In my last post, I talked about a few teams that will surprise everyone this upcoming season. I briefly mentioned that a lot of different factors contribute to how Vegas sets their win total projections each year. One of the most important is the team’s schedule. Believe it or not, the scoreboard does lie to you. As fans, we’re very familiar with teams being overrated because they played an easy schedule, but the inverse is also true. Plenty of good teams are beaten down by a brutal stretch of games, ending up seeming much worse than they really are. Just ask any SEC West or Big Ten East fan. Without further ado, let’s look at a few teams that fall on each side of this coin.
The Ragin’ Cajuns face the tough task of trying to continue success after losing the best coach in school history. Billy Napier won at least ten games every year after his first season and had the Cajuns in every single Sun Belt championship game. To make matters worse, they lost a boatload of key players. Star QB Levi Lewis and sack leader Chauncey Manac are off to the NFL, while their best offensive lineman and leaders in tackles, rushing TDs, and receiving TDs have all transferred out. New coach Michael Desormeaux, who might’ve been created in a lab to coach a Louisiana football team, inherits the gift of an amazing schedule. Three of their non-conference games are against absolute pushovers, and their fourth is against Florida State. For a G5 team, that’s pretty great. Especially because they play FSU the week before the Florida game, and the Noles might be a tire fire that late in the season. Their new look Sun Belt schedule is just as forgiving. The Cajuns avoid App State, Coastal Carolina, and Georgia State, the three best teams from the East. On top of that, their matchup with South Alabama, their likeliest challenger in the West, is in Lafayette. Desormeaux’s Cajuns will probably be favored in at least ten games in 2022, so getting to nine wins shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, even if the team takes a major step back.
Minnesota is a confusing team. They feel stuck in purgatory, always somehow both overrated and underperforming. I don’t think that changes this season. Thankfully for the Gophers, they have the second easiest schedule in the Big 10 and one of the cupcakiest non-conference slates I’ve ever seen. They open the year with New Mexico State, a team with five winning seasons since 1968, Western Illinois, one of the worst teams in FCS, and Colorado, one of the worst teams in the Power 5. To be fair, this is also a team that lost to Bowling Green last season, but the Gophers shouldn’t lose any of these games. Add in the fact that they dodged both Ohio State and Michigan from the East, and PJ Fleck is set up for another eight-win season.
Remember: these picks are all graded on a curve. USC is going to be good this year, but not 10-win season against a brutal schedule good. Luckily for the Trojans, their schedule is more than manageable. Fresno State won’t be a pushover, but the talent gap should be more than enough to clinch a win. USC also gets Notre Dame at the perfect time. Both teams are breaking in a new head coach for the first time in years, and, thanks to Lincoln Riley’s transfer army, the Trojans are likely to be further along in their development this season. Conference play is where they really caught a break though. USC avoids Oregon and Washington, the two best teams in the North. Their only real conference test comes on the road at Utah, and that’s at least in the middle of the season, surrounded by cupcake games. I believe that Lincoln Riley will have USC contending for championships in the near future, but their schedule in 2022 sets them up to appear much closer to that goal than they actually will be.
After being one of the worst teams in the nation in 2021, Arizona had a sneaky good off-season. They landed a top 25 recruiting class and brought in a new starting QB with PAC 12 experience in Jayden de Laura as well as a genuine star in former UTEP WR Jacob Cowing. The Wildcats will be a better football team in 2022. However, the record won’t look much better. For some reason, they start the year on the road at San Diego State, who will be opening a brand new, likely sold-out stadium. The next week Mississippi State comes to town, and I’ve already talked about how high I am on them this year. But nothing compares to their week three matchup. The Arizona Wildcats committed the cardinal sin of scheduling, the one thing that everyone in the right mind knows to avoid: they scheduled North Dakota State. The damn fools. On top of this, Arizona also drew both Oregon and Washington from the North division. Progress isn’t always linear, and results on the scoreboard don’t always reflect changes on the field. I’m calling my shot now: Arizona will be the best two-win team in the country. Happy Scott Frost Day.
Georgia State- 7.5
I’m a big believer in head coach Shawn Elliot, and I truly believe he is awakening the sleeping giant that is Georgia State. Apparently, he’s also a big believer in this team, because they’re taking some big swings in non-conference play. Opening the year with South Carolina makes sense but following it up with North Carolina does not. What makes even less sense is going on the road to play Army in the middle of the year. The only reason anyone should ever play Army on the road is to prove how much they respect the troops. That’s it. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they play in the much tougher Sun Belt East, meaning they have to compete with both the powerhouses like App State and Coastal Carolina, as well as the upstart newcomers like Marshall and James Madison. Star QB Darren Grainger is back, and the defense should be solid like always, but I can’t imagine them being favorites in more than maybe six games this year. Asking them to pull two upsets is tall order.
Georgia Tech- 3.5
If you’ve followed the college football offseason even a little bit, you saw this one coming. Head coach Geoff Collins is looking to win more than three games for the first time in his fourth season, but the school has done him no favors. The Yellow Jackets received the crossover death penalty, opening the year against Clemson. Side note: we can all agree that game was moved to the Falcons stadium because it’s less embarrassing than having Clemson fans take over their home stadium, right? That’s just unfortunate though, as the ACC sets that schedule. There’s nothing GT could’ve done to prevent that. However, they’re certainly to blame for the cruel non-conference schedule. For those who don’t know, most teams in Power 5 conferences are required to play at least one other P5 team each year. Georgia Tech already has their annual rivalry game against defending national champion and under construction Death Star Georgia, so that’s not a concern for them. Surely a team that’s struggled to make a bowl game wouldn’t willingly schedule another P5 team, right? Even if they did, they surely wouldn’t schedule another SEC team, right? And if for some unknowable reason they scheduled another SEC team, it wouldn’t be one that played in a New Year’s 6 bowl and finished the regular season ranked in the top 10, right? If you haven’t picked up on the sarcasm yet, the answer to all of these questions is of course they did. Georgia Tech plays Ole Miss for no good reason whatsoever. I could repeat that entire joke that was already too long for their next non-conference opponent, but I’ll just skip it. The very next week they play UCF on the road. Georgia Tech is a power 5 team that will be an underdog in three of their four non-conference games. Unless your name is Kansas, this shouldn’t be happening to you. Geoff Collins probably isn’t the right fit for Georgia Tech either way, but the schedule he’s up against this season won’t even give him a chance.