Last week we highlighted the 12 most difficult cross-division slates in 2014, this week we’ll flip the tables and talk about teams which get off easy this season.
These are the programs that drew Colorado rather than USC and Rutgers rather than Ohio State.
The bottom line is that these teams will have at least a two-game advantage in compiling a winning record in conference play. In other words, this is a big deal.
Take a look at the results, ranked for your pleasure.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Ole Miss (Saturday, Sept. 6) and at Mississippi State (Saturday, Nov. 22)
In Vanderbilt’s case, it’s not so much who it is playing from the West in 2014, it’s who it’s not playing. Yes, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are solid competition for any team, but they’re not Alabama, Auburn or LSU.
The Commodores and Rebels are permanent, cross-division rivals—Vandy has won three of the last five meetings between the two. Vanderbilt hasn’t played Mississippi State since 2009 and has only beaten the Bulldogs once in the last seven tries.
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Stanford (Saturday, Sept. 6), vs. Oregon State (Saturday, Sept. 27), at Washington State (Saturday, Nov. 1) and vs. Cal (Thursday, Nov. 13)
Though USC gets Stanford in 2014, it also gets the bottom three teams from last season’s North Division race, leaving Oregon and Washington completely off the table.
Compare this to UCLA, which pulled 1-11 Cal but also picked up the top three finishers from last season, Stanford, Oregon and Washington.
No matter how you slice it, that’s a three game swing.
USC’s 20-17 upset win over Stanford last season was its first victory against the Cardinal in five tries. The Trojans are 3-2 against Oregon State since 2007 and 10-0 against Cal since 2004. Before its loss to Washington State in 2013, USC had won eight straight over the Cougars.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Maryland (Saturday, Oct. 25) and at Rutgers (Saturday, Nov. 1)
Wisconsin has the tremendous fortune of drawing both new members of the Big Ten in cross-division play this season—Maryland and Rutgers. This means that they completely avoid East division powerhouses Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan.
Compare the Badgers fate to that of Minnesota which faces the Buckeyes and Wolverines in 2014.
Wisconsin has never played the Terrapins or Scarlet Knights in football.
8. Ohio State
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Illinois (Saturday, Nov. 1) and at Minnesota (Saturday, Nov. 15)
Can Ohio State win the Big Ten and earn a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff? Well, the job will be made easier with games with West division teams Illinois and Minnesota rather than Nebraska or Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes have won six straight over Illinois, last falling to the Illini in 2007 in Columbus. Similarly, they are 8-0 against Minnesota and last dropped a game to the Golden Gophers in 2001.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Indiana (Saturday, Oct. 11) and at Maryland (Saturday, Oct. 18)
Another winner in the Big Ten division reshuffle, Iowa not only landed in the softer West division, it drew Indiana and Maryland from the East this season.
This could make a huge difference to the Hawkeyes in their quest to try and hit double-digits for the first time since 2009.
Iowa is 4-1 against Indiana in the last five tries and haven’t lost to the Hoosiers in Iowa City since 2007. The Hawkeyes have never played Maryland in football.
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Kentucky (Saturday, Oct. 25) and vs. Vanderbilt (Saturday, Nov. 22)
Could 2014 be the year that Dan Mullen wins more than four SEC games at Mississippi State?
Drawing Kentucky and Vandy from the East will definitely make it easier for Mullen to post his first-ever conference record over .500 since taking over in 2009.
The Bulldogs are 5-0 against the Wildcats since 2009. The two are permanent, cross-division rivals and Mississippi State hasn’t lost in Lexington since 2005. The Bulldogs and Commodores have only met seven times since 1989, Mississippi State has a 6-1 advantage and the two haven’t played since 2009.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Boston College (Saturday, Nov. 1) and at Wake Forest (Saturday, Nov. 22)
After posting double-digit win seasons consecutively from 2004-2011, Virginia Tech won only seven games in 2012 and eight in 2013. What will make their slow climb to nine wins and beyond easier is totally avoiding Florida State, Clemson and Louisville from the ACC Atlantic this season.
Compare this to fellow Coastal contender Miami (Fla.), which will face Louisville in the season opener and Florida State in mid-November.
The Hokies lost 34-27 to Boston College last season, but before that hadn’t fallen to the Eagles since 2008. Virginia Tech hasn’t lost to Wake Forest since 1983 and the last time it road tripped to Winston-Salem and came home losers was in 1970.
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Syracuse (Saturday, Nov. 8) and vs. Wake Forest (Saturday, Nov. 29)
After going 10-4 last season and playing in the ACC title game, Duke suddenly finds itself in a sustaining mode rather than a building or retooling one. Rather than, “can we finally get this thing turned around?” it’s, “can we do that again?”
Last season the Blue Devils drew NC State and Wake Forest from the Atlantic, both big wins for Duke. This year it’s Syracuse and Wake Forest, which isn’t easy but much better than facing Florida State, Clemson or Louisville.
Duke beat Wake Forest in back-to-back games in 2012 and 2013, but before that dropped 12 straight to the Demon Deacons. The Blue Devils are 2-0 all-time against Syracuse but the two haven’t met since their home-and-home series in 1938 and 1939.
3. Penn State
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Northwestern (Saturday, Sept. 27) and at Illinois (Saturday, Nov. 22)
Though Ohio State looks like it got off easier than Penn State in cross-division opponents this season—the Buckeyes drew Minnesota and Illinois—it’s the Nittany Lions who technically have the edge.
The Golden Gophers and Illini combined for a 12-13 record last season, while Northwestern and Illinois hooked up for a 9-15 mark.
Either way, Penn State and Ohio State have the edge over Michigan State (the Spartans play Nebraska and Purdue) in cross-division play.
The Nittany Lions haven’t lost to Northwestern since 2004 and haven’t fallen to Illinois since 2010.
2. North Texas
2014 Cross-Division Games: at UAB (Saturday, Oct. 11), vs. FAU (Saturday, Nov. 8) and vs. FIU (Saturday, Nov. 22)
Did you know that North Texas won nine games last season for the first time since 2003?
The Mean Green will have a great opportunity to build on their success, and perhaps capture the program’s first championship since winning the Sun Belt in 2004, with cross-division games at UAB, FAU and FIU.
Florida Atlantic did manage to win six games last season—the Owls best record since 2008—but Florida International and UAB combined for only three total wins in 2013.
North Texas has only played UAB once in history, a 19-14 loss in Denton in 1995. It’s won three straight against Florida Atlantic but hasn’t beaten Florida International since 2006.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Southern Miss (Saturday, Oct. 4) and at UTEP (Saturday, Nov. 29)
Flying under the radar in the same way that North Texas has, Middle Tennessee has posted back-to-back eight win seasons, its first consecutive winning marks since 1995-96.
In 2014, the Blue Raiders will face two cross-division foes from the West which only won three games between them in 2013. Southern Miss and UTEP have combined for 6-42 record since 2012.
Middle Tennessee has only played Southern Miss twice in history (2009 and 2013) and are 2-0. The Blue Raiders have only squared off with UTEP once, last season, a game it won 48-17 in Murfreesboro.