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CFB Expert Phil Steele Updates Rankings Of Toughest Schedules In The Country

An interior view of the college football stadium for Arkansas Razorbacks.

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 17: UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters do a flyover before a game between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Texas State Bobcats at Razorback Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Razorbacks defeated the Bobcats 42-3. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

A lot has changed since Phil Steele put out his 2020 college football preview. The Big Ten and Pac-12, barring a late change, will not play this fall, nor will the Mountain West, MAC, and a handful of other independent and small conference teams.

The strength of schedule debate is often among the most popular in the sport as we approach the season. With two Power Five leagues opting to put their seasons on hold, it eliminates many of the most difficult schedules that would normally populate this list. As a result, things are now very SEC heavy.

The ACC and Big 12 are each playing "plus-one" schedules. As is usually the case, Big 12 teams will face every other conference opponent, with an additional 10th non-conference game available. The ACC—a 15-team league with the one-year addition of Notre Dame—is going with 10 game conference schedules, plus one non-conference game.

The SEC, meanwhile, has trimmed things down to just 10 conference games. There are very few walkover games in the league, so some of these new schedules are absolutely devastating. Steele clearly agrees; in his new ranking, the 10 most difficult schedules all belong to SEC programs.

Arkansas football is already in the midst of a major rebuild. The Razorbacks were supposed to face Charleston Southern, Louisiana-Monroe, and Nevada—all pretty beatable opponents this year—as well as Notre Dame in the non-conference. Instead, they open with Georgia at home, and also get Alabama, LSU, and a plucky Tennessee team at home, with trips to Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M. The easiest game on the slate may be the home game against an Ole Miss team led by Lane Kiffin. While the Rebels are a real question mark this year, they are starting for a better place than Arkansas, at least on paper.

The new top 10 toughest college football schedules, from Phil Steele:

  1. Arkansas
  2. Vanderbilt
  3. Auburn
  4. South Carolina
  5. Missouri
  6. Mississippi State
  7. Ole Miss
  8. Tennessee
  9. Alabama
  10. Kentucky

The highest-ranked non SEC squad is Georgia Tech out of the ACC. The Yellow Jackets retain a tough non-conference game against AAC power UCF, and host powers Clemson and Notre Dame in conference.

Yet another rebuilding program, Kansas, has the toughest Big 12 schedule at No. 13. The Jayhawks should get a non-conference win against Coastal Carolina, but have Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas State, and Oklahoma all on the road. No matter how you break things down, the Jayhawks are always going to have an uphill battle until someone manages to turn them around.

If anyone gets good news from this situation, per Steele, it may be the Oklahoma Sooners. At No. 43 overall, he has them as the Power Five team with the easiest schedule, with Missouri State in the non-conference spot.

Going back to the SEC, Steele believes the LSU Tigers got the easiest draw, at No. 25 overall. The main win is having Alabama at home, though with trips to Auburn, Florida, and Texas A&M, this still isn't an easy slate. The Tigers do manage to avoid Georgia in the new crossovers, which is a win.

[Phil Steele]