Good afternoon! As you all know by now, the Selection Committee released their first rankings last night. So, as a follow up, I’ve decided that today’s 4th and 10 will rank the ten hardest remaining schedules among playoff contenders.
10.Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Lou Holtz would probably berate me for not having the Irish number one, but he also used the words “Notre Dame” and “unbiased” in the same sentence last week. He was lying. He is biased. Notre Dame does have a pretty tough road ahead though. Next weekend they go on the road to play Arizona State, following a game at Navy this weekend. After that, they get Northwestern and Louisville at home, before going to the Coliseum to take on the Men of Troy.
9. Baylor Bears
Baylor returns to action this week after a bye week gave them some extra time to lick their wounds following a disastrous trip to Morgantown. They play Kansas at home this weekend, which is essentially an in-conference tune-up game. Then, they go to Norman to play Oklahoma. They have another bye week on November 15th before finishing the season by playing Oklahoma State at home, going to Texas Tech, and finishing the season at home against Kansas State. The Kansas State game may very well be a de facto Big 12 championship.
8. TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs have already navigated a fairly tough schedule, and if they navigate these next two weeks unscathed the road gets easier. However, they have to go to Morgantown to play West Virginia and try to avoid the burning couches this weekend. If they can win that one, then they have to play Kansas State the following week. After that, they go to Kansas (easy win) and then to Texas for a Thursday night game. Texas is not the powerhouse they were five years ago, but Thursday night games are always weird and DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium is still an imposing place to play.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State has already navigated a pretty tough schedule, in-conference at least that non-con schedule leave much to be desired. However, the Bulldogs play a hungry Arkansas team this weekend, and then host UT-Martin (see non-con comment above). On the 15th though, they have to go to Bryant-Denny where the Crimson Tide have been lights out this season. The following week they get a near-pulseless Vanderbilt team, before going to Ole Miss for the Egg Bowl. They have two really tough games left and they both happen to be on the road.
6. Utah Utes
Utah survived a close one at home late last Saturday night and the next four weeks will be really tough. They go to Arizona State this weekend, then Oregon at home, Stanford on the road, and Arizona at home. The two Arizona teams are both ranked in the top 15 and Oregon is 5th. The good news for Ute fans is that two of those games are at home, and if they can get through all of that and win in Palo Alto, they get to close the season against Colorado (a.k.a. Pac-12 Vandy). Why are all of the terrible power conference teams black and gold?
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Phyllis is the Alabama version of Lou Holtz, so she’d probably yell at me for not having Bama at #1…on every list ever. The Tide has a bye this weekend, but the road ahead is tough. They have to go to Death Valley, which Ole Miss fans will tell you is not a fun game. Then, they play host to the top-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs. They have a patsy game after State, but then it’s Iron Bowl time. They do get Auburn at home, but Bryant-Denny has never really given the Tide much of an advantage in the Iron Bowl. Not an easy schedule by any means, but it is manageable and they get two of their three big games at home.
4. Arizona Wildcats
A lot of people in my “neck of the woods” may give me flack for ranking a Pac-12 team ahead of an SEC team, but it is what I think. Arizona has a tough game this weekend when they travel to UCLA. UCLA may not be what we thought they were (said Dennis Green), but they are still a solid team. Then they get the Pac-12 patsy Colorado at home and Washington at home, but their last two games will also be challenging. They have to go to Utah, and then play Arizona State at home.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils
“Two Arizona teams in the top 5!” “Sam you must be out of your mind!” No, I’m not. The Sun Devils have a tough stretch if the want to win the South and have a shot at the Pac-12 title and a playoff berth. The toughness starts this weekend with Utah coming to town fresh off an emotional, last second win over USC. Notre Dame comes to town next, and they’re chomping at the bit to beat a quality team and stay in the playoff hunt. They follow those two by traveling to Oregon State and playing Washington State at home. They ought to win those two games. Then, as a mentioned in the previous section, they travel to Arizona for a tough end of the year test and potentially a Pac-12 South championship game, depending on the preceding weeks.
2. Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State may have had a vastly underrated schedule in the preseason. The Big-12 has turned out to be a bloodbath, and they played Auburn out of conference. I also may have vastly underrated them in the preseason. I said they’d go 6-6…I was wrong, per usual. The Wildcats have a tough road between now and playoff time, but if they can win out they are all but assured a playoff berth. They get Oklahoma State at home this weekend, but next weekend they have to travel to Fort Worth and play TCU. They do get a bye weekend after that, but follow that up with a trip to Morgantown. (Insert obligatory couch burning reference here). They finish the season with Kansas at home (the Jayhawks potentially ruin my black and gold theory), and a trip to Baylor. The Wildcats are one of two one-loss teams with three road games left against ranked teams. The other one would be…
1. Auburn Tigers
For all of you Auburn fans wondering why Auburn is being voted the best team in the West, but the least likely contender to win, this is why. The Tigers have a murderous schedule to close the season. They still have trips to Oxford, Athens, and Tuscaloosa left. The first two sound like they could be either an academic bowl or a football game location right? For those of you keeping count, that is road trips to the numbers 4, 6, and 11 teams. They get to break up those games with home games against Texas A&M and Samford in between. Texas A&M is on the decline, but they may still have a decent game or two left in them. Auburn has a nasty schedule, but they are a very good team.