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Top 10 early schedule losers for 2012

1/17/2012

Last week, we took a look at my man Mark Schlabach's Way Too Early Top 25 and did some surmising on which teams might be poised for big early jumps thanks to some sweet early scheduling efforts by the football office.

(By the way, I was asked if I still thought Oregon would be in the same good shape even with the stunning early departure of our up-top photo model, quarterback Darron Thomas. I say yes. He'll miss Oregon more than Oregon will miss him.)

Now it's time to take a look at the back side of that roller coaster. What teams are in danger of losing early ground? Here are my picks. And that ground can be nearly impossible to reclaim. Speaking of the Ducks, just ask them about that.


1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Way Too Early Ranking: 3rd

Home games: 7

Road games: 4

Neutral site: 1

Nonconference opponents: Michigan, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Western Carolina

Biggest test: Nov. 3 at LSU

Forget the fact that the defending national champs are playing two Westerns and an Atlantic. Forget the fact that their 12-game schedule includes only four true road games. And forget the fact that they travel to Baton Rouge for the "Game of the Century: Episode III" in November. Instead, you need to pay attention to the fact that two of the Crimson Tide's first three games include a trip to Arlington, Texas, to play the Michigan Wolverines and a visit to Fayetteville to play the Arkansas Razorbacks, who will have Tyler Wilson back under center. I don't care who you are, that's tough. Then again, if the Tide win both, they'll likely have a choke-hold on the No. 1 spot for a while.


2. Oklahoma Sooners

Way Too Early Ranking: 5th

Home games: 6

Road games: 5

Neutral site: 1

Nonconference opponents: TBD

Biggest test: Kansas State, TBD

As we told you last week, the Big 12 still hasn't gotten its 2012 schedule squared away as the conference waits to see what happens with West Virginia's attempted early defection from the Big East. If the Mountaineers are on the calendar, they will become just another giant pothole for the Sooners, who will once again enter a season escorted by haughty expectations. TCU joins the conference, likely an early game, while Notre Dame comes to Norman on Oct. 27.

The good news is that last year's brutal road schedule becomes a home schedule, but Kansas State, believe it or not, should be better.


3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Way Too Early Ranking: 7th

Home games: TBD

Road games: TBD

Neutral site: 1

Nonconference opponents: Marshall, Florida State, James Madison, Maryland

Biggest test: Sept. 9 at Florida State

If WVU does get to bolt west, then the FSU game is expected to go away. But a "win" in court would also trade a Big East conference schedule for a Big 12 conference schedule. In no known universe is that an easier life.


4. Michigan State Spartans

Way Too Early Ranking: 9th

Home games: 7

Road games: 5

Nonconference opponents: Boise State, Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan

Biggest test: Oct. 27 at Wisconsin

Last week, we told you that the ACC had the perfect equation for poll jumping. Low preseason expectations + soft schedule = early upward poll movement. Many of the teams in the Big Ten have the opposite problem. High preseason expectations + hard schedule = early downward poll movement. The Spartans return running back Le'Veon Bell and most of their D. They also have five of their first six at home, but three of those include Boise (Aug. 31), Notre Dame (Sept. 15) and Ohio State (Sept. 29). By the time they hit a brutal mid-October stretch, they could be worn down.


5. Michigan Wolverines

Way Too Early Ranking: 11th

Home games: 6

Road games: 5

Neutral site: 1

Nonconference opponents: Alabama, Air Force, UMass, Notre Dame

Biggest test: Oct. 27 at Nebraska

A win (finally) against Ohio State, a Sugar Bowl title, a top 10 coaches poll ranking, and the return of Denard Robinson can make a school feel pretty good. But an opening stanza of games against Alabama (Sept. 1 at Arlington, Texas), home vs. Air Force (Sept. 8) and on the road to South Bend (Sept. 22) has trouble written all over it. Then they have to travel to Nebraska in October and Ohio State in November.


6. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Way Too Early Ranking: 13th

Home games: 6

Road games: 6

Nonconference opponents: Southern Miss, UCLA, Arkansas State, Iowa

Biggest test: Sept. 29 vs. Wisconsin

The Big Red Nation is getting antsy. If Southern Miss and Arkansas State (not easy outs) give the Huskers any trouble, the folks in Lincoln will be screaming. No one has any idea what to expect at UCLA on Sept. 8, but the Bruins usually win one they aren't supposed to. The Huskers' reward for surviving all of that is opening conference play against Wisconsin and traveling to Ohio State.


7. Stanford Cardinal

Way Too Early Ranking: 17th

Home games: 6

Road games: 6

Nonconference opponents: San Jose State, Duke, Notre Dame

Biggest test: Sept. 15 vs. USC

Opening with three home games is good, but the fact that the third game is against USC is very bad, especially when your quarterback is still trying to figure things out. Trips to Notre Dame, Cal and Oregon aren't easy, either.


8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Way Too Early Ranking: 23rd

Home games: 6

Road games: 4

Neutral site: 2

Nonconference opponents: Everyone

Biggest test: Take your pick

First, calling Dublin, Ireland (vs. Navy) and Solider Field (vs. Miami) "neutral sites" is a stretch. Those are home games. Second, if I keep using you as a tough game over and over on this list, then your schedule is ridiculous.

Of the 25 teams on Schlabach's Way Too Early list, the Fighting Irish play five. Nine of their 12 opponents played in bowls to close this season, and the Irish have to travel to East Lansing, Norman and the Coliseum. Good luck with that.


9. Miami Hurricanes

Way Too Early Ranking: NR

Home games: 6

Road games: 6

Nonconference opponents: Kansas State, Notre Dame, Bethune-Cookman, USF

Biggest test: Sept. 8 at Kansas State

In the inevitable preseason search for a sleeper pick, go on and write it down: The Hurricanes are going to come up. People (read: a lot of my fellow writers) are dying for The U to be relevant again. That will likely get the Hurricanes early votes, especially if some other Top 25 teams lose during Week 1. But the Canes replace Ohio State with Kansas State, play Notre Dame in Chicago, and still make a living in the ACC's toughest division.


10. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Way Too Early Ranking: NR

Home games: 6 (TBD)

Road games: 6 (TBD)

Nonconference opponents: Nebraska, Western Kentucky, Boise State

Biggest test: TBD

The Golden Eagles spent nearly all of 2011 garnering Top 25 votes and ended the year in the top 20. They will likely receive some preseason love this year, but it won't last. See those three nonconference opponents? Those are in the first six games, though Boise does have to come to Hattiesburg.