Earlier this week, I previewed the teams that will play the toughest overall schedules in 2013. But what about the programs that, while not playing the nation's most difficult schedules, will take the biggest steps up in schedule strength this season? These teams may have taken advantage of some fortuitous schedules a season ago, but now the tables could be turned. They either face much tougher nonconference opponents, conference schedules or away matchups.
A couple of notes: In order to make the comparison from 2012 to 2013 more accurate, teams that played in conference championship games and/or bowl games did not get rewarded for those opponents' records. The win-loss comparison is based on just the 12 regular-season opponents played in each season. Also, a team's wins and losses against its 2012 opponents are subtracted from their opponents' overall 2012 record. For example, Notre Dame's 12 regular-season opponents last season had a combined record of 86-68 (55.8 percent), but if you take out their 12 losses to the Irish, it jumps to 86-56 (60.6 percent). This formula was not completed for 2013, as each team does not play exactly the same schedule as it previously did.
Here are five teams facing more challenging slates in 2013:
2012 combined opponents' record: 67-69 (49.2 percent)
2013 combined opponents' record from 2012: 87-67 (56.5 percent)
Last season, despite being one of the most inexperienced teams in the country (just eight returning starters), the Sun Devils took advantage of facing four backup quarterbacks in their first four weeks, leading to an eight-win season. But now things are much more difficult.
It starts with one of the tougher nonconference slates in the entire country. In 2012, the Sun Devils played Illinois and Missouri, which combined to go 7-17. This season, they pick up Wisconsin and Notre Dame, two teams that went a combined 20-7 in 2012.
In conference play, the good news is that Oregon drops off the schedule. The bad news is that the Ducks are replaced by a road trip to Stanford. It's preceded by the Wisconsin game and followed by matchups against USC and Notre Dame during a brutal four-game stretch from September to early October. Overall, the Sun Devils go from playing five bowl teams last season to eight in 2013.