Clemson and Baylor have relatively easy schedules among schools from the Power 5, but it's UTEP that might turn a light slate into a winning college football bet.
We hear a lot of talk this time of year about college football teams that are facing tough schedules for the upcoming season. Less frequent, at least in my observations, are discussions about teams that have easy paths to a conference or national championship, or simply to becoming bowl eligible.
Earlier when we made our picks for the hardest slates in 2016, pitfalls and potential banana peels were brought up surrounding commonly used criteria for determining whether or not a school's schedule was going to be difficult. The same applies when forecasting an easy fixture for a team. Just because only four bowl teams from 2015-16 are on the list or opponents won at a sub.500 clip a season ago won't always tell the whole story.
Then again, a combination of few bowl teams and low wins from a the season before can be a great indication of an easy schedule. Take Texas-El Paso, for example. The Miners will be going up against squads that finished a combined 52-94 (.356), and only two of the dozen opponents went to a bowl game in 2015.
Can UTEP Record 2nd Winning Season Since 2005?
Granted, Sean Kugler's crew could only muster a 5-7 record themselves, and UTEP has but one winning campaign the last 10 seasons. The outlook for 2016 doesn't get much better with the Miners looking at another 5 win barrier on the NCAA football odds and something of a long shot to make it to the Conference USA Championship game from the West Division.
Yet it's impossible to not mention them among teams with an easy schedule. UTEP will open against New Mexico State, one of its few wins last year in overtime on the road at Las Cruces. The Miners then have to travel to Austin to take on the Longhorns, then get Army back in El Paso. What follows are the only two teams that went bowling last year, home against Southern Miss to close September and then two weeks later at Louisiana Tech to begin October.
Florida International, Rice and Old Dominion will be the toughest foes after that, and while the Miners will never be confused for a very good team, they are good enough to beat that win total. UTEP returns 14 starters, including quarterback Ryan Metz, and brought in a new offensive coordinator in Brent Pease who will definitely open up the offense. I'm on the 'over' 5 wins for my free college football pick.
Two Tough Road Tilts Could Derail Clemson
The debate over which team has the easiest schedule among those picked to contend for the College Football Playoff Championship, that argument really starts and ends with the Clemson Tigers. Dabo Swinney's side is going up against a slate that features the lowest win percentage (.453) from 2015 among the Power 5 conferences, some of their toughest ACC games are at home, and the non-conference slate features three teams projected to have losing seasons.
While it may be the easiest of teams expected to rank in the top 10, it's by no means easy thanks to two very tough road affairs. The first is the season opener at Auburn, a double-Tigers matchup that Clemson hasn't won away from home since 1950, losing nine road or bowl games since then. The second is the final Saturday of October at Florida State, a game that many expect to decide the ACC-Atlantic.
Clemson has to win both of those to beat the 'over' 10½ line, and I'm inclined to lean to the 'under' on that wager.
Can Baylor Bears Put Scandal Behind Them?
There's a lot not to like about Baylor after the scandal surfaced this offseason, and it remains to be seen how the football team will respond to a new coach after Art Briles was fired. Still, the Bears do have a relatively easy schedule that begins with very light non-con foes. Baylor opens in Waco against Northwestern State and SMU, then travels to Rice before the Big 12 portion of the fixture commences.
There's a good chance the Bears could begin 5-0 in conference play with the two toughest opponents on paper at home vs. Oklahoma State and TCU. The trip to Oklahoma on November 12 will be difficult, as will be the season finale at West Virginia. I also see a stumble at Texas in late-October.