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 five schools that will be playing the most difficult schedules in 2016.
In order to have a successful season, one in which you achieve all of your preseason goals, you can't just play good football. You need a few breaks to go your way as well. You need players that you weren't counting on to exceed expectations, and you need to stay healthy.
It also helps to have a schedule that works in your favor, one that provides enough challenges so pollsters and the College Football Playoff Selection Committee takes you seriously but not one that puts you in too many rough spots that will beat you up over the months and leave you as a lifeless husk at the end of the season.
In this week's Friday Five, we're ranking five teams that may have what it takes to achieve their goals this season but will have to go through quite a gauntlet to get there. These are the five teams that, based on what we know now, have the most difficult schedules to contend with in the 2016 season.
If any of these five schools win their conference this season, they will deserve the College Football Playoff bid.
5. Auburn: The Tigers have gone backwards the last two seasons under Gus Malzahn. In his first year back at Auburn, Malzahn's Tigers went 12-2, losing to Florida State in the closing minutes of the final BCS Championship Game. They followed that up with an 8-5 season in 2014 and a 7-6 mark last year. Even with a contract extension, Malzahn seems firmly entrenched on a seat that is only getting warmer by the day, and if he wants to cool it off, he has his work cut out for him with Auburn's 2016 schedule.
Auburn faces a tough test right out of the gate when it takes on Clemson to open the season, and though it returns home for four straight games after that, two of those games are against Texas A&M and LSU in consecutive weeks. Auburn won't play a true road game until Oct. 8, but once the Tigers hit the road, four of their final seven games will be played outside The Plains -- against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. All in all, the Tigers will play four teams that finished last season ranked, as well as nine teams that went to a bowl game last season.
4. BYU: The good thing about being an independent program is that you can choose your schedule. You aren't required to play eight or nine games against teams within your conference. The bad thing about being an independent program in the era of the CFP is you have to put together a schedule that will impress the committee. Well, while BYU may not have a conference to win, should the Cougars go 12-0 this season, the committee will have a hard time keeping them out of the playoff.
The Cougars will play 10 of their 12 games against teams that went to a bowl last season. One of the two teams to not make a bowl game is Southern Utah, which doesn't have a bowl to play in, but did win the Big Sky Conference. The Cougars start the season with Arizona, Utah, UCLA and West Virginia. Then, after playing a good MAC team in Toledo, they'll hit the road to play Michigan State, come back home for Mississippi State, then head back on the road to play Boise State and Cincinnati.
Yeah, Kilani Sitake's first season in Provo is not going to be easy.
3. Alabama: You can argue that everybody in the SEC West plays a difficult schedule every single year, but none of them play one tougher than Alabama's this season. If the Crimson Tide are going to defend their title and get back to the CFP for the third time in its three year existence, it's not going to be easy.
The season will begin against USC in Jerry World, which props up a nonconference schedule that really isn't all that difficult (sorry, Western Kentucky, Kent State and Chattanooga). No, what makes Alabama's schedule a bit daunting is the SEC portion of it. The Tide will have to play Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU on the road this season. Those last three games all come within a five-week span.
When it's all said and done, Alabama will have played 10 teams that had winning records in 2015.
2. USC: The Trojans will open the season in Jerry World against Alabama, and life won't get much easier from there. After a game the following week against Utah State, the Trojans will open Pac-12 play with consecutive road games against Stanford and Utah -- two teams that went a combined 22-5 last season.
The middle of USC's schedule, while not exactly easy, is where the Trojans can relax a bit. Three of USC's four games in October will come at home against Arizona State, Colorado and Cal, with a road trip to Arizona between the Buffaloes and Bears.
When the calendar flips to November, however, USC will be facing one hell of a finish. November begins with a home game against Oregon, and following the Ducks, there are road trips to Washington and UCLA. Then, after conference play comes to an end, the Trojans will welcome Notre Dame to The Coliseum. Oh, and there are no byes in November. In fact, USC only has one by week on the schedule, and it comes in October between the Arizona and Cal games.
So when it comes to USC's schedule, it's not just who the Trojans are playing but the fact that they have two very difficult stretches bookending it.
1. Wisconsin: For years, Big Ten fans have complained about Wisconsin's schedule and how easy it is when it comes to the nonconference games the Badgers play. Well, two home games against Georgia State and Akron won't do a whole lot to change that, but playing LSU to open the season in Lambeau Field a year after opening the season against Alabama might start to change that perception.
Still, while starting the season against LSU goes a long way toward putting Wisconsin in the top spot here, what really puts the Badgers over the top is their Big Ten schedule. If there was a good team in the Big Ten last season, Wisconsin is playing them this year, and they're playing them early. Just look at this insane six-game stretch to open conference play in 2016.
Wisconsin starts at Michigan State (12-2 last season) then goes on the road to play Michigan (10-3) in Ann Arbor the following week. The Badgers will then take a much-needed week off before returning to Madison to play Ohio State (12-1). After a week back at home, the Badgers will be back on the road again to face Iowa (12-2), come home the next week to play Nebraska (6-7) and then it's on the road again to play Northwestern (10-3.)
For those not keeping track, that means five of Wisconsin's first six conference games come against teams that won at least 10 games last year (the six teams had a combined record of 62-18 in 2015) with only one bye week during the stretch.
The good news for Wisconsin is after that stretch it gets to finish with Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota, but the Badgers might be so battered by then that even those games will be difficult to get through unscathed.
Honorable Mention: Arkansas, Florida State, LSU, Northwestern, Ole Miss