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The 10 teams with the toughest nonconference schedules in 2017

Ranking college football schedules in February is a lot like ranking teams. It's tricky.

Nonetheless, we've taken our shot at ranking the 10 toughest nonconference schedules for the 2017 season among Power 5 teams. There are plenty of marquee games, especially in Week 1, but the scheduling formula for most teams now is to play just one demanding nonconference game and then try to schedule a few wins.

Every Power 5 conference but the Big Ten is represented in our list, and Florida State, Pittsburgh and USC make the list for a second consecutive year. In fact, the Trojans were ranked first a year ago, although part of the reason they were ranked so highly was because of their season-ending clash with Notre Dame, which started the season in the top 10 and limped to a 4-8 finish.

Again, schedules always look a little different come November.

Here's what we came up with. All rankings referenced are from Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Top 25.

1. Pitt Panthers

Sept. 2: Youngstown State
Sept. 9: at Penn State
Sept. 16: Oklahoma State
Sept. 30: Rice

The Panthers get the nod for the No. 1 spot because they're the only Power 5 school that has to play two top-10 teams in Mark Schlabach's updated Way-Too-Early Top 25. Not only that, but good luck in finding a more challenging nonconference swing in back-to-back weeks than on the road at No. 5 Penn State and then coming back home and tangling with No. 10 Oklahoma State. Each team has one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football -- Trace McSorley at Penn State and Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma State -- and the Nittany Lions will be especially motivated after losing to the Panthers a year ago.

2. Florida Gators

Sept. 2: vs. Michigan in Arlington, Texas
Sept. 9: Northern Colorado
Nov. 18: UAB
Nov. 25: Florida State

The Gators have in-state rival Florida State to deal with every year, an annual affair against a perennial top opponent that caps the regular season. The Seminoles should be as talented as they've been under Jimbo Fisher next season and check in at No. 2 in the latest Way-Too-Early Top 25. But what really makes this a killer nonconference slate for the Gators is the opener against No. 14 Michigan in the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium. It will mark the first time since 1991 that the Gators have left the state of Florida to play a nonconference game. The last time wasn't a pleasant memory. They lost 38-21 to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

3. Florida State Seminoles

Sept. 2: vs. Alabama in Atlanta
Sept. 9: Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 18: Delaware State
Nov. 25: at Florida

Give the Seminoles their props. They've never been squeamish when it comes to playing a challenging nonconference schedule. A year ago, they opened against Ole Miss in Orlando, also played at South Florida and closed the regular season as they do every year against Florida. In 2017, they open the season against No. 1 Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, a heavyweight matchup that could serve as a precursor to a clash we could see again later in the year in the College Football Playoff. There's also a season-ending trip to face Florida. Think the Gators are aware that the Seminoles last lost in the Swamp in 2009?

4. Texas Longhorns

Sept. 2: Maryland
Sept. 9: San Jose State
Sept. 16: at USC

Tom Herman's "reward" in his first season as Texas' coach is a trip to the West Coast to face No. 3 USC in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That game is the third week of the season, and the Longhorns can always hope they get the version of the Trojans we saw last September and not the version we saw the second half of the season. The opener against Maryland also won't be easy, especially with the Terrapins riding the kind of recruiting momentum they haven't enjoyed in years.

5. USC Trojans

Sept. 2: Western Michigan
Sept. 16: Texas
Oct. 21: at Notre Dame

The Trojans hope to pick up right where they left off last season, and they had better bring their A-game to the opener against a Western Michigan club that won 13 games a year ago, played in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and returns several key players. Two weeks later, Texas comes to the L.A. Coliseum, and even though it will be Herman's first season in Austin, he inherits a roster that's plenty talented. We'll see how much Notre Dame bounces back in 2017, but it's never a picnic playing in South Bend.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

Sept. 2: Appalachian State
Sept. 9: at Notre Dame
Sept. 16: Samford
Nov. 25: at Georgia Tech

If the Dawgs are thinking about easing their way into the 2017 season, they might want to ask Tennessee about Appalachian State. The Vols were extremely fortunate to beat the Mountaineers in the opener a year ago. The second week features a trip to Notre Dame, and while the Irish were one of the biggest disappointments in college football last season, they won't be down two years in a row. And to end the season, there's bitter rival Georgia Tech, which has won two of the past three games in the series.

7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Sept. 4: vs. Tennessee
Sept. 9: Jacksonville State
Sept. 16: at UCF
Nov. 25: Georgia

The good news for the Yellow Jackets is that they have to leave the state of Georgia only once in their nonconference slate, and that's to face UCF. But they start the season against Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and then close the year at home against Georgia, a pair of SEC teams that need big seasons in 2017.

8. South Carolina Gamecocks

Sept. 2: vs. N.C. State in Charlotte, N.C.
Sept. 23: Louisiana Tech
Nov. 18: Wofford
Nov. 25: Clemson

The Gamecocks have fared well in Charlotte in season-opening games and get North Carolina State to open the 2017 season in the Belk College Kickoff Game. The Wolfpack finished last season strongly and will be looking for bigger things in Year No. 5 under Dave Doeren. A few weeks later in September, Louisiana Tech is one of those teams you dread having to play, especially right before a trip to Texas A&M, and the Gamecocks end the season against defending national champion and No. 6 Clemson.

9. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Sept. 2: Tulsa
Sept. 9: at South Alabama
Sept. 16: at Pittsburgh

The Cowboys' nonconference schedule is sneaky-difficult, and they could be in for a shootout in the very first game. While Tulsa did lose several key players on offense from a year ago, the Golden Hurricane won 10 games and finished tied for sixth nationally in scoring offense (42.5 points per game). The next two weeks, Oklahoma State hits the road. South Alabama isn't a big name, but it did win at Mississippi State last season. And as long as Pat Narduzzi is at Pitt, the Panthers are always going to be a tough out. They beat Clemson and Penn State last season.

10. Clemson Tigers

Sept. 2: Kent State
Sept. 9: Auburn
Nov. 18: The Citadel
Nov. 25: at South Carolina

The Auburn game on the Plains was a tight one a year ago, and the scene shifts to Death Valley in 2017. Ranked No. 11 in the Way-Too-Early Top 25, Auburn should have even more firepower on offense with quarterback newcomer Jarrett Stidham and will once again be a load on defense. South Carolina also has upgraded its talent level under Will Muschamp, making that trip to face the rival Gamecocks even more dangerous for the Tigers, who've lost three of their past four games in Columbia.