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ESPN computer ranks the toughest schedules in college football

Playing a quality schedule is more important now than ever before, as the College Football Playoff selectors put a premium on quality opponents.

But good competition isn't spread out evenly across the sport. Most of it still resides in the SEC, where the weekly slug fest has produced 12 of the last 16 national championship teams.

It's not a surprise, then, that most of the hardest schedules hail from that league, but you can find some quality teams in the Big Ten this fall, too. Which teams will have the toughest time in the 2022 season.

Which schools have it the toughest this year? Let's see how the ESPN Football Power Index computer ranks the 10 hardest schedules in college football.

Ranking college football's 10 hardest schedules

10. LSU

lsu football myles brennan

LSU is one of the biggest question marks in college football this season. Undisputed national champions in 2019, it's all been downhill from there. In steps Brian Kelly in a bombshell coaching move to bring the Tigers back to national prominence.

Achieving that goal, as always, involves being on the right side of the always tough SEC West schedule. The month of October will test this team, going to Auburn, hosting Tennessee, visiting Florida, and coming home to Ole Miss.

Same goes for November: Following the off week, Alabama comes to Death Valley, followed by a visit to Arkansas, and closing out on the road to Texas A&M.

Toughest game: vs. Alabama, Nov. 5

9. Indiana

Where did teams land in the AP Top 25 college football rankings?

Life is always rough if you're a Big Ten East team not named Ohio State. Last season, the Hoosiers failed to capitalize on their 2020 success, placing last in the division and going 0-9 against conference teams. And it won't get any easier this season.

IU loses some important pieces, including quarterback Michael Penix and receiver Ty Fryfogle, and faces a brutal schedule that includes a three-week stretch at Cincinnati, at Nebraska, and at home to Michigan. And the last month of the season includes four straight against Penn State, at Ohio State, at Michigan State, and against Purdue.

Toughest game: at Ohio State, Nov. 12

8. South Carolina

south carolina football jaheim bell

Shane Beamer has already outpaced expectations after one season with the Gamecocks, winning seven games and taking the Mayo Bowl against rival UNC. 

Now, he gets a pair of high-profile transfers to work with in former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler and tight end Austin Stogner.

That's an immediate upgrade this team could use on offense, especially with an early slate that includes trips to Arkansas and Kentucky and a home date with reigning College Football Playoff champion Georgia.

Texas A&M comes to Columbia after the idle week and the final three games of the season include going to Florida, hosting Tennessee, and visiting Clemson.

Toughest game: at Clemson, Nov. 26

7. Alabama

Nick Saban has led Alabama to domination in the Top 25 college football rankings and the national championship race.

If any team has proved able to weather the storm of the SEC West these last 15 years, it's been the Crimson Tide. But this season's most interesting test could come in an early, on-campus game against Texas.

A win in Austin ensures an undefeated September, which is good looking ahead to October: a trip to Arkansas and a home tilt against Texas A&M, who beat the No. 1 Tide a year ago and is a potential contender coming out of this division. Half of November is spent away from home, with consecutive games at LSU and Ole Miss.

Toughest game: vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 8

6. Texas A&M

Texas A&M comes into the 2022 college football season looking to make waves in the SEC and playoff race.

A&M is fresh off signing arguably the best recruiting class in college football history. Now comes the hard task of wielding that talent in the direction of an SEC championship.

Watch for two interesting home dates in the non-conference slate against App State and Miami before taking on Arkansas and going to Alabama. Two home dates against Ole Miss and Florida are crucial, followed by a road tilt at Auburn and finishing at home against LSU.

Toughest game: at Alabama, Oct. 8

5. Tennessee

A traditional college football power, Tennessee has struggled to dominate the SEC rankings in recent years.

Josh Heupel won seven games in Year 1 behind the ninth-ranked offense in college football, but will have to patch up this secondary to improve on his rookie outing. September will be tough enough, going to Pitt and hosting Florida before the off week.

That sets up a brutal October stretch: at LSU, vs. Alabama, vs. Kentucky, and at Georgia. UT Martin is a welcome breather during that span, and the Vols should fare better to close the season, against Missouri, at South Carolina, and at Vandy.

Toughest game: vs. Alabama, Oct. 15

4. Georgia Tech

jeff sims georgia tech football

The Ramblin' Wreck will certainly miss running back Jahmyr Gibbs — who transferred to Alabama this offseason — over the first six weeks of this season.

Tech opens against Clemson, hosts Ole Miss, and then visits UCF and Pitt in consecutive weeks.

It won't get easier after the idle week: hosting Virginia, going to Florida State, going to Virginia Tech, hosting Miami, going to North Carolina, and finishing at Georgia.

Toughest game: at Georgia, Nov. 26

3. Vanderbilt

vanderbilt football

Looks like another tough year for the 'Dores, who now have to contend with losing top receiver Cam Johnson and No. 1 tackle Tyler Steen to the transfer portal. Adding insult to injury, Steen signed with Alabama this offseason.

If the SEC slate wasn't tough enough, Vandy opens up on the road at Hawaii in Week 1 and then hosts Wake — which brings back the bulk of its 11th ranked offense, including quarterback Sam Hartman — in Week 3.

There are road dates at Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky before closing out at home against Florida and UT. Vanderbilt hasn't won an SEC game since 2019 and has five overall wins the last three seasons.

Toughest game: at Alabama, Sept. 24

2. Mississippi State

mike leach sec football

Good luck to the Bulldogs in the month of October, with games vs. Texas A&M, vs. Arkansas, at Kentucky, and at Alabama.

Two weeks later is a home date with Georgia and two weeks after that the Egg Bowl on the road. MSU opens against Memphis, followed by a road trip to Arizona, and then at LSU before coming home against Bowling Green ahead of the SEC slate.

Will Rogers returns at quarterback after setting school records in yards and TDs, and he led the SEC in yards per game last fall playing behind an improved defense that placed fourth in the conference. Mississippi State will need every bit of that production and more to get through this schedule.

Toughest game: at Alabama, Oct. 22

1. Auburn

Auburn has been a fixture in the Top 25 college football rankings and a traditional power in the SEC West.

Bryan Harsin steps into Year 2 already on the hot seat and looking at another brutal SEC West sked, including against what should be the top two teams in college football, Alabama and Georgia, and both on the road.

In all, expect Auburn to line up against five ranked SEC opponents alone. Potentially six, if Brian Kelly can get LSU — which comes to The Plains — in working order by October. Auburn plays host to Penn State in September, goes to Ole Miss, and hosts A&M in a late season clash.

Toughest game: at Alabama, Nov. 26

(h/t ESPN College Football Power Index)


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