Skip to main content

Ranking College Football’s 12 Easiest Schedules In 2016

College football scheduling shifts greatly from program to program, based on what they're trying to accomplish. Some teams look to give themselves a challenge and build a great resume with the goal of impressing the College Football Playoff committee. Others look to build up the program with easier games, in order to try and guarantee bowl berths. Some may plan to contend for national titles, but try to get there by running the table with easy games. 

We ran through the schedules of the major conference programs, and found the teams with the least challenging schedules for the 2016 season. Some of these teams are looking to get to the next level, and some want to beat everyone by 40 and score style points outside of their difficult conference match-ups.

Here are the 12 programs with the easiest schedules in 2016.

Next: No. 12 ??? >>>

12. Vanderbilt

The Commodores are in the SEC, so it is very difficult for things to be too ridiculously easy, but Derek Mason's club probably has the lightest challenge in the conference. And rightfully so. Mason took over a Vanderbilt program that was in a very rough place after much of its recruiting class followed James Franklin to Penn State, coming off of one of its best stretches. 

Sept. 1 – South Carolina
Sept. 10 – Middle Tennessee State
Sept. 17 – at Georgia Tech
Sept. 24 – at Western Kentucky
Oct. 1 – Florida
Oct. 8 – at Kentucky
Oct. 15 – at Georgia
Oct. 22 – Tennessee State
Nov. 5 – at Auburn
Nov. 12 – at Missouri
Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 26 – Tennessee

The out of conference schedule actually poses some real challenges for the Commodores. Middle Tennessee is a bowl team, they travel to a very good Western Kentucky, and to Georgia Tech, which should improve after a surprisingly down 2015. In the SEC, Vanderbilt caught some breaks, however. It plays in the SEC East, which is the far easier division, and have South Carolina, Florida, and a tough two game stretch to end the season, Georgia and Tennessee, at home. Trips to Georgia and Auburn are never easy, but both are coming off of seasons with very mixed results, and Georgia is breaking in a new staff. 

Vandy took a step forward last season, with a pretty salty defense that led the way to wins over Kentucky and Missouri. If the offense improves, Vanderbilt might be able to scrape together a few more wins and contend for a bowl with this schedule.

Next: No. 11 ??? >>>

11. Washington

Washington was just 7-6 last year with a Heart of Dallas Bowl win, but the Huskies were a pretty intriguing team. Only the Stanford loss was a true blowout, and Washington managed to beat a talented USC team, and finished the year with a ton of momentum, blowing out Oregon State and a good Washington State team, and beating Southern Miss 44-31 in the bowl. The Pac-12 is a tough league, but things line up pretty well for Washington, which could be poised for a breakout season.

Sept. 3 – Rutgers
Sept. 10 – Idaho
Sept. 17 – Portland State
Sept. 24 – at Arizona
Sept. 30 – Stanford
Oct. 8 – at Oregon
Oct. 22 – Oregon State
Oct. 29 – at Utah
Nov. 5 – at Cal
Nov. 12 – USC
Nov. 19 – Arizona State
Nov. 25 – at Washington State

The Huskies really aren't extending themselves with their three non-conference games here. All three games are at home, with the toughest match-up coming again Rutgers that went 4-8 last season and is replacing its coaching staff. Idaho is a weak Sun Belt team, and while Portland State is a very good FCS program, it doesn't do a ton to change how the non-conference slate is perceived. 

No one gets off too easily in Pac-12 play, but Washington can't really complain about how things shake out in 2016. Two of the three most talented teams the Huskies play—Stanford and USC—travel to Seattle. Oregon is a tough trip, as is Utah, but the Huskies hung with those teams last season, and Oregon is breaking in two new coordinators and will have a new quarterback. Things can get weird on trips to the Palouse, but Washington blew out Washington State, which may come back to the pack in 2016 after a surprising 2015.

Washington should jump out to 3-0, and may be a surprise team in the Pac-12 North this fall.

Next: No. 10 ??? >>>

10. Miami

Congratulations, Mark Richt, you don't need to face an SEC schedule anymore! The ACC Coastal may be a very balanced, if not overwhelming, division, and the Hurricanes face powerhouse Florida State every season, but the former Georgia head coach won't face nearly the same grind at his alma mater that he did at his old job.

Sept. 10 – Florida A&M
Sept. 17 – at Appalachian State
Oct. 29 – at Notre Dame
TBD – Duke
TBD – Florida State
TBD – North Carolina
TBD – Pittsburgh
TBD – at Georgia Tech
TBD – at N.C. State
TBD – at Virginia
TBD – at Virginia Tech

Yes, Notre Dame should be very good next season, so a trip to South Bend is tough, but Miami went very light with the rest of its non-conference schedule. Florida A&M and FAU should be wins if the team has a pulse in 2016, and while a trip to Appalachian State might be tricky, the 'Canes should have a major talent advantage. The home/away breakdown here also works out well for the 'Canes. Florida State and North Carolina project to be Miami's two toughest ACC tests, at least based on 2015, while none of Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Virginia, and Virginia Tech are incredibly scary road trips, at least not until Justin Fuente really gets things kicking in Blacksburg.

Miami fans may have somewhat inflated expectations based on the program's proud history, but Richt has an opportunity to make a splash this season.

Next: No. 9 ??? >>>

9. Virginia

For years, the Cavaliers have buried themselves with ridiculous non-conference schedules. Since 2008, the program has played a total of 11 non-conference games against Boise State, BYU, Oregon, Penn State, TCU, UCLA, and USC. It won two of them. In the one season that didn't feature one of those teams, 2011, Mike London's team went 8-5 and made the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That isn't to excuse London for what was a very bad tenure at Virginia, but the schedule did him no favors. Luckily, things are not quite as ridiculous for first year head coach Bronco Mendenhall as they have been in years past.

Sept. 3 – Richmond
Sept. 10 – at Oregon
Sept. 17 – at Connecticut
Sept. 24 – Central Michigan
TBD – Louisville
TBD – Miami
TBD – North Carolina
TBD – Pittsburgh
TBD – at Duke
TBD – at Georgia Tech
TBD – at Virginia Tech
TBD – at Wake Forest

The Oregon trip is extremely difficult, but in seasons past, Virginia has had two or three of those marquee non-conference games. Last year, it traveled to UCLA and hosted Notre Dame and Boise State. Connecticut and Central Michigan are bowl teams, but they are both still winnable games. In the ACC, Virginia only has Louisville and Wake Forest out of the Atlantic Division, avoiding the league's two powers: Clemson and Florida State. Miami, UNC, and Pitt make for a good group to have at home, too. 

Mendenhall has work to do in Charlottesville, but there are wins to be had on this schedule, and the Cavaliers haven't been that far away from being decent in recent years.

Next: No. 8 ??? >>>

8. Purdue

Darrell Hazell may not have much more rope at Purdue, but if the Boilermakers are to make a big turnaround, 2016 may be a good year for it. After a 2-10 2015, which included games against Virginia Tech and Michigan State, things are more manageable this coming season:

Sept. 3 – Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 10 – Cincinnati
Sept. 24 – Nevada
Oct. 1 – at Maryland
Oct. 8 – at Illinois
Oct. 15 – Iowa
Oct. 22 – at Nebraska
Oct. 29 – Penn State
Nov. 5 – at Minnesota
Nov. 12 – Northwestern
Nov. 19 – Wisconsin
Nov. 26 – at Indiana

Purdue does not have a Power 5 program on its non-conference schedule, although Cincinnati is a quality team, and it gets very lucky with how the home/away splits break down this season. Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, the three best teams in the Big Ten West last season, all travel to Ross-Ade Stadium, as does Penn State, Purdue's toughest game from the Big Ten East. Nebraska is a prime candidate to break out after having a number of fluky losses in 2015, but it is also one of only two teams that Purdue beat in 2015. None of the other four road games—Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana—are all that intimidating.

Next: No. 7 ??? >>>

7. Duke

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the ACC Coastal is well-represented on here. The conference has two legitimately great programs, Clemson and Florida State, which are both in the Atlantic, and North Carolina will likely regress a bit from its breakout season. The teams that don't play the 'Noles or Tigers don't have a ton of huge match-ups available in conference, and aren't breaking their backs outside of it.

Sept. 17 – at Northwestern
Sept. 24 – at Notre Dame
Oct. 8 – Army 
TBD – N.C. Central
TBD – North Carolina
TBD – Virginia
TBD – Virginia Tech
TBD – Wake Forest
TBD – at Georgia Tech
TBD – at Louisville
TBD – at Miami
TBD – at Pitt

2016 might actually prove to be an uptick in schedule difficulty for Duke. Army and N.C. Central are probably wins, but a trip to Northwestern could be tricky and Notre Dame is a legitimately tough game. Again, it is an uninspiring conference schedule that drags down this ACC Coastal slate. Virginia and Wake Forest are both bad teams, Virginia Tech is rebuilding with a new staff and offensive system, and North Carolina likely regresses without Marquise Williams at quarterback. After Notre Dame, Duke's second toughest game is at Louisville, a test for sure, but nothing insurmountable. 

Duke is a very solid program after being one of the worst in college football for just about two decades, but the Blue Devils still aren't in a place where they're going to truly exert themselves. 

Next: No. 6 ??? >>>

6. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech had a historic 2014 season that culminated with an Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State, but in 2015, the program fell back down to earth. The Yellow Jackets won just one ACC contest and three games overall - missing out on the postseason for the first time since 1996. Georgia Tech lost six of its nine games by one score or less.

Luckily, in 2016, Georgia Tech has a favorable schedule as it looks to get back on track.

Sept. 3 - at Boston College
Sept. 10 - Mercer
Sept. 17 - Vanderbilt
TBD - Duke
TBD - Miami (FL)
TBD - Virginia
TBD - Clemson
TBD - at North Carolina
TBD - at Pittsburgh
TBD - at Virginia Tech
Nov. 19 - Georgia Southern
Nov. 26 - at Georgia

Yes, Georgia Tech has two non-conference games against SEC squads, but Vanderbilt is arguably the weakest program in the league. G-Tech's other two non-conference contests come against Georgia Southern and Mercer - both of which are very winnable.

G-Tech, while getting defending ACC champion Clemson, avoids Florida State and Louisville. It's easy to see the program rebounding and posting a winning record in 2016.

Next: No. 5 ??? >>>

5. North Carolina

In 2015, North Carolina posted an 11-win season for the first time since 1997. That being said, the Tar Heels were criticized for playing a somewhat favorable schedule. Oddly enough, they were No. 5 on our list last year, too. A non-conference game against Georgia saved them from being even higher.

Sept. 3 - Georgia*
Sept. 10 - at Illinois
Sept. 17 - James Madison
TBD - Georgia Tech
TBD - Pittsburgh
TBD - Virginia Tech
TBD - NC State
TBD - at Duke
TBD - at Miami (FL)
TBD - at Virginia
TBD - at Florida State 
Nov. 19 - The Citadel

UNC's non-conference schedule includes one test (Georgia), one weak Power 5 squad (Illinois) and two FCS programs (James Madison, The Citadel.) If the Tar Heels contend again in 2016, expect many to knock them for another weak non-league slate.

In the ACC, UNC avoids Clemson - the reigning champion. The rest of its games - against Georgia Tech, Pitt, VT, NC State, Duke, Miami (FL) and Virginia - are all winnable. We don't expect Carolina to win 11 games again in 2016, but it's hard to see them not posting a winning record.

Next: No. 4 ??? >>>

4. Wake Forest

Wake Forest had a tough 2015 season, posting just three victories - only one of which came in the ACC. The Demon Deacons have a favorable schedule in 2016, but unless they fix their anemic offense, it may not matter. Wake Forest hasn't put together a winning season since 2008.

Wake's ACC schedule isn't the easiest in the league, but the program didn't make things hard on itself in the non-conference portion.

Sept. 1 - Tulane
Sept. 17 - Delaware
Sept. 24 - at Indiana
TBD - Boston College
TBD - Clemson
TBD - Syracuse
TBD - Virginia
TBD - at Florida State
TBD - at Louisville
TBD - at NC State
TBD - at Duke
Oct. 29 - Army

Tulane, FCS-level Delaware, Indiana and Army - not exactly the most difficult non-con slate we've ever seen. Assuming Wake Forest is able to win three of those games - not a lock - it'd need to win just three ACC games to become bowl eligible.

By virtue of playing in the Atlantic, Wake Forest automatically gets Clemson, Florida State and Louisville. Their crossover games are Duke and Virginia - so they avoid UNC, Pittsburgh and Miami (FL). On our list, they have the easiest schedule - overall - of any ACC squad.

Next: No. 3 ??? >>>

3. Iowa

Well, at least we know that Colin Cowherd agrees. Iowa, which came one play away from playing in the College Football Playoff this past year, has a favorable schedule, yet again. The Hawkeyes were able to go 12-0 against opponents last season, but we'd be shocked if it happened again. That being said, it's hard to see them losing a game before October.

Sept. 3 - Miami (OH)
Sept. 10 - Iowa State
Sept. 17 - North Dakota State
Sept. 24 - at Rutgers
Oct.1 - Northwestern
Oct. 8 - at Minnesota
Oct. 15 - at Purdue
Oct. 22 - Wisconsin
Nov. 5 - at Penn State
Nov. 12 - Michigan
Nov. 19 - at Illinois
Nov. 25 - Nebraska

The Big Ten moves to a nine-game schedule next year, but Iowa still seems to have gotten off easy. The Hawkeyes get all six of their Big Ten West opponents - decidedly weaker than that of the East - along with Rutgers, Penn State and Michigan in crossover. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines aren't easy foes, but Iowa does avoid Ohio State and Michigan State.

In the non-conference, Iowa gets Miami (OH) and in-state rival Iowa State - both of which are winnable. The contest against five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State is the biggest question mark.

Next: No. 2 ??? >>>

2. Baylor

In 2015, Baylor won 10 games - its third straight year with at least double-digit victories. The Bears capped off the season with a 49-38 victory over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl - a game which saw the team rush for 645 yards and seven touchdowns.

Baylor, given its light schedule, will have the opportunity to break more records in 2016. The Bears don't leave the state of Texas until October. In fact, nine of its 12 games will be played in Texas.

Sept. 3 - Northwestern State
Sept. 10 - SMU
Sept. 17 - at Rice
Sept. 24 - Oklahoma State
Oct. 1 - at Iowa State
Oct. 15 - Kansas
Oct. 29 - at Texas
Nov. 5 - TCU
Nov. 12 - at Oklahoma
Nov. 19 - Kansas State
Nov. 25 - at Texas Tech
Dec. 3 - at West Virginia 

Yes - the Big 12 plays a round robin, meaning that all teams in conference play each other. But Baylor gets both TCU and Oklahoma State at home. The Bears also didn't challenge themselves at all out of conference. Northwestern State, SMU and Rice aren't guaranteed wins, but they certainly aren't tough games either.

Baylor's toughest stretch comes near the end of the season, when they have to travel to Norman, Arlington and Morgantown. But it's hard to see this team winning less than 10 games, yet again.

Next: No. 1 ??? >>>

1. Minnesota

In 2015, Minnesota had a somewhat difficult schedule, getting TCU, Ohio State and Michigan on top of its Big Ten West slate. In 2016, things are much different. The Golden Gophers, who finished 6-7 and posted just two wins in-conference last year, will have a serious opportunity to turn it all around. Minnesota has what we believe is the easiest schedule among Power 5 teams in the nation.

Minnesota, like Baylor, doesn't leave its state until October.

Sept.1 - Oregon State
Sept. 10 - Indiana State
Sept. 24 - Colorado State
Oct. 1 - at Penn State
Oct. 8 - Iowa
Oct. 15 - at Maryland
Oct. 22 - Rutgers
Oct. 29 - at Illinois
Nov. 5 - Purdue
Nov. 12 - at Nebraska
Nov. 19 - Northwestern
Nov. 26 - at Wisconsin

Minnesota's non-conference schedule includes Oregon State, Indiana State and Colorado State. None of those games are that scary. The Golden Gophers also avoid Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State - instead getting Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers from the Big Ten East. 

Minnesota gets Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska - but it gets those teams every year. In 2016, the schedule broke very well for the program. We'll see if it can take advantage.

Next: The 15 Hardest Schedules In 2016 >>>