Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Easiest Schedules for 2014 Title Contenders

Last week we ranked the toughest schedules for teams with legitimate aspirations of making the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014. Of course, it makes sense to find out which teams have the easiest schedules.

We had previously ranked the strength of out-of-conference (OOC) schedules for all 124 conference teams (see complete list). While this is revealing, it must be used in conjunction with these teams' conference schedules to get the complete picture. Conference schedules, you see, are not created equal—even for teams playing within the same division of a conference.

That's why while defending SEC champion Auburn is judged to have the toughest schedule among national title contenders in 2014, its intrastate and SEC West rival, Alabama, actually has one of the easiest. And while USC and UCLA have schedules listed among the top five toughest, another Pac-12 South team made the list of the 10 easiest.

The Big Ten was the only "Big Five" conference missing from the top 10 toughest list, so it should be no surprise that three of its teams found their way to the top 10 easiest list. This is despite two of them playing high-profile nonconference games early in the season—it just reinforces the weakness of the conference overall, particularly with a new divisional alignment after the additions of Maryland and Rutgers.

Here are the top five easiest schedules for 2014. Keep in mind that only teams projected to make a run for the four-team College Football Playoff field are listed, so you won't find any Sun Belt or MAC teams here:

Easiest Schedules for 2014 Title Contenders (1-5)
RankTeamOOC RankRoadNotable Games
1Oklahoma1015Texas*, KSU, Bay, OKSt
2Alabama1195WVU*, A&M, @LSU, Aub
3Ohio St.324VT, @PSU, @MSU, Mich
4BYU-6@Texas, @UCF, @Boise
5Wisconsin595LSU*, Neb, @Iowa

Don't be surprised to find Oklahoma and Alabama in a rematch of last season's Sugar Bowl, but in 2014 in a game with more importance. Both teams basically have cakewalk OOC schedules and should be favored to win every game on their overall schedules—most by double digits.

The Sooners, aside from the annual Red River Shootout in Dallas against Texas, play all of their toughest Big 12 foes at home. The Tide once again will miss all of SEC East's best teams (Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia) and play just one dangerous opponent (LSU) on the road.

And then there's the case of independent BYU, which should not be counted out as a dark horse for a playoff spot. The Cougars play just enough high-profile teams to matter, headlined by a showdown with Texas—a team they utterly destroyed last year in Provo. They can conceivably go 12-0 if they win their three marquee road games.

Here are the next five:

Easiest Schedules for 2014 Title Contenders (6-10)
RankTeamOOC RankRoadNotable Games
6Missouri235UCF, @SCar, UGA, @A&M
7Oregon785MSU, @UCLA, Stan, @OreSt
8Michigan St.885Ore, Neb, Mich, Ohio St
9Baylor1055@Texas, @OU, OKSt, KSU
10Arizona St.1116UCLA, @USC, Stan, ND

Besides BYU, there are two teams each from the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 (and none from the ACC) on this top 10 list. The Big Ten landed the most with three teams, despite two of them opening the season with OOC games against potential top-10 opponents.

Ohio State has a great shot to go through a third straight regular season unbeaten, with its stiffest challenge on the road at Michigan State. The Spartans have a September date with Oregon, but if they can run the table the rest of the way they should still be in good shape to make the CFP playoff field. Wisconsin does not play either OSU or MSU, so even a loss to LSU in the season opener might not kill its title hopes.

Pac-12 teams in general have the most difficult schedules because it's the only conference that plays nine conference games plus a title game. Nevertheless, Oregon lands on the list since its two biggest games—Michigan State and Stanford—are at home and the Ducks don't face USC and Arizona State in the regular season.

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