College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (2024)

The nation's most brutal schedules could define the College Football Playoff race.

Brad Crawford

Schedule favorability is supremely important across college football when chasing a national title. Several preseason contenders across the SEC, Big Ten and other leagues know conquering their toughest three-game stretch this season will determine placement amongst the rest.

In the expanded College Football Playoff era, single losses do not detonate a season, but a series of setbacks undoubtedly tanks conference championship hopes and could ultimately sway the selection committee elsewhere. Where open dates fall is vital to success and facing an elite team at home instead of traveling to a hostile environment is advantageous.

Navigating a treacherous slate proves an ability to hang with the nation's best and in turn, puts respective high-end finishers in the playoff conversation. Coaches often say taking every week of the season game by game is the only way to not get caught looking ahead or worse — allow a loss to result in another.

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Here are the nation's toughest three-game stretches, ranked in terms of difficulty:

10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (2)

Toughest three-game stretch:Miami, NC State, at Georgia

The only ACC inclusion here, Georgia Tech plays three top-20 teams to end the season according to 247Sports top-25 rankings. This includesa pair of pivotal league opponents vying for the top spot in the standings. Remember last season's win over the Hurricanes featuring Mario Cristobal's late-game clock debacle? Miami hasn't forgotten. The Yellow Jackets will be hosting NC State for the first time since 2019 the following week.

9. Penn State Nittany Lions

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (3)

Toughest three-game stretch: at USC, at Wisconsin, Ohio State

The Big Ten did the Nittany Lions no favors here with a long flight to Los Angeles, then a trip to Camp Randall Stadium. The silver lining is an open date between those matchups. And if Penn State is still in control of its own playoff destiny at the midseason point after those two important contests, welcoming the Buckeyes to Happy Valley awaits on Nov. 2. Ohio State is the one program James Franklin struggled to tame during his tenure with his lone win over the Buckeyes coming in 2016.

8. Auburn Tigers

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (4)

Toughest three-game stretch: Oklahoma, at Georgia, at Missouri

Auburn's three-game stretch of Oklahoma, Georgia and Missouri determines if the Tigers surpass expectations or fall short in 2024. Auburn hasn't won in Athens since 2005 and rides a seven-game skid into this season's rivalry battle. Oklahoma's first SEC road test at Jordan-Hare is vital for both teams and the trip to Missouri for the Tigers could come against a playoff hopeful.

7. Alabama Crimson Tide

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (5)

Toughest three-game stretch: at Tennessee, Missouri, at LSU

Nothing's going to come easy for Kalen DeBoer and the Crimson Tide this season and a brutal schedule is partly to blame for the litany of detractors expecting Alabama to fall from the ranks of the elite. This team gets a chance to prove its worth throughout with matchups against Wisconsin and Georgia early, but the season-defining stretch features road games against Tennessee and LSU along with a tough showdown with Missouri in the middle.

6. Oklahoma Sooners

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (6)

Toughest three-game stretch: at Missouri, Alabama, at LSU

Judging by Oklahoma's schedule during its first season in the SEC, there's a chance the Sooners are college football's best 7-5 team with every loss coming against top-15 competition. That's the pessimistic projection, sure, but life is not going to be easy for Brent Venables early in his new league given the bevy of elite rosters his team will have to play. All three of these opponents — Missouri, Alabama and LSU — won at least 10 games, like the Sooners.

5. Mississippi State Bulldogs

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (7)

Toughest three-game stretch: at Texas, at Georgia, Texas A&M

For Jeff Lebby's sake, here's to hoping his new-look offense during his first season at Mississippi State is clicking by the time the Bulldogs play Texas on the road on Sept. 28. If that one's ugly, at least Mississippi State gets extra prep time for top-ranked Georgia. The Bulldogs' last win in Athens came in 1956. The most favorable matchup of this stretch is the final one — Texas A&M in Starkville in the middle of October. That's as close to a must-win game as they get for Lebby in terms of bowl eligibility in 2024.

4. Michigan State Spartans

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (8)

Toughest three-game stretch: Ohio State, at Oregon, Iowa

Jonathan Smith has hit work cut out for him in Year 1 at Michigan State facing one of the Big Ten's most arduous slates. After battling Ohio State to end September, the Spartans have a Friday night showdown at Oregon that will be an absolute zoo under the lights at Autzen Stadium. Then, the black and blue game against Iowa. And to make matters worse, the Spartans travel to Michigan after taking on the Hawkeyes at the end of this one. Gulp.

3. South Carolina Gameco*cks

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (9)

Toughest three-game stretch: Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Oklahoma

South Carolina's 2024 schedule is littered with potential landmines including games against LSU, Missouri and Clemson, but those opponents aren't even the ones included here. Coming out of an open week to close the first month of the campaign, the Gameco*cks host Ole Miss before road games against Alabama and Oklahoma. The Gameco*cks have one win all-time in Tuscaloosa and have never played the Sooners. Is there any chance Shane Beamer's crew can avoid going winless over this stretch?

2. UCLA Bruins

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (10)

Toughest three-game stretch: at LSU, Oregon, at Penn State

A pair of bucket-list road trips for UCLA fans to attend games at Tiger Stadium and Beaver Stadium, the Bruins get the opportunity to do that over a three-week span. We guarantee first-year coach Deshaun Foster isn't nearly as excited. Sandwiched between facing two of the most hostile environments in college football is a date in Los Angeles against the Ducks, who will be the highest-ranked of these three adversaries.

1. Florida Gators

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (11)

Toughest three-game stretch: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville), at Texas, LSU

Florida's schedule is treacherous. You could probably pick any combination of three games and it would land in this ranking, but for ultimate inclusion here, it has to be this trio against various SEC and playoff frontrunners. Ole Miss and Florida State are on the board after these matchups, so if the Gators are still breathing, Billy Napier's team will have even more to conquer.

College football's toughest three-game stretches in 2024, ranked (2024)
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