After an abysmal 4-9 season, every game in 2018 will be considered tough for the BYU Cougars who look to get back to the postseason after their first year without a bowl game since 2004.
BYU's schedules as an independent are always top-heavy out of the gates, but in 2018 there are some rivalry games in the month of November with Boise State and Utah that give the slate a lot of intrigue throughout the entire season, which is a welcomed change in Provo.
But the change Cougar fans want to see the most is more wins. It will be tough to get back to that six-win threshold, but which games will be the toughest in 2018? Here's the ranking from easiest to the toughest.
12. Sept. 22 vs. McNeese State
The annual FCS opponent for BYU. The Cowboys were a good team last season posting a 9-2 record yet were somehow left out of the FCS playoffs.
11. Nov. 17 vs. New Mexico State
Doug Martin has done the unthinkable in Las Cruces by going to a bowl game and then winning that bowl. That won't be the norm for the Aggies though. Expect a big dip for New Mexico State football in 2018. This is the Cougars' third meeting with NMSU since becoming an independent in 2011, something the Aggies are embarking on this season. All of the teams' meetings have taken place in November.
10. Oct. 13 vs. Hawaii
Hawaii struggled last season against BYU's worst team the Cougars have fielded since World War II. Don't expect the Rainbow Warriors to find much more success in Provo, a place they have never won in program history. Keep an eye on wide receiver Dylan Collie in this game, Collie transferred from Hawaii to BYU as a graduate transfer.
9. Nov. 10 at UMass
The Minutemen pulled off their biggest win on the road in their history as an FBS Independent last year at BYU by shocking the Cougars on their senior day. UMass quarterback Andrew Ford's return makes this is a very tricky game for BYU towards the tail end of the season.
8. Oct. 5 vs. Utah State
The Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel went in favor of the Aggies last season after BYU committed seven turnovers. That win over BYU helped Matt Wells get off the hot seat in Logan. These two in-state programs have formed a nice series over the last 10 years.
7. Oct. 27 vs. Northern Illinois
The Huskies will have one of the best defenses BYU faces in 2018. How far has Jeff Grimes' new offensive attack progressed once the Cougars take on NIU? Anytime #MACtion makes its way to Provo, I can't complain.
6. Sept. 8 vs. Cal
Hard to get a clear read on what we can expect from Cal this season. The same could be said for BYU as well. Cal wide receiver Demetris Robertson might be the best receiver the Cougars go up against this season, but who is going to throw him the ball? This will be the first time Cal has made the trek to Provo since Kyle Boller was the quarterback for the Golden Bears in 1999.
5. Sept. 1 at Arizona
First games are always interesting and BYU vs. Arizona poses a lot of unknowns. What can we expect from Kevin Sumlin's first game as the Wildcats head coach? Who will start at quarterback for BYU? One thing we don't have questions about is that Arizona has one of the best signal-callers in the nation in Khalil Tate. Sumlin has said he won't force his offensive system on any individual. He will cater his offense to the talent he has. This will be a tough test for BYU's young defense out of the gates.
4. Nov. 3 at Boise State
BYU has never won on the blue turf. The Cougars have come up short all four times with three of those games resulting in one-point losses, most recently in 2016 where BYU lost 28-27. Boise State as usual looks the part of a Group of 5 favorite to make it to a New Year's Six bowl. The Broncos have BYU's number and it will be tough for the Cougars to find a win against a squad that will likely be nationally ranked.
3. Nov. 24 at Utah
The Holy War returns to the final week of the regular season. Utah has won seven in a row against BYU. Utah will have another talented defensive line and the Utes' secondary might be the best they've ever had since Kyle Whittingham became the head coach in 2005. It's possible we could see a pair of true freshman starting in this game at quarterback with BYU's Zach Wilson and Utah's Jack Tuttle.
2. Sept. 29 at Washington
Chris Petersen has built a juggernaut in Seattle. The Huskies are the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 and are a trendy pick to get back to the College Football Playoff. This BYU staff is familiar with many of the young prospects on Washington's roster as the two have went up against each other for recruits, so there is some familiarity. But this will be a very difficult proposition for BYU to try and come away with a victory.
1. Sept. 15 at Wisconsin
The Badgers rolled through BYU a season ago, waltzing to a 40-6 victory while Alex Hornibrook had a record-setting performance for completion percentage (94.7 percent). Wisconsin schematically and personnel-wise is a bad matchup for BYU. Add on top of that the long travel, and this is far and away the toughest game on BYU's schedule as the Badgers look poised for another run at a Big Ten title and possibly the College Football Playoff.
-- Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.