It’s never too early to talk college football. Never.

Even if the calendar say it’s barely summer, fall cannot get here fast enough. So over the next two weeks or so, Kermit the Blog will count down the 10 Easiest Schedules of the 2007 College Football season. We’re aiming for one a day (weekday), but we’re lazy, so it might take longer. Thankfully we’ve got time.


#7 (Tie) Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana

Boise State’s Statue of Liberty play—it only works once, don’t throw it away—will be the lasting image from the 2006 college football bowl season. That game out-awesomed awesomeness itself and was better than anything Charlie Kaufman could have scripted.

But running a distant second? The look on Glen Mason’s face after his Golden Gophers managed to blow a 31-point lead to Texas Tech in the Sponsor’s Name Here Bowl. I’ve got a 3-year-old niece. She regularly wears an expression that displays a better understanding of how the world is orchestrating the events around her than the one Mason had after his team’s overtime loss.

Well, the good news for whomever replaced Mason in Minnesota is that it is going to take a Manhattan Project-caliber effort to duplicate that size of implosion against a non-conference foe this year.

Bowling Green. Miami (OH), Florida Atlantic, North Dakota State, because plain ol’ North Dakota might have been too daunting of an opponent.

In conference, they miss Penn State and have maybe the two easiest road games possible in at Northwestern and at Indiana (who incidentally they are tying for the ignominity of the seven spot).

I’m not going to say too much about the Gophers. They will be adjusting to a new spread scheme under new coach Tim Brewster; and their most experienced QB has as many completions to his guys as he does to opponents (2) for a total of 15 yards. If you love the Golden Gophers, but it turns into a drawn out winter, you’ve got all kinds of excuses. That schedule isn’t one of them. Super weak. Even for a mediocre BCS team.

Northwestern’s toughest non-conference foe? Nevada.

The Wolfpack aren’t terrible. They had a shot to beat Miami (the Florida one) in a bowl game last year before coming up short 21-20. Of course that was a really mediocre Miami team that lost four of its last five regular season games. And the game was played in Boise. In December. In snow. I don’t think many Cane players had ever seen snow that you couldn’t snort before. Nor had any of their speed guys ever taken a linebacker to the solar plexus in 20 degree temps. That probably slows down the trot back to the huddle.

What does that have to do with Northwestern? Not much, but the Wolfpack are not going to be a pushover. Of course the Cats probably already know that as they got beat at Nevada by 10 in 2006.

Still, with Northeastern (I-AA, and a sub-.500 team to boot) and Duke (I-AA compatible) sandwiching Nevada in Evanston, the Wildcats should be favored in their first three games.

In midseason, Northwestern goes to Eastern Michigan (1-11 in the MAC last year). And they get a bad Indiana team at home. Assuming they can be less bad than Indiana at home, and can eke out wins against those other four pantywaists (although Nevada is iffy) they need to find one more win to go to bowl eligible.

That’s a schedule custom made to land a big conference back-ender a dream date to the Motor City Bowl. And a great argument for why there are too many bowls. Unless of course you want to spend Christmas in Detroit. If you do, please, just don’t televise it.

In conference, Northwestern is going to be weekly dogs in Vegas almost as a rule. But the Cats manage to miss both Wisconsin and Penn State in ’07. So at least they avoid two sure L’s.

But should they build up, say, a 35-point 3rd quarter lead against, oh, anyone, they have to like their chances of not blowing it and allowing a record comeback in back-to-back years. Gotta give the Big 10 some credit, they managed to allow not only the biggest comeback in the regular season but also the biggest comeback in bowl history. Takes some quality choking to pull of that exacta of suck.

If nothing else, Northwestern was a team that, a decade ago, was playing in the Rose Bowl. Now they are scheduling wins trying to make it to bowl eligibility. Sure, prior to that, they had been a sure win for opponents since about the Cenozoic, but at least when they were getting beat senseless by good teams they were building character. Now they are just setting themselves up to slouch back into second-rate status if they can’t make it to a bowl.

For that reason alone, the Cats are worth of your ridicule.

The Hoosiers, a little less so.

Indiana’s out of conference opponents would be formidable if this were 1979. And if this were basketball. But even then only because Larry Bird was at Indiana State. Ball State, Arkon, and Western Michigan aren’t exactly filling out a bridge game with famine, pestilence and death.

Indiana has threatened legitimacy in years past, but they never seem to play with any consistency. To wit, last year they lost at home to Southern Illinois, only to beat a #15 ranked Iowa team a month later.

They might have been spared the list altogether but the wacky Big 10 scheduling gives them a reprieve from both Ohio State and Michigan. And they get Penn State at home. Like it’s going to help much. But they only have three road games that are likely losses and they generally get cushy treatment from the conference overlords.

Even if Indiana’s season falls apart with a relatively weak schedule, they can probably be forgiven. Any team with a coach that’s had two surgeries to remove cancerous tumors from his brain gets a pass.

Maybe two.

It’s entirely possible the seemingly imminent loss of coach Terry Hoeppner will unify the team. And the soft schedule will give them a legit shot at a bowl. It’d be hard to poo poo that story.

Hard but not impossible. Because Indiana’s 2007 season slate makes the term “strength of schedule” an oxymoron.

Frankly, almost everyone in the Big 10 should be embarrassed by their non-conference line-ups. I didn’t know that there were enough bi-directional Michigan schools to take weekly poundings from the entire conference. I think I could go down to the local all-girl elementary school, put together a group of 6th graders, and get a Big 10 team to schedule them. If nothing else, it’d be a check (Note to self: new business idea).

The only thing saving Purdue and Penn State from joining these three is a date with Notre Dame, but again, this will be an Irish team looking for any kind of identity (not to mention defensive players) to start the season. And Wisconsin’s home date with Washington State similarly spares them. But barely given the other three cream puffs they’ll consume.

Really, there will be no defending the Big 10 this year. They got exposed in their two BCS games last year and they are scheduling like scared little girls. If it gets down to another November discussion of “Does Michigan deserve a rematch with the Buckeyes?” again this year, smart observers will pray for an asteroid that wipes out most of humanity.

Everyone still living should argue that this is maybe the fifth-best conference going into the season, and point to September as much as last January.

The Rest of the List

Number 10
Number 9
Number 8
Number 7
Number 6
Number 5
Number 4
Number 3
Number 2
Honorable Mentions
Number 1

[Update: It’s being reported that Terry Hoeppner passed away this morning (June 19, 2007), in a Bloomington area hospital. Our condolences to the entire IU community.]