September could get very ugly for Fresno State.
On consecutive September Saturdays, the Bulldogs play at Alabama and at Washington.
Mercifully, Fresno State has the next week off before starting Mountain West play. The Bulldogs’ final nonconference game comes in November when BYU comes to the San Joaquin Valley.
The Bulldogs, coming off a 1-11 season, have a good case for the toughest nonconference schedule in the country. There are other schools outside the Power Five that will be facing the gauntlet. Louisiana Monroe, Colorado State and South Alabama to name a few. But only Fresno State’s out-of-conference slate features two College Football Playoff teams.
Within the Power Five, where athletic departments do not have to rent out their football teams to be punching bags, exchanging impossible road games for hundreds of thousands of dollars, the nonconference schedules are not quite so daunting.
Here are six that standout as being especially tricky (in no particular order):
Michigan in Arlington, Texas; Northern Colorado; UAB; Florida State
Alabama in Atlanta; Louisiana Monroe; Delaware, at Florida
The Sunshine state rivals are a joint entry, opening with marquee neutral site games and ending the regular season against each other. The Crimson Tide is likely to be preseason No. 1. Michigan is looking at a rebuilding season with only five returning starters, but should still provide a challenge.
The finale is likely to be a matchup of ranked teams, though the Seminoles have won four straight and six of seven against the Gators so maybe not so tough for Florida State.
NC State at Charlotte, North Carolina, Louisiana Tech, Wofford, Clemson
The Gamecocks don’t have to go far to play any of their nonconference games, which brings down some of the degree of difficulty. Still, North Carolina State could have its best team in several years, Louisiana Tech has had three straight nine-wine seasons and Clemson, well, you know.
Youngstown State; at Penn State; Oklahoma State; Rice
The Panthers split their games against Top 25 teams Penn State (win at home) and Oklahoma State (loss on the road) last season and both have a chance to be even better in 2017. Youngstown State played for the FCS championship last season. Not exactly your standard cupcake.
Western Michigan; Texas; at Notre Dame
There might tougher nonconference schedules, but none are more interesting. The Trojans face Western Michigan in the Broncos’ first post-PJ Fleck game, Texas in the Longhorns’ first big Tom Herman-era game and Notre Dame in what could be a referendum on Brian Kelly.
Appalachian State; at Notre Dame; Samford; at Georgia Tech
Tennessee; Jacksonville State; at UCF; Georgia.
Another joint entry for SEC/ACC rivals. Tennessee fans know App State in an opening game has potential to be a major pain. A week later the Bulldogs make the programs first trip to South Bend. They try to avenge last year’s loss to the Yellow Jackets in the traditional regular-season finale.
Georgia Tech gets the Volunteers on Labor Day night in Atlanta’s new domed stadium, FCS power Jacksonville State and a road game against a UCF program trending up and looking to prove a point.
Southern Utah; Nebraska; at Wyoming.
Willie Taggart’s second game rebuilding the Ducks is against a Cornhuskers team that beat Oregon in Lincoln last season. It’s that road trip to Laramie to face a NFL prospect quarterback (Josh Allen) that could really make the first month of the season painful for Oregon fans.
Extra point: Four more teams with potentially challenging nonconference schedules.
Florida at Arlington, Cincinnati, Air Force.
at Rice, at San Diego State, Notre Dame.
Central Connecticut, Middle Tennessee, Central Michigan, at LSU.
at North Carolina, Weber State, Mississippi.