There is nothing standardized about college football schedules. They diverge so dramatically because of league, region, resources and other factors. Scheduling philosophies range from the pragmatic to the bold to the cowardly to the nonsensical.
The 10-member Big 12 plays a round-robin league slate, ensuring every conference matchup takes place every year. SEC and ACC teams in opposite divisions, meanwhile, can go seven years without playing one another. Some teams tour the far reaches of the lower 48 with their road schedules; others barely cross state lines.
Rivalries like Texas-Texas A&M and Kansas-Missouri no longer appear on the slate, but those itching to see New Mexico State and Liberty get a double dose this fall. Thankfully, you'll also get to see Michigan-Notre Dame and Colorado-Nebraska back on the slate, along with Penn State-Pitt, Utah-BYU and other familiar matchups.
Here are some of the oddities from the 2018 college football schedule:
Most scenic schedule: Navy
Many people join the Navy for the opportunity to travel the world. Navy's football team isn't globetrotting this fall -- or taking a boat from port to port, although that would be fun -- but its schedule away from Annapolis is extremely inviting. The Mids open at Hawaii, as coach Ken Niumatalolo returns to his home state to face his alma mater. Navy also heads out to the Rockies to face Air Force and, on Oct. 27, plays annual rival Notre Dame in San Diego, a huge military town with idyllic weather almost year-round. Music lovers will appreciate a Nov. 24 trip to play Tulane in New Orleans, and an Nov. 10 trip to UCF could include a Disney World detour.
Auburn opens the season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta -- site of its past two games (both losses) -- against Washington in the schools' first-ever meeting. Both teams have veteran quarterbacks and accomplished offensive coaches, and the game could factor in the CFP conversation. It's especially big for Washington, which has lacked a signature non-league win in recent years and will get credit for a virtual road victory, as the crowd will be heavily partial to Auburn.
I've lived in the Midwest since 1999 and admit that, while I like this series, I don't yearn for it, mainly because I prefer scheduling diversity for programs like Michigan. However, it's good to see the game back after a few years, especially since it figures to be so critical for both teams. Notre Dame is talking national championship after a 10-win season last fall, but an opening loss to Michigan at home might derail those hopes. Jim Harbaugh could finally have the roster to break through, but he needs more signature wins before beginning a Big Ten slate featuring five teams that won 10 or more games last season.
The delayed home-opener schedule: North Carolina
One advantage of being a Power 5 team is fattening up the home schedule, especially early in the season. Iowa doesn't leave Kinnick Stadium until Oct. 6. Oregon and Oklahoma State don't hit the road until Sept. 29. And then there's North Carolina, which opens the season with a cross-country trip to Cal, before making a much shorter trek (110 miles) to East Carolina. The Tar Heels are the only Power 5 team to open with two true road games. Including last year's finale at NC State, North Carolina will go 302 days between games at Kenan Stadium, as it hosts UCF on Sept. 15.
Toughest road schedule for new coach: Nebraska's Scott Frost
Frost could become governor of his home state before even coaching a game for his alma mater. Nebraska's home slate is fairly manageable for its new leading man. The road schedule, meanwhile, is merciless. Nebraska must visit defending Big Ten champ Ohio State, defending division champ Wisconsin, a talent-stocked Michigan team, a Northwestern team that won 10 games last year and an Iowa team that has beaten the Huskers by a combined score of 96-24 in the teams' last two meetings. Frost likely won't get much sympathy from first-year Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith, whose team visits Ohio State, Washington and Stanford, among others.
Toughest non-league schedule for new coach (Power 5): UCLA's Chip Kelly
This will be a transition year in Westwood, as the Bruins adjust to Kelly's schemes and standards. In addition to a nine-game league slate that includes crossovers with Washington, Stanford, Oregon and Cal, the Bruins visit defending Big 12 champion and CFP participant Oklahoma in Week 2. They then return home to face Fresno State, arguably the nation's biggest surprise of 2017, when it went 10-4 after going 1-11 the previous season. Arizona State's Herm Edwards also will be tested right away as the Sun Devils host Michigan State and then visit Pac-12 slayer San Diego State.
Toughest non-league schedule for new coach (Group of 5): Louisiana's Billy Napier
At least Napier, an Alabama assistant from 2013 to 2016, knows what he's getting into as he returns to the South after a year at Arizona State. Louisiana opens with Grambling before visiting Mississippi State, which should have one of the SEC's top offenses under new coach Joe Moorhead. Two weeks later, Napier returns to Tuscaloosa as the Ragin' Cajuns take on the defending national champions. The teams last played in 1990.
Wildest finish to the regular season: Notre Dame
Notre Dame knows it has to start playing better in November to achieve its top program goals. This year's schedule doesn't appear to help. The Irish begin the month with a road game at Northwestern before hosting Florida State. Then it gets really wonky, as Notre Dame plays Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in New York before flying across the country to face archrival USC in Los Angeles. "Who does that? Nobody does that," Kelly told me this spring. Except Notre Dame will this year.
Life is really hard for FBS independents, especially when it comes to scheduling. It's so hard that New Mexico State, recently kicked out of the Sun Belt, and new FBS member Liberty scheduled in-season home-and-home series for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Coming off of its first bowl win since 1960, New Mexico State hosts Liberty on Oct. 6. The two teams fittingly conclude the regular season with a showdown at Liberty on Nov. 24. Admit it. You can't contain your excitement.
Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher have supplied the ACC's two most recent national championships, and Clemson-Florida State became the league's featured game every season. Fisher is no longer in Tallahassee, but he can't escape Clemson -- and vice versa. His first major test at Texas A&M comes in Week 2, as Swinney's Tigers visit Kyle Field. The two teams can't escape each other in 2019, either, as Texas A&M will travel to Death Valley.
Most economical road schedule: Ball State
It can crunch a budget to send a football team on the road, especially for Group of 5 programs. Ball State can save some dough with this year's schedule, which features games in only three states: Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. The Cardinals' road schedule takes them to Notre Dame (126 miles), Indiana (104 miles), Central Michigan (253 miles), Ohio (207 miles), Toledo (156 miles) and Miami University (68 miles). Warm up the buses.
When Florida hired Jim McElwain away from Colorado State, its agreement included a future game with the Rams, who would receive $2 million for visiting Gainesville. McElwain is no longer on the Florida sideline, but Colorado State is still coming to The Swamp to collect its money (and who knows, maybe a win). Florida hosts Colorado State on Sept. 15.
Longest road trip (Power 5): Texas A&M
It's extremely rare for a Power 5 team to play three consecutive road games, especially during the conference schedule. But that's what awaits Fisher and the Aggies in October after they open with five of their first six at home or a neutral site. Texas A&M travels to South Carolina on Oct. 13. After an open week, the Aggies visit Mississippi State followed by Auburn. They finish with three straight at Kyle Field.
Longest road trip (Group of 5): Rice Owls
Rice is used to being on the road for a while. Last year, the Owls opened against Stanford in Sydney, Australia. On their way back home to Houston, they were stranded several days in Fort Worth, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit. Rice opens the 2018 slate with two home games before traveling to Hawaii. After an open week, the Owls visit Southern Miss and then go to East Carolina. The three-game road trip is one of three road stretches for Rice, which visits the state of Louisiana in consecutive November weeks to face Louisiana Tech and LSU.
Most basketball-centric football schedule: Baylor
Imagine being a Baylor fan and seeing Duke and Kansas visiting on back-to-back weekends -- then realizing that this is football, not basketball. Baylor's athletic marketing staff could have some fun with this year's schedule, which includes the ACC basketball powerhouse along with three Big 12 teams that reached last year's Elite Eight and one that went to the Final Four (Texas Tech).
After opening the season Aug. 30 at Tulane, the Demon Deacons can settle in to their home surroundings. Their next road trip doesn't come until Oct. 20, as they play five consecutive home games, including two ACC Atlantic opponents (Boston College, Clemson) and Notre Dame. The flip side is after mid-October, Wake Forest plays just two home contests and has trips to Florida State and Louisville in consecutive weeks. Iowa doesn't leave Kinnick Stadium until Oct. 6, playing its first four at home. But then the Hawkeyes play four of five on the road in a span of just 29 days.
Miami seems to schedule road games that programs of its caliber typically avoid. The Hurricanes visited Appalachian State in 2016, and were set to visit Arkansas State last year before canceling because of Hurricane Irma. Up next is a return game at Toledo, the defending MAC champion that led Miami at halftime last year before running out of gas. Toledo could have the best receiver group of any Group of 5 team and should be fired up to welcome the U to the Glass Bowl. Arizona could be a sleeper team in the Pac-12 South as Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate returns at quarterback, but the Wildcats should be tested Week 2 at Houston, where Ed Oliver leads a defense that loaded up on transfers this offseason.
Friendliest opening stretch (Power 5): Oklahoma State
The Pokes begin life after Mason Rudolph with a group of games that should allow their next quarterback to get comfortable. Oklahoma State plays five of its first six games at home and its lone away game comes against Kansas, which hasn't won more than three games since 2009. Boise State provides a good test in Week 3, and Iowa State is coming off a breakthrough season, but Oklahoma State is traditionally strong under Gundy.
Friendliest opening stretch (Group of 5): UAB
After winning eight games during its first year back in competition, UAB seems set up to keep the momentum going. The Blazers face only one Power 5 opponent and not until Nov. 17 (Texas A&M). They open with FCS Savannah State, Coastal Carolina, Tulane and Charlotte, four teams that combined to go 12-35 last season. Louisiana Tech is UAB's only opponent in the first half of the schedule to record a winning record in 2017.
Least adventurous road schedule: Florida
This shouldn't be a huge surprise. Florida practically invented this award by almost never venturing outside the state for non-league games. This fall, the Gators will play all 12 of their regular-season games in three states: Florida (nine games), Tennessee (two games) and Mississippi (one game). The Florida portion includes a road trip to Florida State and the traditional neutral-site contest with Georgia in Jacksonville.
Dan Mullen's first month as Florida's head coach concludes with a trip to Starkville, Mississippi, where he led Mississippi State to a 69-46 record during the past nine seasons. Fans never like losing a coach, especially within the league, but the Mississippi State faithful should give Mullen a warm welcome for stabilizing the program. An even louder greeting could await Chip Kelly as the first-year UCLA coach returns to Oregon on Nov. 3. Kelly took Oregon's program to historic heights in four magical seasons in Eugene, when he went 46-7 with two Pac-12 titles, a Rose Bowl title, a Fiesta Bowl title and a national championship game appearance.
Most Texas-centric opening schedule: TCU
Unlike some Power 5 teams, TCU will venture away from its campus a few times early in the season. Just not very far. The Horned Frogs play only one true home game in the first three weeks but won't leave the Metroplex as they visit SMU in Week 2 and play Ohio State at AT&T Stadium, just 18 miles east of campus. TCU then hits the road for its Big 12 opener at Texas before returning home for three straight home contests. It means Gary Patterson's team won't make its first trip outside the state until Oct. 27, when the Frogs visit Kansas.
Most SEC-like schedule for a non-SEC team: Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders are a Conference USA member with no known plans of leaving the league, but Rick Stockstill's players soon will learn about life in the SEC East. Middle Tennessee visits three SEC stadiums this fall, beginning with the opener at Vanderbilt. Two weeks later, the Blue Raiders travel to defending SEC champ and national runner-up Georgia, and their SEC tour concludes Nov. 17 at Kentucky.
Most road-avoidant schedule: Ole Miss
Matt Luke begins his first season as Ole Miss' permanent coach with a game against Texas Tech in Houston. The Rebels' next game away from Oxford takes place Oct. 13 at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, which Arkansas still considers a home venue even though it plays there once a year. The Arkansas and Ole Miss campuses are about equidistant from Little Rock, so you could argue Ole Miss will play only one true road game (Sept. 29 at LSU) before visiting Texas A&M on Nov. 10.