Top 10 most brutal non-conference schedules in college football
JUN 24, 2014 10:45a ET
A hot topic in college football these days, especially with the arrival of the College Football Playoff, has been strength of schedule. A key component of that is the non-conference part that schools put together.
This week's Tuesday Top 10 subject: toughest non-conference slates among the Big Five conferences.
Since some teams play four non-conference games and some play only three, I used a point system to create an index.
My point system: 5 points for a Top 5 opponent; 4.5 for Top 12; 4 for Top 25; 3.5 for Top 40; 3 for Top 60; 2.5 for Top 80; 2 for Top 100; 1.5 for low FBS or good FCS; 1 for mediocre FCS.
Road games add .5, and neutral site games are worth an additional .25, although I factored in some cases that .25 might be a .50 if it's actually not much of a neutral crowd.
One note: To assign values to teams, I’m projecting how good I think they will be this season. For example, I give Florida State more credit for playing Florida, because I think the Gators will win 8-9 games this season as opposed to the four from last season.
Onto the Top 10 (average index score in parentheses).
1. West Virginia Mountaineers (3.67)
Dana Holgorsen's team should be much improved from last season. Given the fact that, outside of Kansas, the Big 12 is very competitive and the non-conference is rough, if the Mountaineers get to a bowl game, Holgorsen might merit some Big 12 Coach of the Year votes.
WVU has a brutal opener against Alabama in Atlanta. The one road game is against what should be an improved Maryland team with one of the best 1-2 WR combos in the country in Stefon Diggs and Levern Jacobs. The other game is against an FCS opponent, but it's against a Towson squad that just went 13-3, was top 5 in the FCS and beat UConn by 15 last year.
2. Texas Longhorns (3.50)
Charlie Strong's debut comes against a decent Conference USA team in North Texas, which went 9-4 last season. Things get even tougher when the Horns get a visit from a BYU team that bullied UT last year, 40-21.
3. USC Trojans (3.33)
The Trojans have been one of only three FBS programs (Notre Dame and UCLA) that hasn't scheduled an FCS opponent. This season's threesome (Fresno State, at Boston College and Notre Dame) is solid, having gone a combined 27-12 in 2013.
Granted, Fresno does have to replace star QB Derek Carr and some good WRs while BC has to replace Heisman finalist Andre Williams, but both teams still are far from cupcakes.
4. Florida State Seminoles (3.31)
People -- especially in SEC country -- like to knock the ACC, but you can't scoff at the Noles’ non-conference schedule. They face a good Oklahoma State team in the opener in Arlington, Texas and also Notre Dame and Florida, programs that each went to BCS bowls two seasons ago. (I'm a believer in the Gators as being ripe for a bounce-back season where they become a Top 25 team again.) The fourth opponent is FCS The Citadel.
5. Tennessee Volunteers (tie -- 3.13)
Less than a week later UT gets an Arkansas State program that has been very respectable no matter who has coached them in the past three years. The fourth game is against Tennessee-Chattanooga, which was 8-4 in the solid Southern conference in FCS last season.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels (tie -- 3.13)
7. Ohio State Buckeyes (tie -- 3.00)
The Buckeyes probably don't have a Top 15 team among their four non-conference opponents, but Navy (on the road), Va. Tech and Cincinnati are all respectable. The fourth game is against Kent State, which won just four games last season.
7. Clemson Tigers (tie -- 3.00)
Two severe tests (at Georgia and against South Carolina) bookend the schedule with two cupcakes (South Carolina State and Georgia State) in the middle. SCSU, from the MEAC, was 9-4 last season. Not bad. GSU, from the Sun Belt, was 0-12.
7. Northwestern Wildcats (tie -- 3.00)
Cal, the opening opponent, was putrid last season but figures to be much improved. NIU, which has won 35 games the in the past three seasons, is up next. The Huskies will miss QB Jordan Lynch but still should be one of the best teams in the MAC. Western Illinois is a mediocre MFVC team. The biggest test comes in mid-November at Notre Dame.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies (2.88)
Things begin mellow enough with FCS William & Mary, but then it gets nasty with a trip to Ohio State and then a game against a dangerous East Carolina team with one of the nation's top QBs (Shane Carden) and a very potent offense.
The fourth game is against a WMU team that went 1-11 last year.
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Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and Fox Sports 1. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.