Friday Five: The most difficult college football schedules in 2017


Every Friday, the Friday Five will rank something in the world of college football -- anything and everything from the logical to the illogical. This week we rank the most difficult schedules of 2017.

Back in May, I went through every schedule in the Power Five conferences, as well as the American Athletic Conference, to determine which teams will be playing the most difficult schedules in the 2017 season. I did more than just look at a schedule and say "oh that's hard" or "that's easy." My rankings are based on math, using the same formula I've used to compile my Fornelli 50 and Bottom 25 rankings here on CBS Sports.

After publishing the rankings for each conference, there was a common question showing up in my Twitter mentions and my inbox: which schools had the most demanding schedules overall?

Well, I do like to give the marvelous people of the internet what they ask for, so in this week's Friday Five I've decided to rank the five most difficult schedules in the 2017 season. Now, there's something you should all know before we get into it, and it's that there are quite a few Big Ten teams represented here.

The reasoning for this is simple. While the SEC and ACC may be stronger conferences overall, every team in the Big Ten plays nine conference games, while the ACC and SEC play only eight. Furthermore, no Big Ten team plays a team from the FCS this year. Meanwhile, every team in the SEC does, and most ACC teams do. That matters when compiling the numbers.

So be forewarned that there's a lot of Big Ten coming your way here.

Most Difficult Schedules
5
Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State Cowboys teams have won at least 10 games in five of the last seven seasons. If they're to make it six in eight, it will not be easy. While the nonconference schedule may not strike you as a gauntlet, Tulsa Golden Hurricane is coming off a 10-win season of its own, and a road trip to face Pittsburgh Panthers won't be easy. In conference play, the Cowboys only have four road games, but they include Texas Tech Red Raiders , Texas Longhorns and West Virginia Mountaineers in back-to-back weeks, and finally Iowa State Cyclones . Between those final three road games is Oklahoma Sooners in Stillwater as well. That will be a difficult stretch.
4
Lovie Smith's second season at Illinois Fighting Illini will begin with a home game against Ball State Cardinals , a game his team should win. After that, the rest of the noncon includes Western Kentucky (22 wins the last two season) and a road trip to South Florida Bulls (18 wins the last two years). If there's good news, it's that both of those schools have new coaches in 2017, so the transition may be rough on them. Conference play provides Illinois some relief in that they draw both Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Indiana Hoosiers from the East, but their third East opponent is Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. Complicating matters is the fact that some of what you'd consider Illinois most "winnable" conference games will come on the road against Iowa Hawkeyes , Minnesota Golden Gophers and Purdue Boilermakers . Meanwhile, both Nebraska Cornhuskers and Wisconsin Badgers come to Champaign.
3
Syracuse Orange will start the season with three rather simple nonconference games. It will play Central Connecticut State (I never realized Connecticut Huskies was even large enough to need directional schools), Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders , and Central Michigan Chippewas . Now, aside from the fact all three of those schools seem located near the center of their states, the only other thing they have in common is that they won't be too difficult. Unfortunately for Syracuse, the pain begins afterward: a road trip to LSU Tigers . After playing NC State Wolfpack on the road, there's a three-week stretch that includes home games against Pitt and Clemson Tigers and a road trip to Miami. The Orange then take a bye week before hitting the road to take on Florida State Seminoles . Following the Seminoles is a home game against Wake Forest Demon Deacons , which should be winnable, but the week after that it's a road trip to Louisville Cardinals . Reaching a bowl game will not be easy for Syracuse.
2
Jeff Brohm's first season at Purdue will not be a simple one. The noncon includes a home game against Ohio Bobcats , but that game will come between a neutral site contest against Louisville in Indianapolis and a road trip down to Missouri Tigers . Conference play then begins with a home game against Michigan Wolverines . Are we having fun yet, Purdue? After that, the Boilermakers find themselves taking road trips to Wisconsin, Rutgers, Northwestern Wildcats and Iowa with home games against Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana sprinkled in between. There's a very real chance that Purdue could be a better team in 2017 yet still finish with a worse record than the 3-9 it posted last season.
1
If Michigan State Spartans rebounds from an awful 3-9 record last year to compete in the Big Ten East this year, it will have earned it. The nonconference isn't murderous, but it's not simple, either. Bowling Green Falcons should be a win, and Western Michigan won't be easy, but there's some question as to how good the Broncos will be following so many key losses. Then there's Notre Dame Fighting Irish , which went 4-8 last season, but Notre Dame was a better team than its record reflected. Still, what does it for Michigan State is its Big Ten schedule. The Spartans not only have to play Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State Nittany Lions this season, but only Penn State will be coming to East Lansing. Also, five of Michigan State's Big Ten games will be on the road this season (it's the East's turn), and its cross-divisional draw avoids the West's heavyweights, but it still provides challenges in Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern.

Honorable mentions: Maryland Terrapins , UCLA Bruins , Arizona State Sun Devils , Oregon State Beavers , Duke Blue Devils

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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