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Ranking College Football's 15 Most Difficult Schedules In 2015

It's Jan. 29. The 2015 college football season begins on Sept. 2. We're 216 days away from having the greatest sport in the world back in our lives. 

It's time to start delving into each team's schedule, as the ACC released conference slates for each of its teams Thursday morning. Almost every team now has its schedule filled and published for 2015. 

As the 2014 college football season showed, having a tough schedule is as important as it's ever been. If Baylor played a tougher non-conference schedule, it might have made the College Football Playoff. If Ohio State didn't get to face Michigan State on the road, its resume wouldn't have been as impressive and it might have been left out of the four-team field. 

Who will have it the toughest in 2015?

It's time to rank the 15 toughest schedules in college football for the season ahead. Who plays some rigorous non-conference games? Who faces a brutal in-league slate? Who has to deal with both? 

Find out here. 

Presenting College Spun's ranking of the 15 toughest schedules in college football in 2015. 

Start with No. 15 - Utah >>>

15. Utah

The Utes had a fairly difficult schedule in 2014, facing Michigan and Fresno State in the non-conference and having to travel to Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA in-league. A tough slate resulted in a promising 9-4 season. Kyle Whittingham's program will have it arguably even tougher in 2015. 

Sept. 3 - Michigan
Sept. 12 - Utah State 
Sept. 19 - @Fresno State
Sept. 26 - @Oregon
Oct. 10 - California
Oct. 17 - Arizona State
Oct. 24 - @USC
Oct. 31 - Oregon State
Nov. 7 - @Washington
Nov. 14 - @Arizona 
Nov. 21 - UCLA
Nov. 28 - Colorado 

Opening up with a rejuvenated Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan team should be tough, as is having to play Oregon in Eugene the fourth week of the season. The toughest two-game stretch probably occurs in mid-October, when Utah hosts Arizona State before having to travel to USC. Ending the season with UCLA and Colorado at home should provide two good opportunities for wins. Another eight-or-nine win season would be a success. 

Next: No. 14 - Florida >>>

14. Florida

Jim McElwain's first season as Florida's coach should get off to a decent start. It's the middle of the year that will likely give the Gators' trouble. Coming off a 7-5 season, Florida is surely hoping for more in 2015. Will it achieve it? The schedule will make things fairly difficult. 

Sept. 5 - New Mexico
Sept. 12 - East Carolina
Sept. 19 - @Kentucky 
Sept. 26 - Tennessee 
Oct. 3 - Ole Miss
Oct. 10 - @Missouri
Oct. 17 - @LSU
Oct. 31 - Georgia
Nov. 7 - Vanderbilt
Nov. 14 - @South Carolina 
Nov. 21 - Florida Atlantic
Nov. 28 - Florida State

Opening with New Mexico and East Carolina, the team Florida faced and beat in its bowl game, should give the Gators two wins to start the year. And Kentucky and Tennessee are both beatable, too. October will be brutal, though. It's quite possible the Gators could lose each of those games. In November, 3-1 is a potential outcome, with Florida State likely being the only team to be favored against Florida. Nine wins is possible for McElwain in Year 1, which would be considered a big success. 

Next: No. 13 - Texas A&M >>>

13. Texas A&M

Texas A&M is expected by some to be one of the most-improved teams in the country in 2015. The Aggies bring back a lot of talent and bring in a very good recruiting class. An opportunity to prove how good they are will come early for Kevin Sumlin's team, while the toughest tests for his program in-conference will likely come on the road. 

Sept. 5 - Arizona State
Sept. 12 - Ball State 
Sept. 19 - Nevada
Sept. 26 - @Arkansas
Oct. 3 - Mississippi State 
Oct. 17 - Alabama
Oct. 24 - @Ole Miss
Oct. 31 - South Carolina
Nov. 7 - Auburn
Nov. 14 - Western Carolina 
Nov. 21 - @Vanderbilt
Nov. 28 - @LSU

If Texas A&M can defeat the Sun Devils in Week 1, it should start the season with three straight wins. Then the really tough stretch occurs. Splitting the Arkansas - Mississippi State - Alabama - Ole Miss four-game stretch would be a win for the Aggies. Getting Auburn at home helps, as does the fairly easy two-game stretch against Western Carolina and Vanderbilt. Nine wins seems like a reasonable goal for Sumlin's program to shoot for this season. 

Next: No. 12 - South Carolina >>>

12. South Carolina

The 2015 South Carolina Gamecocks won't have quite the same set of expectations as the 2014 squad, but their schedule lines up just about the same in terms of difficulty. South Carolina has a challenging slate of non-conference games - against North Carolina in Charlotte, at home against UCF, and at home against in-state rival Clemson, which could be a top ten team. The team's fourth non-league game, at home for The Citadel, is really the only cupcake on the entire schedule.

9/3 - North Carolina (neutral)
9/12 - Kentucky
9/19 - @Georgia
9/26 - UCF
10/3 - @Missouri
10/10 - LSU
10/17 - Vanderbilt
10/31 - @Texas A&M
11/7 - @Tennessee
11/14 - Florida
11/21 - Citadel
11/28 - Clemson

South Carolina also gets the SEC East's two best teams from a year ago - Missouri and Georgia - on the road in 2015. Throw in the fact that the Gamecocks drew Texas A&M (rival) and LSU from the SEC West and you've got a pretty tough slate. Steve Spurrier almost always produces winning football teams, but it's going to be tougher than usual this season.

Next: No. 11 - Minnesota >>>

11. Minnesota

Don't laugh, SEC fans. Minnesota's 2015 schedule is more difficult than a number of the slates your teams are playing. The Golden Gophers have to open the season with a TCU squad that finished last year as one of the hottest teams in the nation. In week two, they take on a Colorado State team that won 10 games last year. Per usual, they also get Big Ten West heavyweights Wisconsin and Nebraska and rival Michigan, which should be revamped under Jim Harbaugh. But it's their cross-divisional opponent - defending national champion Ohio State - that pushes the slate over the edge.

9/3 - TCU
9/12 - @Colorado State
9/19 - Kent State
9/26 - Ohio
10/3 - @Northwestern
10/10 - @Purdue
10/17 - Nebraska
10/31 - Michigan 
11/7 - @Ohio State
11/14 - @Iowa
11/21 - Illinois
11/28 - Wisconsin 

Minnesota has been able to put together two surprising eight-win seasons in a row. If the Golden Gophers are going to become bowl eligible in 2015, they're going to need to pull off an upset or two in-conference.

Next: No. 10 - Georgia Tech >>>

10. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech's 2015 schedule doesn't start off very difficult, as the Yellow Jackets' first two contests are against Alcorn State and Tulane. But from September 19 on, GT probably has the toughest slate in the country. Georgia Tech's other two non-conference games include an away game at Notre Dame and a home contest against in-state rival Georgia. The Yellow Jackets, per usual, play the six teams in the ACC Coastal. And their cross-divisional opponents are rival Clemson and three-time defending conference champion Florida State. Yikes.

9/3 - Alcorn State
9/12 - Tulane
9/19 - @Notre Dame
9/26 - @Duke
10/3 - North Carolina
10/10 - @Clemson
10/17 - Pittsburgh
10/24 - Florida State
10/31 - @Virginia
11/12 - Virginia Tech
11/21 - @Miami (FL)
11/28 - Georgia

Georgia Tech put together a surprising 11-win season and an Orange Bowl victory in 2014. The Yellow Jackets, who are expected to be a force in 2015, don't seemingly have an easy path to repeating such a feat.

Next: No. 9 - Ole Miss >>>

9. Ole Miss

Ole Miss doesn't have a particularly difficult non-conference schedule, as the Rebels get UT Martin, Fresno State, New Mexico State and Memphis. But the team's SEC slate is brutal. The Rebels have road games at both Alabama and Auburn this year, and have to take on rival Mississippi State in Starkville for the Egg Bowl. They also have Florida, a team that should be playing inspired football under new head coach Jim McElwain, in Gainesville, for good measure. The team's league games against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU are all home. 

9/5 - UT Martin
9/12 - Fresno State
9/19 - @Alabama
9/26 - Vanderbilt
10/3 - @Florida
10/10 - New Mexico State
10/17 - @Memphis
10/24 - Texas A&M
10/31 - @Auburn
11/7 - Arkansas
11/21 - LSU
11/28 - @Mississippi State

Ole Miss, which is still loaded with talent after a few top recruiting classes in a row, does have a big question mark at quarterback after Bo Wallace's graduation this past year. They'll need to figure that all out if they want to have a chance at another nine-win season.

Next: No. 8 - Tennessee >>>

8. Tennessee

It appears the trajectory of the Tennessee program is pointing upward under head coach Butch Jones. Jones led the team to its first postseason berth since 2010 in 2014, as the Vols defeated Iowa, 45-28, in the TaxSlayer Bowl. With plenty of offensive skill talent returning and a highly-rated recruiting class heading to Knoxville, the possibility exists that UT could take the next step toward competing again for SEC East titles. Still, the Vols have their work cut out for them with a rugged 2015 schedule. 

9/5 - Bowling Green (neutral)
9/12 - Oklahoma
9/19 - Western Carolina
9/26 - @Florida
10/3 - Arkansas
10/10 - Georgia
10/24 - @Alabama
10/31 - @Kentucky
11/7 - South Carolina
11/14 - North Texas
11/21 - @Missouri
11/28 - Vanderbilt

Four of the first six games are at home - and Tennessee will be favored in its neutral site opener against Bowling Green - but this slate is riddled with challenges. A four-week stretch features tough home games against Arkansas and Georgia bookended by rivalry games on the road at Florida and Alabama. The final five games are more manageable, but hosting South Carolina and traveling to Missouri and Kentucky aren't easy tasks. The climb back toward national prominence will continue in Knoxville, but this schedule will limit how much ground the Vols make up in one season. 

Next: No. 7 - Notre Dame >>>

7. Notre Dame

Now that it has an agreement to play five ACC opponents per year, a large factor into how Notre Dame's schedule is judged pertains to how strong its ACC foes are. The Irish went 2-2 against the ACC in 2014 and play six teams from the league this fall. Gone are traditional opponents Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan; what is left is a difficult, but manageable slate.

9/5 - Texas
9/12 - @Virginia
9/19 - Georgia Tech
9/26 - UMass
10/3 - @Clemson
10/10 - Navy
10/17 - USC
10/31 - @Temple
11/7 - @Pitt
11/14 -Wake Forest
11/21 - Boston College (neutral)
11/28 - Stanford

Texas will be a good opening test for an ND team that returns 20 starters, but having that game at home should help. The Irish avoid Florida State this year, but still have to travel to Death Valley on Oct. 3. Usual suspects USC and Stanford will provide stiff tests. Two under-the-radar challenges exist on this schedule: Notre Dame has struggled at Pitt of late, and the Irish also face a pair of triple-option teams in Georgia Tech and Navy. Preparing for and playing against that offense is never fun for any opponent. 

Next: No. 6 - Auburn >>>

6. Auburn

Auburn fell to 8-5 last year, 4-4 in the rugged SEC. The Tigers will once again have to duke it out for SEC West supremacy with a number of highly-ranked opponents. They'll have to get through that gauntlet, including a particularly challenging second half of the season, in order to make a run at an SEC title and playoff appearance. Auburn returns a lot of production on defense but must replace its top receiver (Sammie Coates), its leading rusher (Cameron Artis-Payne) and its quarterback (Nick Marshall).

9/5 - Louisville (neutral)
9/12 - Jacksonville State
9/19 - @LSU
9/26 - Mississippi State
10/3 - San Jose State
10/15 - @Kentucky
10/24 - @Arkansas
10/31 - Ole Miss
11/7 - @Texas A&M
11/14 - Georgia 
11/21 - Idaho
11/28 - Alabama

The Tigers have a favorable non-conference schedule - three cupcake home games and a neutral site matchup with Louisville, which they'll be favored in. A trip to LSU in Week 3 is a major early season test, and if they pass it, they'll be rewarded by facing a tough Mississippi State team the following week at home. But really, what puts Auburn up here is that brutal second-half schedule. It begins with a trip to Arkansas, which finished 2014 strong and returns plenty of offensive weapons. Auburn gets to face Ole Miss and Georgia at home but must travel to College Station on Nov. 7. Playing Idaho will be a welcome change-of-pace on Nov. 21, but after the Tigers presumably take care of the Vandals, the Iron Bowl and arch-rival Alabama awaits. 

Next: No. 5 - Stanford >>>

5. Stanford

The Cardinal fell to 8-5 in 2014, winning less than 11 games for the first time in five seasons. They were ranked as high as 11th in the preseason but failed to deliver on expectations. They did end on a high-note, thrashing Cal, UCLA and bowl opponent Maryland in succession by an average margin of 22 points. In order to get back to the level they were at from 2010-13, Stanford will have to navigate a 2015 schedule that provides no real breaks.

9/5 - @Northwestern
9/12 - UCF
9/19 - @USC
9/25 - @Oregon State
10/3 - Arizona
10/15 - UCLA
10/24 - Washington
10/31 - @Washington State
11/7 - @Colorado
11/14 - Oregon 
11/21 - Cal
11/28 - Notre Dame

Stanford only has one particularly hard road contest (at USC on Sept. 19) but there are really no "gimme" games for the Cardinal. Northwestern can rival the Cardinal when it comes to SAT scores, and the Wildcats won't be pushovers on the gridiron in the season opener. Oregon State, Washington State and Colorado are not among the Pac-12 elite, but can't be taken lightly at home. Arizona and UCLA should be formidable once again, and that final three game stretch of Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame is a monster. The biggest benefit for the Cardinal is that outside of USC, its toughest games are at home. 

Next: No. 4 - Georgia >>>

4. Georgia

In 2013 and '14, the Bulldogs opened their seasons with tough non-conference games against Clemson. Georgia is scaling things back in the non-conference this year, but for good reason. While every team in the SEC plays a tough slate, Georgia drew both powerhouses from Alabama in 2015. Add in an improving group of SEC East teams, and the late season rivalry game against Georgia Tech, a team that upset Georgia in 2014, and the Dawgs have a schedule that ranks up there with any other team in the country.

9/5 - Louisiana-Monroe
9/12 - @Vanderbilt
9/19 - South Carolina
9/26 - Southern
10/3 - Alabama
10/10 - @Tennessee
10/17 - Missouri
10/31 - Florida (Jacksonville, FL)
11/7 - Kentucky
11/14 - @Auburn
11/21 - Georgia Southern
11/28 - @Georgia Tech

The saving grace for Georgia is that the schedule is loaded with home games, and the road slate is somewhat manageable. Novemeber 14's trip to Auburn will be very difficult, and playing at Neyland Stadium is never easy, but Vanderbilt is still in rebuild mode, and there will likely be a strong Georgia contingent at Bobby Dodd Stadium in the final game at Georgia Tech.

Next: No. 3 - Texas >>>

3. Texas

The Charlie Strong Era in Austin got off to a rocky start, with a 6-7 2014 campaign that ended with a blowout loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl. Strong is working hard on the recruiting trail to replenish the roster with talent. Things won't be easy for the young Longhorns in 2015, however. Texas opens the season in South Bend against a solid Notre Dame program, and the Big 12 should be strong once again.

9/5 - @Notre Dame
9/12 - Rice
9/19 - Cal
9/26 - Oklahoma State
10/3 - @TCU
10/10 - Oklahoma (Dallas, TX)
10/24 - Kansas State
10/31 - @Iowa State
11/7 - Kansas
11/14 - @West Virginia
11/26 - Texas Tech
12/5 - @Baylor

The Big 12 slate is not kind to Texas at all. The Longhorns have to travel to both TCU and Baylor, the two favorites to win the conference in 2015, and also make a trip to Milan Puskar Stadium to face West Virginia, which is never an easy place to play. Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma are never easy games either, and the Longhorns lost two of those three in 2014. Texas may be improved in its second year under Strong, but it may take a while for the record to reflect it.

Next: No. 2 - Virginia >>>

2. Virginia

Virginia has just one winning season since 2007, and the Cavaliers' scheduling has not done much to help the program dig out of that rut. Since that year, Virginia has played non-conference games against USC (2007, '09), TCU (2008, '12), Auburn (2011), Penn State (2012), BYU (2013, '14), Oregon (2013), and UCLA (2014). A number of those teams were ranked in the top ten in the nation at game time. This year's non-conference slate may be the toughest of all, and the ACC Coastal games are not easy for a program that will have to claw its way to six wins for a bowl berth.

9/5 - @UCLA
9/12 - Notre Dame
9/19 - William & Mary
9/25 - Boise State
10/10 - @Pitt
10/17 - Syracuse
10/24 - @North Carolina
10/31 - Georgia Tech
11/7 - @Miami
11/14 - @Louisville
11/21 - Duke
11/28 - @Virginia Tech

Odds are UVA goes 1-3 to open the season, and ACC play won't be much friendlier. After toss-up games with Pitt, Syracuse, and UNC, the Hoos host a very good Georgia Tech team, travel to Miami and Louisville, and then host a solid Duke program and finish with rival Virginia Tech. Virginia fans can be proud that their program isn't afraid to play anyone, but eventually, they should think about scheduling for success.

Next: No. 1 - Alabama >>>

1. Alabama

They say to be the best, you need to beat the best, and that is an opportunity that virtually every SEC West team has on an annual basis. This year, Alabama opens with a marquee non-conference game and also has a pretty tough draw from the SEC East. Alabama will face Wisconsin in the season opener at AT&T Stadium in North Texas, has an early game against Ole Miss, and travels to Georgia on October 3.

9/5 - Wisconsin (Arlington, TX)
9/12 - Middle Tennessee
9/19 - Ole Miss
9/26 - Louisiana-Monroe
10/3 - @Georgia
10/10 - Arkansas
10/17 - @Texas A&M
10/24 - Tennessee
11/7 - LSU
11/14 - @Mississippi State
11/21 - Charleston Southern
11/28 - @Auburn

The SEC West slate is even more difficult than usual as well. Texas A&M will always get fired up when the Crimson Tide come to College Station, and should improve on defense and develop on offense. Mississippi State returns star quarterback Dak Prescott, and of course, the season ends in Auburn. We all know what happened the last time Alabama played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. You can probably pencil in Alabama on this list every year, but this year's schedule is especially brutal for Nick Saban's program.

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