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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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Ranking the Triple-Digit 2012 Schedules

Beyond the other important factors — like the team’s struggles along the offensive line, the defensive line, at wide receiver and in the secondary — Duke has been crushed by the A.C.C. itself, which has handed the Blue Devils a conference schedule you’d save for your worst enemy. Each of the eight teams on Duke’s A.C.C. slate reached bowl eligibility last fall, and the Blue Devils take on another two reigning bowl teams, Florida International and Stanford, over the first two weeks of the regular season. Is this the only reason why Duke is going to finish at or near the bottom of the A.C.C. standings?

No, it’s not the only reason: the Blue Devils are still lagging far behind the rest of the conference in terms of overall personnel, which is nothing new. But the schedule puts a frown on this season before it even begins — how can Duke possibly snap its current bowl-free streak with only two or three clearly winnable games on the schedule?

The basic point: Duke has the toughest schedule of any team ranked among the bottom 24 in the country. And, I’d imagine, Duke will have the toughest schedule of any team in the A.C.C., especially with Stanford coming during non-conference play. And, when all is said and done, I’d guess that Duke will have one of the 12-15 toughest schedules of any team in the country.

You can wonder how a program like Duke is ever expected to turn the corner with a schedule like this, but don’t waste your time. In all likelihood — unless there’s something we’ve all missed — Duke’s projected corner-turning moment lies in the future, not in 2012. Whether the distant or not-so-distant future depends on a number of other factors, of which this year’s schedule is not one.

But it’s interesting to compare Duke’s schedule to the other 22 teams that make up the current triple-digit portion of the Countdown. I won’t go down the rabbit hole here, but consider: What would Duke’s record be this fall if it played, say, Texas-San Antonio’s schedule? Would the Blue Devils win the WAC, or would they be unable to beat Louisiana Tech, Utah State or San Jose State?

By the end of the summer, I’ll compile a list of the 25 hardest schedules in college football. For now, let’s rank the toughest schedules among the bottom 23 teams, beginning with Duke and continuing through U.T.S.A., which slides into the F.B.S. with games against South Alabama, Texas A&M-Commerce, Georgia State and Northwest Oklahoma State — and that’s just in September. The list:

1. Duke, A.C.C.
2. Kansas, Big 12
3. Massachusetts, MAC
4. U.N.L.V., Mountain West
5. Ball State, MAC
6. UTEP, Conference USA
7. Tulane, Conference USA
8. Idaho, WAC
9. U.A.B., Conference USA
10. Indiana, Big Ten
11. South Alabama, Sun Belt
12. New Mexico, Mountain West
13. Buffalo, MAC
14. North Texas, Sun Belt
15. Rice, Conference USA
16. Texas State, WAC
17. Colorado State, Mountain West
18. Louisiana-Monroe, Sun Belt
19. Florida Atlantic, Sun Belt
20. Akron, MAC
21. Memphis, Conference USA
22. Middle Tennessee State, Sun Belt
23. Texas-San Antonio, WAC

The issue here is proportion. What is tough for one may be easier for another; hence the question of how good Duke would be in the WAC or Sun Belt, or whether Louisiana Tech would win games in A.C.C. play. But if you keep the idea of proportion in mind, it’s possible to weigh one schedule against another, even if two teams inhabit different conferences or different tiers in the F.B.S.

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  1. Drew says:

    Yeah duke is getting no favors at all, but Cutcliffe is doing everything he can, he is just taking baby steps so hopefully they arent dumb enough to fire him

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