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Which teams have the toughest 2022 college football schedules?

As we head into August, we are only a month away from NCAA football. We take a look at which school has the toughest schedule to contend with.

As we head into August, we are only a month away from NCAA football. We take a look at which school has the toughest schedule to contend with.
Dale ZanineUSA TODAY Sports

With all of the upheaval in college football this year, it is tempting to buck the traditional wisdom which says “look South” if you want to see the toughest schedule. The chaos is likely to last another five to ten years, with Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC in 2025, and BYU, Cincinnati, and UCF moving to the Big 12, the Pac-12 losing UCLA and USC to the Big Ten, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 possibly merging.

Geographic regions have little to do with the conferences any more, and will have even less of a role in the future. So where do you look if you want to see the best competition around? Turns out, still pretty much the same as ever. Look South.

With each of the SEC teams capable of either winning a national championship or toppling a national champion, seemingly at will, it is difficult to imagine a more competitive conference in any sport, amateur or professional. After Oklahoma and Texas join in three years’ time, that is a reputation that will undoubtedly have even more punch behind it.

They don’t hold exclusive rights to the claim, though, with Big Ten teams who can match them blow for blow, and of course the two Pac-12 powerhouses UCLA and USC who are as good as any team in the world. Similar to Spanish soccer’s relationship with Real Madrid and Barcelona, these are two world class programs playing in a second-tier league, and as good as each of these teams are, competition against which they must test themselves is laughably weak, at times almost non-existent.

Which is why for the most competitive division in the country, you still have to look at the South.

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index tool, which measures team strength and predicts performance, nine of the top ten toughest football schedules are all in the southeastern United States. Overall, they placed 15 of the top 25 toughest schedules on southern schools.

Using different criteria, including the number of Power 5 opponents in the schedule, Fan Nation came up with a slightly different mix, but still chose seven of their top ten toughest schedules from the SEC.

All pundits tend to rate their top three as the same schools, though: Arkansas, Auburn, and Mississippi State each have brutal schedules, with October being perhaps a giant-killer for Mississippi State. They face Texas A&M and Arkansas at home, before going on the road to Kentucky and Alabama. Add to the mix Georgia, Arizona, and LSU, before tackling SEC conference play, and the Bulldogs have a very steep hill to climb.

Arkansas will face five nationally ranked teams in their season, and for the second year in a row, they will have to punch far above their weight to come through it. They open with a road game to Cincinnati, who haven’t lost at home in over two years, and then travel mid-season out west to BYU. In the lead-up to that trip, the Hogs will face Texas A&M away, Alabama at home and Mississippi State in Starkville. With a trip to Auburn in the mix, Arkansas will play four out of five games on the road.

The toughest schedule in the land, though, has to go to the Auburn Tigers. They have a killer calendar ahead of them, playing both Georgia and Alabama on the road, plus six nationally ranked SEC opponents before the end of October.

Here are the top 10 toughest schedules according to ESPN’s FPI tool

  1. Auburn
  2. Mississippi State
  3. Vanderbilt
  4. Georgia Tech
  5. Tennessee
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Alabama
  8. South Carolina
  9. Indiana
  10. LSU