By Ed Morgans @writered21 on June 4, 2014
With the BCS lost to history and a four-team playoff finally in place for top-level college football starting in the 2014 season, it's not too early to look ahead to see which teams have the easiest roads toward making the playoffs. In some cases, teams are just better than others, while some may benefit from weak conferences/schedules. Here are 10 teams with the easiest roads to the college football playoffs.
Every year, the MAC produces a national contender and Ball State could be that team in 2014. The Cardinals' toughest non-conference game is at Iowa, who should be beatable. The biggest MAC test lies at the end of the regular season at Bowling Green. Ball State hosts Northern Illinois on November 5. A perfect season and carnage elsewhere could put the Cards in the mix.
Other than road games at BYU September 11 and Cincinnati on December 6, the Houston Cougars are another team from a smaller conference that could force its way into the playoff picture with a perfect record and a bunch of upsets among the powerhouses in the big five conferences. Houston is slowly building back to when it threatened to bust the BCS in 2011.
Gone from the AAC and the newest member of the ACC, the road isn't exactly easy for Louisville compared to others on that list, and the Cardinals are starting over with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and head coach Charlie Strong both gone. But Louisville gets Florida State at home and its toughest road test is probably at Clemson. A game at Notre Dame is as tough as it gets outside the ACC for Louisville.
After last season's disappointing Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF, Baylor regroups with three easy non-conference games before taking on the Big 12. The Bears do have to go to Texas and Oklahoma in the league this season, but if the Bears get to 9-0, they wrap up with three straight home games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State. The Bears could be primed for a big finishing kick.
An early-season non-conference game at Oregon might be the only thing not to like about Michigan State's schedule. The Spartans went 13-1 last season, losing by four at Notre Dame for the only blemish. Michigan State beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. This year, Sparty gets Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska at home, and also will feast on Maryland and Rutgers.
Like Baylor, UCLA is a team to look forward to at the end of the season. While early trips to Texas and Arizona State will be a challenge, the Bruins end the season with USC and Stanford, but both games are at home. The Pac-12 South will probably go through UCLA and if the Bruins survive late, they will be playoff crashers late.
Oklahoma has a friendly set of conference games with regard to who the Sooners play at home and away, and the non-conference schedule in 2014 isn't a cakewalk but it shouldn't seriously challenge an Oklahoma team that has national championship potential. The Red Rival Rivalry Game vs. Texas might be OU's biggest challenge.
Let's face it, it doesn't really matter who is on Alabama's schedule, because they are Alabama and any talk of national championships or playoffs goes through Tuscaloosa as long as head coach Nick Saban is there. Alabama's toughest road game is at LSU, but the Crimson Tide get Texas A&M, Auburn and Florida at home and Alabama should have a chip on its shoulder after 2013 fell apart late.
One team not on Alabama's schedule is South Carolina. The Gamecocks get Texas A&M, Georgia and Missouri at home, and only a road date at Auburn appears particularly nasty within the SEC. South Carolina does go to Clemson to end the regular season, but the Gamecocks should be in prime playoff position by that time, to where even an SEC Championship Game loss might not hurt them.
Detractors of Jameis Winston and Florida State football aren't going to like to read it, but the Seminoles are primed for a shot to not only get to the playoffs in 2014 but repeat as national champions. FSU's biggest game may be on a neutral site, vs. Oklahoma State to open the season. There are games at Louisville and Miami, but the 'Noles host Clemson, Notre Dame and Florida.
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