Continuing our rankings of the toughest 2013 football schedules, the independent schools take center stage. Every game will be accounted for in these rankings, which wasn’t the case in the previous non-conference rankings.
A lot of teams that had higher ranked non-conference schedules are present on these slates and they will play a big factor in these rankings. Without further delay, from last to first, here are the toughest independent schedules of the 2013 season.
6. Army Black Knights
The Black Knights get to play their toughest contest within friendly confines – not the case with Navy going to Notre Dame – and some pretty solid games back that contest with Stanford. That Stanford game starts a big streak of games – the Black Knights take on Stanford, Wake Forest, travel to Louisiana Tech and Boston College, host Eastern Michigan and then visit Temple all without a break. Louisiana Tech, Temple, and Ball State will play a big factor into the Black Knights’ final record.
5. Navy Midshipmen
Navy and Army’s schedules were very hard to look at side-by-side, as they are pretty close to even. I think the thing that put Navy’s over the top is the visit from Notre Dame whereas Army gets their toughest opponent, Stanford, at home. A tricky stretch consisting of a very solid Toledo team, followed by Pittsburgh and the aforementioned Notre Dame game could trouble the Midshipmen, and that same troubling stretch places Navy ahead of Army.
4. New Mexico State Aggies
The tandem of playing at UCLA and at Texas is definitely a tough start. Minnesota, San Diego State, and UL Lafayette, without a doubt, adds to the complexity of this slate as well. The weak spot is the end of the schedule, which closes with Boston College, at Florida Atlantic, and Idaho at home. That should help NMSU add some wins to the column, as should playing Abilene Christian. The schedule is top heavy though, with a brutal stretch in the first five games. That’s enough to land the Aggies at fourth in these schedule rankings as Idaho’s road game tandem is a little tougher.
3. Idaho Vandals
Idaho might have lost the most talent of any team in the nation this offseason, and a solid schedule doesn’t help the matter. They should fare a little better in the Sun Belt next year, but until then playing some marquee opponents – on the road, no less – will not help the Vandals winning percentage this year. Road contests against Washington State, Ole Miss, and Florida State stand out, while games against Temple, Northern Illinois, and what should be a very good Fresno State team will spell trouble for the Vandals.
2. BYU Cougars
Games on the road against Virginia, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame are some of the most daunting on this schedule, but the Cougars also have a few solid teams coming to Provo. Texas, Utah, the ever dangerous triple-option and Georgia Tech as well as the forever pesky Boise State Broncos gives this slate the second spot in our rankings. BYU also travels to surprising Utah State and closes the season at Nevada. Even Middle Tennessee is no slouch as BYU tries to improve on their eight win season from a year ago.
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
This wasn’t really much of a decision to be made. Notre Dame’s existing rivalries seemed to solidify their schedule for the top spot. The normal appearances of Michigan and Purdue – both on the road – and Michigan State, USC, and Stanford at home do this schedule enough justice. The addition of fellow independent institution BYU along with games at Pittsburgh and Air Force and vs. Arizona State in Arlington add to the toughness. Add in another match-up with Oklahoma and the Fighting Irish’s strength of schedule is among the toughest in 2013.
Clayton Tinkle is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tink_CFB.