When handicapping college football, it’s smart to completely break down a respective team’s schedule during the offseason. You can then pinpoint the programs that might have favorable paths to success or who could struggle due to sneaky scheduling roadblocks.
That’s why I looked at every schedule in the Power Five and identified September’s toughest scheduling spots for bettors who are interested in finding value in the early college football season.
Here are the nine matchups that stick out.
September 7: Syracuse at Maryland
Before ESPN’s “College GameDay” charges into the Carrier Dome for Syracuse’s huge showdown with Clemson, the Orange will play their second consecutive road game of the season at Maryland.
Having a noon kickoff at Maryland the week before facing the defending champion Tigers isn’t an ideal spot for Dino Babers’ Syracuse squad. Maryland has a lot of question marks and a new head coach in Mike Locksley, but the Terrapins could be a popular underdog pick come Week 2.
September 7: Kentucky vs. Eastern Michigan
I won’t say that Eastern Michigan will pull off an outright upset at Kentucky, but I think they’ll likely cover a big point spread when they go to Lexington in Week 2.
The week after this game, Kentucky hosts Florida in a matchup that’s already scheduled for 7:00 PM local time on ESPN. Considering that Kentucky ended their 31-game losing streak to Florida by pulling off an upset in Gainesville last season, I suspect the Wildcats will be looking ahead to the Gators and underestimating Eastern Michigan in this spot.
September 14: Stanford at UCF
Stanford makes its first of two appearances on this list because of a brutal early-season schedule. Stanford has to travel across the country in Week 3 to play at UCF in an afternoon kickoff in Orlando. That’s a tough game itself, but this scheduling spot makes this a taller task than usual for Stanford.
Because in Week 2, the Cardinal play at USC in the latest possible kickoff time (aka #Pac12AfterDark). Then the week following their trip to Orlando, Stanford hosts Oregon in a must-win game for their Pac-12 North hopes. With UCF being sandwiched in the middle of that slate, the Knights could catch Stanford slipping.
September 14: USC at BYU
At the same time that Stanford is kicking off in Orlando, USC will be playing against BYU in Provo. This non-conference game is sandwiched between Stanford in Week 2 and a Week 4 game against Utah on a Friday night.
While the matchup against Utah is in Los Angeles, it could determine if USC will be in the Pac-12 title race or not, which could lead to the Trojans not being fully focused on BYU. I’m sure USC regrets that they ever agreed to a non-conference series against BYU, but who thought that Southern California would still be struggling with its football relevance this late into the decade?
September 21: Virginia vs. Old Dominion
Virginia has steadily improved in each of Bronco Mendenhall’s three seasons in charge, and I expect them to contend for a spot in the ACC Championship Game since they benefit from not playing in the same division as Clemson.
But there’s an early landmine in September that could catch the Cavaliers off guard.
They host Old Dominion in between a home game against Florida State and a trip to Notre Dame. It’s easy to ignore the Monarchs, but they took down Virginia Tech in a similar spot last year, and by being sandwiched in between FSU and the Fighting Irish, Old Dominion could come away with a “trap game” victory over UVA in Week 4. That’s why it might be worth betting on Old Dominion, plus the points.
September 21: Nebraska at Illinois
After this game Nebraska should be 4-0, heading into Week 5’s marquee matchup against Ohio State in Lincoln, but, first, the Huskers have to take care of business at Illinois.
The Fighting Illini have only won four conference games over the last three seasons, but they’ll be prepared for this Big Ten battle, as Illinois should have a legitimate chance at improving to 4-0 with a win. If Nebraska has their sights set on bigger games, they’ll have some trouble covering the point spread in Champaign.
September 21: Washington at BYU
BYU’s calendar is always front-loaded because it’s a challenge for them to schedule games against Power Five teams in the middle of conference play since they’re an independent football program.
That’s why in Week 4 the Cougars have to prepare for Washington on the heels of three-straight games against Utah, Tennessee and USC. Luckily for BYU, Washington might just want to get out of Provo healthy and with a win as they gear up for a tough schedule that features matchups with Pac-12 opponents USC and Stanford.
Add in the altitude disadvantage for the Huskies, and a play on the Cougars — plus the points — could be in order.
September 21: South Carolina at Missouri
By the time this game is played, the bad spot for South Carolina might be too obvious to find betting value.
That’s because the Gamecocks will be traveling to the other Columbia to face Missouri just a week after hosting Alabama in a Week 3 matchup that’s already getting CBS’s primo afternoon slot. After last year’s heartbreaking loss to South Carolina, you can bet that Mizzou will be seeking revenge against a Gamecocks team that will be licking their wounds after a physical showdown with Bama.
Missouri’s bye coming right after this matchup means that you should bet on the Tigers as soon as possible.
September 28: Stanford at Oregon State
As promised, the Cardinal are back for a second time on this list.
After Stanford travels to Orlando to face UCF in Week 3, they host the Ducks before heading to Corvallis to play Oregon State — the worst team in the Pac-12.
Stanford will come away with a win, but will they cover a big point spread?
Keep in mind that the week after this game, Stanford caps off their brutal start to the season by hosting Washington. Since there’s little margin for error against both Oregon and Washington, expect for Stanford to be more focused on defeating the Pac-12’s finest than covering the spread against the lowly Beavers.