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Author: [College Football] Topic: ESPN INSIDER toughest schedule by Phil Steele
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#1
Posted: 3/23/2013 5:31:34 AM
With the exception of the Mountain West finalizing the dates for its conference games, every team in the country has its upcoming 2013 schedule set. The question arises each year: "Who plays the toughest schedule?" But the answer isn't always so simple. There are several different methods you can use to figure this out in the preseason. One of the ways is to take a look at how their upcoming opponents fared last season with reference to overall record, number of bowl teams and the number of ranked teams they play from a season ago. Combine those three and you get a pool that's pretty inclusive when it comes to teams that could have been considered upper tier from the previous season.

While this doesn't compensate for who will be much improved and who will get weaker in 2013, there is no better starting point. With that in mind, here are the six teams that play the toughest schedules in 2013.

Kentucky Wildcats

Combined opponent record from 2012: 103-50 (67.3 percent)
Number of bowl teams from 2012: 8
Number of final AP Top 10 teams from 2012: 4
Number of final AP Top 25 teams from 2012: 6

New head coach Mark Stoops will have his work cut out for him in Year 1 as the Wildcats, off a 2-10 season, will play one of the nation's toughest schedules in 2013. The combined 2012 record of Kentucky's opponents ranks No. 1 and they play more final 2012 AP Top 25 teams (six) than anyone in the country. Four of those six teams finished in the Top 10 last year and the Wildcats play three of those teams (Florida, South Carolina and Alabama) in a three-week stretch in late September-early October.

The SEC also did them no favors, as the Wildcats pull the two-time defending national champ Crimson Tide from the SEC West along with a rising bowl team in Mississippi State. The nonconference schedule also features their annual matchup with in-state rival Louisville (which figures to be a preseason AP Top-10 team) and a neutral site game against Western Kentucky, which is coming off back-to-back winning seasons and has a lot of excitement with new head coach Bobby Petrino.

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#2
Posted: 3/23/2013 5:32:16 AM

Arkansas Razorbacks

Combined opponent record from 2012: 99-54 (64.7 percent)
Number of bowl teams from 2012: 9
Number of final AP Top 10 teams from 2012: 4
Number of final AP Top 25 teams from 2012: 5

Bret Bielema takes over the reins in Fayetteville and is yet another new head coach in the SEC who faces a difficult task in 2013. Excluding Southern Miss, which went 0-12 a year ago, the Hogs' opponents were a combined 99-42 (70.2 percent) in 2012 and nine of their 12 opponents made it to a bowl. The Razorbacks open the season with eight straight games without a bye and their four-game gauntlet in late September through October is arguably the toughest stretch of any team in the country this year. Each of the four teams finished in last year's final AP Top 10 and it starts with a home game against Texas A&M (finished No. 5), followed by a road trip to Florida (No. 9), a home game against South Carolina (No. 8) and wraps up with a road trip against the defending champs in Tuscaloosa. Finally, their non-conference slate includes a tricky opener against a Louisiana-Lafayette team that is off back-to-back nine-win seasons and figures to be the Sun Belt favorite this year, along with a road test against a Rutgers team that upset the Hogs in Fayetteville last year and won nine games.

Kansas Jayhawks

Combined opponent record from 2012: 96-57 (62.8 percent)
Number of bowl teams from 2012: 10
Number of final AP Top 10 teams from 2012: 0
Number of final AP Top 25 teams from 2012: 3

The Charlie Weis tenure got off to a rocky start with a 1-11 campaign in 2012 and his job won't get any easier in 2013, as the Jayhawks play one of the toughest schedules in the Big 12. While their schedule is not as top-heavy as some of the SEC teams, with zero top-10 teams and just three top-25 teams from a year ago, the depth of their schedule is what puts them near the top. The Jayhawks play a total of 10 teams that made it to a bowl last year, and that does not even include a Louisiana Tech team that won nine games and would have been a bowl team had they not rejected an early offer to the Independence Bowl. When you exclude their FCS opponent in South Dakota, which went just 1-10 a year ago, the Jayhawks' 2013 opponents combined for a 95-47 record (66.9 percent) in 2012 and 10 of those teams finished with seven or more wins.

Purdue Boilermakers

Combined opponent record from 2012: 96-56 (63.2 percent)
Number of bowl teams from 2012: 6
Number of final AP Top 10 teams from 2012: 2
Number of final AP Top 25 teams from 2012: 4

Darrell Hazell is yet another new head coach who makes this list as the Boilermakers pull arguably the toughest schedule in the Big Ten for the upcoming season. The Boilers play a total of four top-25 teams from last year, including two that finished in last year's top 5. While they only play six bowl teams from a year ago, keep in mind Ohio State and Penn State both would have made bowls under normal circumstances. In conference play, Purdue pulls Nebraska and Michigan State from the Legends division, which both could be preseason top-25 teams. Their nonconference slate is brutal as well, as they play at Cincinnati (off back-to-back 10-win seasons), host Notre Dame and also play Northern Illinois, which finished in the AP Top 25 after its Orange Bowl appearance and have quarterback Jordan Lynch back.

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#3
Posted: 3/23/2013 5:32:50 AM

Oklahoma Sooners

Combined opponent record from 2012: 96-60 (61.5 percent)
Number of bowl teams from 2012: 11
Number of final AP Top 10 teams from 2012: 1
Number of final AP Top 25 teams from 2012: 3

Like their Big 12 counterpart Kansas, the Sooners play one of the deepest schedules as far as quality goes in 2013. The Sooners are one of just of handful of teams that does not play an FCS team this year, and with the exception of Kansas all of Oklahoma's 2013 opponents went to a bowl last year. The Sooners' nonconference slate includes a pair of tricky non-BCS teams who went to bowls last year and each won games against BCS competition in ULM and Tulsa. It also includes a road trip to South Bend, as the Irish beat the Sooners 30-13 in Norman a year ago. After that trip, the Sooners jump into conference play with back-to-back games against TCU and Texas (both potential preseason top-25 teams) and their schedule closes with two road trips to perennial Big 12 contenders Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

Florida Gators

Combined opponent record from 2012: 96-58 (62.3 percent)
Number of bowl teams from 2012: 6
Number of final AP Top 10 teams from 2012: 3
Number of final AP Top 25 teams from 2012: 5

Last year the Gators had one of the toughest schedules in the SEC, pulling both LSU and Texas A&M from the West -- but still managed to get to 11 wins. This year the schedule does not get any easier as they again pull LSU from the West and this time have to travel to Death Valley to play the Tigers. They also have to play both Georgia and South Carolina away from home in SEC East action, and as they play of total of four teams that finished in last year's final top 15. Their non-conference schedule includes a road trip to Miami, which would have qualified for a bowl last year under normal circumstances and figures to continue to improve under head coach Al Golden. Finally, they close the season against in-state rival Florida State, which figures to again battle for the ACC title.

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