Before we get set to enjoy plenty of food, family, friends and fireworks, let's take a look at the college football teams that face the most difficult non-conference schedules this fall.
Southern Methodist: The Mustangs will get a healthy dose of old Southwest Conference foes this fall, as they open the season against Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech before travelling to Texas A&M and TCU before the end of September. Even their Week 2 contest against FCS foe Montana State is tricky. The Bobcats won 11 games last year. June Jones and Co. are taking a step up in competition by moving to the new American Athletic Conference, but the real test will be in the season's opening month.
Nevada: It's a good thing for Chris Ault that he retired before encountering this slate. The former Wolf Pack Hall of Fame head coach has passed the baton onto Brian Polian, who will have to deal with a tough stretch of non-Mountain West contests. Nevada begins the season in the Rose Bowl against UCLA before it opens up at home against UC Davis. But after that short respite, the Wolf Pack head back on the road to face a Florida State team that is still a BCS national championship contender despite suffering some losses on defense and fielding a redshirt freshman quarterback. Nevada then finishes its regular season slate against BYU, which is settling in nicely as an independent.
Southern Miss: Todd Monken takes over the Golden Eagles from Ellis Johnson, who went winless in his one season at the school. The former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator has a tricky slate to navigate in his debut season, though, as the Eagles face difficult road contests after their opener against Texas State. Southern Miss has back-to-back games at Nebraska and Arkansas before travelling to Boise State after a week off. That's a brutal slate before opening C-USA play.
US PRESSWIREBob Stoops and the Sooners have a tricky non-conference schedule this fall.
Oklahoma: Bob Stoops and the Sooners are trying to reclaim the Big 12 championship, but a tough nonconference slate awaits in the first year of the post-Landry Jones era. The Sooners open with Louisiana-Monroe, a program that shocked Arkansas and almost beat Auburn and Baylor last season. The Warhawks return star quarterback Kolton Browning, who could give a rebuilding Sooners defense fits. OU also plays a Tulsa team that will be one of the better non-BCS squads in the country after winning 11 games in 2012. But the marquee noncon matchup for OU will be its return bout at Notre Dame, which beat the Sooners in Norman last year.
Western Michigan: First-time head coach P.J. Fleck has the enthusiasm to eventually get the Broncos back to their winning ways in the MAC. But he receives a rude non-conference awakening in his first season in Kalamazoo, as WMU will face a stream of Big Ten road games. The Broncos open at Michigan State and have tests at Northwestern and Iowa. While the Big Ten was down last year, it's asking a lot to even be competitive with any of those teams for four full quarters. A noncon game against Nicholls State fills out the slate.
Cal: Welcome to life in a BCS conference, Sonny Dykes. The new Golden Bears head coach will win in Berkeley eventually, but his first season could be trying. While all of the team's non-conference games are at home, they will be difficult tests. The Bears open against Northwestern, which could be Pat Fitzgerald's most talented team yet. After Portland State stops into town, the Bears host Ohio State, which could be primed for a BCS national championship berth because of its manageable schedule. All of these games occur before Dykes even gets his first tough Pac-12 battle.
Purdue: Darrell Hazell's first season at Purdue features some tricky non-conference games, starting with the opener against a Cincinnati team that seems to be going a bit under the radar in the new American Athletic Conference. The Boilermakers then get FCS squad Indiana State before playing host to Notre Dame, which beat the Boilers last season when Tommy Rees came off of the bench to direct a late scoring drive. Rees will get a chance to face the Boilers for a full four quarters this time now that he is the Fighting Irish's new starting quarterback. Then, Purdue has to contend with Northern Illinois, which earned a berth in the Orange Bowl last year behind returning dual-threat quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch.
Florida: Not only do the Gators have to deal with their SEC slate, but Will Muschamp's squad has to play its annual game against Florida State at home as well as travel to Miami (FL) to face a dangerous Hurricanes offense led by quarterback Stephen Morris. Florida's opener is also no gimme: Toledo, which is one of the best squads in the MAC.
Clemson: Perhaps no season opener in 2013 is bigger than the tilt between the Tigers and Georgia. We will find out a lot about both teams, but Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins may be too much to overcome for a Bulldogs defense that will be without suspended safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. But how improved will Clemson's defense be against Aaron Murray and the Georgia offense? The Tigers also will try to end their hex against Steve Spurrier and South Carolina at the end of the year on the road. Good thing for Dabo Swinney that two FCS opponents are on the slate.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have to open with a North Carolina squad that could be the most dangerous lurker in the ACC. They then close September with a tricky trip to Central Florida, which won 10 games last season and will be debuting in The American this fall. Of course, the Gamecocks then close the season with Clemson.
Note: Virginia doesn't exactly have a cakewalk either. The Cavaliers face BYU and Oregon in the first two weeks of the season.
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