Now that all 10 FBS conference schedules for the 2023 college football season are complete — not forgetting those of the four FBS Independent teams — it’s time to examine who the most ill-treated teams in the nation are. Which programs have the toughest college football schedule on the 2023 calendar?
Toughest College Football Schedules in 2023
South Carolina Gamecocks
The SEC prides itself on the motto of “It Just Means More,” and for the South Carolina Gamecocks, that translates to meaning more tough games. Ironically, the Gamecocks have one of the toughest college football schedules on the 2023 calendar — as much for their out-of-conference escapades as their SEC play.
Opening up with a neutral game clash against North Carolina and closing by welcoming Clemson to Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina will face the combatants of the 2022 ACC Championship Game and one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, Tar Heels’ passing phenom Drake Maye.
While there is some relief in the form of FCS Furman and C-USA newcomer Jacksonville State on their out-of-conference schedule, those two aforementioned games represent a significant challenge. That said, the Gamecocks emerged victorious from a shootout with Clemson in their season finale last fall.
Anytime you face the reigning national champions is challenging, but South Carolina has to travel to Athens to face Georgia. They’ll also need to travel to Knoxville to take on Tennessee, with a late October road game double-header at Missouri and Texas A&M also having problematic potential for Shane Beamer’s team.
Ole Miss Rebels
While South Carolina has the toughest schedule in terms of games against opponent win/loss record from 2022 — according to Phil Steele — at least the Gamecocks don’t have to take on both Alabama and Georgia. That is more than can be said for Lane Kiffin and an Ole Miss Rebels team who has one of the toughest college football schedules on the 2023 calendar.
Ole Miss eases their way into the season by welcoming FCS Mercer to Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium, dusting away the offseason cobwebs and satisfying themselves that the quarterback battle between Spencer Sanders, Jaxson Dart, and Walker Howard — that likely dominates their spring and summer camp storylines — is well and truly settled.
From there, it gets a lot harder … quickly. A trip to Yulman Stadium in Week 2 to face the Cotton Bowl-winning Tulane Green Wave should prove a difficult test for Kiffin’s squad and sets the scene for a road-game schedule straight out of a horror movie.
The Rebels face Alabama on the road in Week 4 and former head coach Hugh Freeze and his Auburn Tigers in Jordan-Hare before taking on the reigning champion Bulldogs in Athens. Even the Egg Bowl is on the road this fall, rounding out a schedule that also features the 2022 SEC runner-up LSU Tigers.
New Stanford Cardinal head coach Troy Taylor begins his first season as an FBS head coach with a roster full of questions and not too long to find the answers as a result of one of the toughest college football schedules on the 2023 calendar.
While a Friday night in Hawaii might sound like an ideal way to spend an opening weekend, the challenges of a trip to Honolulu can’t be understated for a team who is lacking experience at the game’s most important position.
You know who isn’t lacking experience at the QB position? USC and Heisman Trophy-winning passer Caleb Williams, who await Stanford in the LA Memorial Coliseum in Week 2. Neither is Washington, who returns Michael Penix Jr. amidst high expectations and travels to Stanford on Oct. 28.
Although they face Washington at home, those two clashes headline a Pac-12 schedule that is brutal for the Cardinal. Also facing Oregon and UCLA, they’ll take on the major players for the Pac-12 crown, only avoiding Utah. An out-of-conference clash with Notre Dame puts a bow on a difficult campaign.
Michigan State Spartans
After the euphoria of the 11-2 2021 campaign, Michigan State came back down to earth with a bang last fall, struggling to a five-win season for only the third time since 2007. The only other time was in 2020, the first year of Mel Tucker’s tenure in charge of the Spartans.
The global situation gets Tucker a bye for that year, but we’re about to find out what the Michigan State head coach is made of, as the Spartans have one of the toughest college football schedules to navigate on the 2023 calendar.
Opening up against Central Michigan and Richmond should see Tucker’s team get off to an unbeaten start. However, their out-of-conference schedule wraps up in Week 3 against Washington with a repeat of a clash where the Huskies thoroughly took the Spartans to task. Right now, there’s no reason not to expect a repeat.
However, it’s the conference schedule that is set to be the undoing of Michigan State this fall. Although they welcome Michigan and Penn State to East Lansing, they’re both extremely tough games to win. Then, the Spartans have to go on the road to Ohio State.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
“Bringing a Notre Dame football home game atmosphere to Ireland has been a goal of ours,” Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick enthused about a return to Ireland for Fighting Irish football. “And we couldn’t be more excited to partner with the Naval Academy to make it happen.”
While the matchup against a Navy team transitioning to a new coach for the first time in over 15 years might not appear to be the most difficult way to kick off a college football campaign, the logistics involved in taking a home game on the road across the pond shouldn’t be discounted when discussing Notre Dame as having one of the toughest college football schedules this fall.
The Fighting Irish also have some marquee games against highly-talented teams on their schedule. Dates with Ohio State and USC are appointment viewing, while you might want to get your popcorn ready as Phil Jurkovec leads the Pitt Panthers into South Bend with revenge on his mind.
The Irish’s regular dalliance with the ACC means that they follow that Pitt game with a visit to Memorial Stadium to take on Clemson, another headline matchup on a difficult schedule that also features a low-key potential pothole at the Duke Blue Devils.
Texas State Bobcats
Let’s dive out of the Power Five pool of problematic schedules and into the Group of Five, where we find Texas State. According to Phil Steele’s 2022 winning percentage strength of schedule, the Bobcats rank as having the 29th toughest schedule in the country. However, when you delve into the Texas State schedule, you can make an argument that it’s tougher than that.
New head coach G.J. Kinne opens up the 2023 campaign with road games against in-state foes. They’re not just any old in-state programs, however. A Power Five battle with Baylor awaits them in Week 1, with a tussle with one of the top Group of Five teams in UTSA to follow in Week 2.
Not starting 0-2 feels like a pipe dream for the Bobcats. While they welcome FCS opposition to Bobcat Stadium in Week 3, HBCU powerhouse Jackson State won’t be a walkover, even with the departure of several key players and head coach Deion Sanders.
Furthermore, their Sun Belt schedule ensures there’s little reprieve down the stretch of the season. After the bye, they take on Troy, a road trip to Conway to face Coastal Carolina, and they round out the year by battling South Alabama.
I desperately wanted to avoid flooding this article with SEC programs, but the fact of the matter is that the strength of the conference makes for some of the toughest college football schedules on the 2023 calendar. In what is a key second year for Billy Napier’s Florida Gators team, they might have one of the most difficult schedules in the SEC.
However, it’s their out-of-conference opening and closing fixtures that separate the Gators from some of the other teams in the SEC. Their Week 1 clash with Utah is always close fought and good value for money, while they close against an FSU team who could be the pride of Florida football this fall.
A three-game stretch — that features Georgia, Arkansas, and a road bout in Baton Rouge against LSU — as October turns to November has the potential to decimate their season before they even arrive at the clash with their in-state rivals.
Iowa State Cyclones
If Iowa State is to rebound from a disappointing 2022 campaign, they’re going to have to do it the hard way with one of the toughest college football schedules on the 2023 calendar. Matt Campbell’s team faces all the major Big 12 players, with tricky road games against some of the conference newcomers.
If they’re to make it to the Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington, they’ll need to win on the road at Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Baylor, BYU, and knock off defending champions Kansas State in the regular-season finale. The Cyclones will also need to blow by Texas and Oklahoma State at home.
Sam Houston State Bearkats
Welcome to the FBS, Sam Houston State! While their schedule might not be the toughest in terms of opponent record from the 2022 college football campaign, the red carpet has hardly been rolled out to welcome the Bearkats to the highest level of DI football.
It’s going to take an impressive performance to go above .500 in their opening campaign.
They begin on the road against Big 12 opposition in BYU. Sam Houston’s early out-of-conference schedule also includes a road game against Houston and a battle with Air Force in NRG Stadium. Essentially, they don’t have a true home game until late September against fellow newcomer Jacksonville State.
Meanwhile, Sam Houston State faces a difficult road game double-header against Louisiana Tech and C-USA-favorite Western Kentucky before closing out by welcoming Middle Tennessee to Bowers Stadium.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Let’s start with the good news for West Virginia football. They don’t have to play Texas, and they also won’t play reigning Big 12 champions Kansas State — unless they both make it to the title game. The likelihood of that happening is quite small, however, with the Mountaineers facing one of the toughest college football schedules on the 2023 calendar.
Opening up at Penn State is certainly no cupcake commencement to the campaign. Meanwhile, their Week 3 clash with Pitt makes for a difficult out-of-conference schedule. Road games at Oklahoma, TCU, and Baylor will prove difficult, while their clash with the Cougars in Houston means they’re almost in Texas as much as Morgantown this fall — kind of.