The job of a new head coach rebuilding a program is never easy. Having among the toughest schedules in the nation in your first year makes it even harder.
Four schools with first-year coaches top FBSchedules.com’s preseason strength of schedule rankings and another is at No. 8.
Among the criteria used to determine the rankings: Opponents’ won-lost record from the previous year, games against likely preseason Top 25 teams and location of the toughest games.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 103-50
First-year coach Mark Stoops faces a tough task in rebuilding the Wildcats, and his initial season comes with a brutal schedule. Kentucky opens against Western Kentucky in Nashville in Bobby Petrino’s debut and two weeks later hosts bitter rival Louisville, last year’s Big East champion. The Southeastern Conference slate is even tougher with likely preseason Top 10 teams Alabama and Florida at home and Georgia and South Carolina on the road.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 99-54
The Razorbacks and new head coach Bret Bielema open at home vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, winner of two consecutive bowl games, and later travel to Rutgers. The real test lies in what could be the toughest four-game stretch of the season vs. Texas A&M, at Florida, vs. South Carolina and at Alabama. The Hogs also travel to Ole Miss and close the regular season at LSU.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 96-56
Purdue has one of the tougher non-conference schedules in 2013, beginning with the season opener at Cincinnati in Darrell Hazell’s debut for the Boilermakers. Two weeks later, Notre Dame visits, followed by a Northern Illinois team coming off a Bowl Championship Series bowl appearance, in late September. The Big Ten schedule is tough. The Boilermakers get Nebraska and Ohio State at home, but play at Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 93-60
Cal and new head coach Sonny Dykes open the season with three consecutive non-conference games. Two are against Big Ten teams – possible preseason Top 25 Northwestern and likely Top 5 Ohio State. The Pac-12 schedule begins with a trip to another possible Top 5 team in Oregon. The Golden Bears get Arizona, Oregon State and USC in Berkeley, but they have five conference games on the road, including at UCLA and Stanford.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 96-58
For the first time in 10 years, the Gators travel to face the Miami Hurricanes. Arkansas and Vanderbilt visit The Swamp, but Florida’s toughest SEC games are on the road – at LSU, Georgia (at Jacksonville) and at South Carolina. A visit from Florida State looms in the season finale.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 96-60
A visit from Tulsa and a trip to Notre Dame, the Sooners’ first since 1999, highlight OU’s non-conference schedule. The conference schedule is tough with Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas (at the Cotton Bowl) on the road. TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia highlight the home schedule.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 93-61
LSU opens the season with a non-conference game against TCU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In late September, the Tigers begin a tough five-game SEC stretch vs. Auburn, at Georgia, at Mississippi State, vs. Florida and at Ole Miss. The Tigers travel to face Alabama and close the season with back-to-back home games against Texas A&M and Arkansas. LSU does benefit by having an off week before the Alabama and Texas A&M games.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 89-64
New head coach Butch Jones faces a tough three-game stretch early with Western Kentucky at home and likely preseason Top 10 teams Oregon and Florida back-to-back on the road. Another three-game gauntlet follows in early October vs. Georgia, vs. South Carolina (after an off week) and at Alabama. The Vols also host in-state rival Vanderbilt, which trounced them last season.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 96-56
Missouri had a tough schedule in its first season in the SEC, and 2013 offers more of the same. Three of the Tigers’ toughest games are at home – Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M – while Georgia, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are on the road. A visit from Arkansas State in late September could be tricky.
2012 RECORD OF ALL OPPONENTS: 96-57
A good Louisiana Tech team provides the biggest challenge on Kansas’ non-conference schedule. The Big 12 schedule is tough with Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and West Virginia at home and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas on the road.
This article appeared on page 85 of the USA TODAY Sports College Football 2013 magazine.