Win total: 6 (+105/-135)
It was quite likely a Big Ten West team would make this list considering the relative weakness of the division. In their nonconference portion, the Gophers have three home games — New Mexico State, Fresno State and Miami (Ohio). That’s two or three wins.
Then they play at Maryland, and I think we need to start admitting we have no idea what that Terps team is going to be like this year despite great recruiting and returning production. Culture does matter to some extent. From the East, Minnesota draws Ohio State on the road (loss) and Indiana.
>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest conversation delivered into your inbox each morning.
When the East has four teams you’d be a huge underdog against, and you draw just one, that’s a pretty big win. Home games against Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern are all winnable as well.
The Gophers are a large underdog in only two of 12 games — at Ohio State and at Wisconsin — and aside from maybe at Nebraska, they’ll have a good chance to win nine others. Their win total is 6. Big things are not expected in P.J. Fleck’s Year 2, but there may be much more boat-rowing than originally anticipated, solely based on the teams the Gophers are playing.
The Not So Good College Football Schedules
Win total: 5.5 (+105/-125)
Phil Steele has this as his hardest schedule. So does everyone else. And they’re not wrong.
The first thing that stands out is the lack of cupcakes. The nonconference games are Cincinnati (which has under-performed but also recruited its tail off the last couple years), at Oklahoma, and vs. Fresno State (which will contend for the Mountain West title this year). Yikes.
In conference, although the Bruins have only 4 road games, they get the worst menu of teams overall from a cross-division standpoint. They play Washington, Stanford, Oregon and Cal from the North, avoiding Washington State and Oregon State, which is unequivocally the worst draw possible, by an incredible amount.
>> For a LIMITED TIME, get Action Network PRO for just $3.99/month
This was a bad year to have this draw, the worst year basically since the conference created these divisions. Multiple projections and power ratings have nine (!) of UCLA’s games within an eight-point spread, mostly because UCLA hosts good teams and plays road games against worse ones.
Oh, and UCLA is now coached by Chip Kelly. So this team is going to be a lot of fun this year, one way or the other.
Win total: 9 (-125/-105)
For a team that’s trying to win its conference and contend for a national title, Michigan faces all kinds of roadblocks. The nonconference slate is cupcake-free; and although Western Michigan and SMU are Group of 5 teams that may not provide a ton of resistance, they’re not walkovers.
But really, the main roadblocks are the most problematic ones. There are five possible losses — at Notre Dame in the opener, Wisconsin, at Michigan State, Penn State and at Ohio State. From the West they draw probably the worst possible trio of teams — Nebraska, at Northwestern and the aforementioned Badgers.
It’s really all a matter of perspective, of course. Michigan has the talent to still win a lot of games on this schedule. But when even two losses eliminate you from contention for the thing you desire most, and there are this many potential losses to other elite teams, it’s cause for concern. If the Wolverines win the Big Ten this year, or come close, they will absolutely have earned it.
Win total: 7 (-129/-101)
Even by SEC standards, this is pretty brutal. SEC teams will often use their four nonconference games to give themselves a bit of a bye week, paying FCS fodder to come get manhandled by backups.
LSU has Southeastern Louisiana and Rice (not FCS but still bad) on the schedule, so that counts. It also scheduled Louisiana Tech between Auburn and Ole Miss, which I think could be a monster trap spot for Coach O, as I’m pretty high on Tech this year (also remember this is an LSU team that lost to Troy last year. Letdowns are possible).
But in the opener, the Tigers play Miami on a neutral field, then in conference they draw the two most difficult tests (by far) from the East, Georgia and Florida. Combine that with the best division in football, the SEC West, featuring Alabama, Auburn, etc. and there are not many sure wins on LSU’s schedule this season.
Add these schedule factors to a completely unknown and potentially poor quarterback situation, and 6-6 is a very real possibility despite the Tigers’ consistently strong recruiting classes.