College Football's Toughest Schedules In 2023

July 14, 2023 by Staff

With the 2023 college football season fast approaching, we begin to dive inside some of the numbers to try to draw an accurate conclusion as to which teams will have to navigate the toughest schedules.

There are two basic ways to assess strength of schedule. The least accurate method is to tally the wins from the previous season of each team's 2023 opponents. Using that method, and dismissing any FCS opponents, the toughest schedule award goes to Houston. The slightly more accurate comparison is to use the average power rating of each team on the current schedule, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings at Right now, the preliminary data drops Houston's SOS rank to 17..

2023 is not expected to be a banner year for the Cougars to say the least. The over/under win total wager play is at 4.5. The likelihood of Houston ending its season with a bowl appearance is faint after reaching the postseason in 9 of the last 10 years.

Regardless of that disparity in those two strength of schedule metrics, we are going to do a deep dive into Houston's 2023 slate. There are a couple of compelling reasons to do so. Only 16 of the 133 FBS teams will not play a single FCS opponent in 2023 and the Cougars are one of those teams. Additionally, Houston is one of four new members to the Big 12 in 2023, joining fellow former American Conference members Cincinnati and UCF. Former independent BYU also joins the Big 12 to give the league 14 teams this season before losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC in 2024.

The 12 opponents on Houston's 2023 slate had a total of 96 wins last season, or an average of 8 wins per team. It's a rude welcoming to the Big 12.

Houston, which was 8-5 a year ago and won its bowl game, begins with 5 straight opponents from the state of Texas. Over-all, the Cougars will face 7 Lone Star State programs.

The first is no slouch, even though it is a Group of Five school. The Cougars open at home as a scant 1.5-point favorite against a UTSA Roadrunners squad that was 11-3 a year ago and crushed North Texas in the CUSA Championship game.

After a seemingly easy game at Rice (5-8), Houston hosts TCU (13-2), the national championship runner-up.

Week 4 brings new FBS member Sam Houston to town as that school joins Jacksonville State in moving up from the FCS ranks. This should be an easy win, even though the Bearkats are just two-and-half seasons removed from capturing the FCS Championship. Sam Houston won the title in the strange season of Covid that moved the competition to the Spring of 2021. Last year, the program played just 9 games and went 5-4, including a 31-0 loss in the opener at Texas A&M.

A trip to what is expected to be a dangerous Texas Tech team falls on the schedule in week 5 and it will mark the first time Houston will play outside of its hometown. The Red Raiders were 8-5 a year ago, ending the season on a 4-game winning streak. This will be the second straight year that the teams will play in Lubbock after Texas Tech prevailed 33-30 in overtime in week 2. The Red Raiders have taken 5 in-a-row in the series since 2010, and 10 of the last 11 dating back to 1991. Prior to that, Houston dominated the series for 40 years, going 16-5-1.

After a bye week, Houston hosts Dana Holgersen's old team, the West Virginia Mountaineers (5-7). Holgersen's successor in Morgantown, Neal Brown, is just 22-25 as the school has won either 5 or 6 games in each of his 4 seasons. It's expected to get worse for WVU in 2023.

Game 7 for Houston brings the state's big dog to TDECU Stadium. Texas was a somewhat disappoint 8-5 a year ago in Steve Sarkisian's second season, but the Big 12 preseason poll, released just last week, had 41 of 67 voters picking the Longhorns to win the conference title over the 2022 champs, Kansas State. By the way, that same poll has Houston at No. 12 -- that's third from the bottom.

Speaking of Kansas State, the Wildcats will entertain Houston in game 8, followed by a short trip to Baylor in week 9. Kansas State is coming off a 10-4 campaign while the Bears look to improve upon a 6-7 outing that ended with 4 consecutive losses.

Finally, games 10 and 12 give Houston a pair of familiar foes when the Cougars host their former American Conference rival Cincinnati on November 11, and close at UCF on November 25. In between, Houston will entertain Oklahoma State.

Cincinnati represents the second Bearcat team on the schedule, though this one is spelled the conventional way.  While little is expected of Houston in 20223, even less is expected from Cincinnati. Luke Fickell, who propelled the school to the Final Four playoff in 2021, has left for Wisconsin while Scott Satterfield comes over from Louisville. Cincinnati was 9-4 last year, while Oklahoma State slipped to 7-6.

UCF (9-5) is the one new member that could challenge some of the Big 12 kingpins this seasons. The Knights landed at No. 8 in the preseason conference vote, and only slightly behind the Cowboys.

You may have already noticed that Houston does not have Oklahoma on the slate. Also missing are BYU, Kansas, and Iowa State.

2023 Houston Cougars Football schedule

Last season's record in parenthesis, BOLD denotes a home game, an asterisk (*-) denotes a conference game.
9/2 – UTSA (11-3)
9/9 – at Rice (5-8)
9/16 – TCU (13-2)
9/23 – Sam Houston (5-4)
9/30 – at Texas Tech (8-5)
10/7 – OFF
10/12 – West Virginia (5-7)
10/21 – Texas (8-5)
10/28 – at Kansas State (10-4)
11/4 – at Baylor (6-7)
11/11 – Cincinnati (9-4)
11/18 – Oklahoma State (7-6)
11/25 – at UCF (9-5)

Top 10 Toughest Schedules
(By total wins of 2023 opponents in 2022, excluding FCS)

1. Houston, 96
2. West Virginia, 94
t2. Missouri, 94
4. South Carolina, 93
5. Texas, 92
t5. Florida, 92
7. Iowa State, 91
8. Texas Tech, 90
9. Minnesota, 89
t9. Michigan, 89

Seven schools make the Top Ten list above, as well as the list below. Those are West Virginia, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Florida, Iowa State, and Minnesota.

Top 10 Toughest Schedules
(By Average Power Rating of 2023 Opponents)

1. Purdue, 76.81
2. Minnesota, 76.67
3. Indiana, 75.96
4. West Virginia, 75.78
5. Iowa State, 75.73
6. Missouri, 75.38
7. Texas, 75.15
8. South Carolina, 75.14
9. Florida, 74.88
10. Ohio State, 74.40

The top three teams on this chart are all in the B1G and all must face both Michigan and Ohio State. Those were the top two teams in the conference a year ago.

Purdue and Indiana both host the Buckeyes and visits the Wolverines. The Golden Gophers host Michigan and visit Ohio State. The Hoosiers open the season at home against Ohio State.

West Virginia is No. 4 because the slate features the Horned Frogs at home in Big 12 play, and adds non-conference games against Penn State (away) and Pitt (home).

The No. 5 team on this list, Iowa State, hosts TCU and visits Kansas State, the top two teams in the Big 12 in 2022.

Missouri has a non-conference home game with Kansas State, and an SEC line-up that features LSU at home and Georgia on the road.

Texas has a a trip to Alabama in week 2, and back-to-back Big 12 games against Kansas State (home) and TCU (away) in the first two weeks of November.

South Carolina has to visit both Georgia and Tennessee in SEC divisional games and, of courses, wraps up the year against rival Clemson from the ACC at home.

Florida opens at Utah, hosts Tennessee in week 3, and plays its annual grudge match against Georgia in Jacksonville at the end of October. The Gators also visit LSU and host Florida State.

Ohio State naturally faces Penn State (home) and Michigan (road), and also visits Notre Dame.