Byrne: Arizona to add difficulty to football schedule

Rich Rodriguez has gone 6-0 in a mostly soft non-conference schedule at Arizona, the exception being No. 18 Oklahoma State in 2012.

Arizona Wildcats athletic director Greg Byrne is "going to gear up" the football team’s non-conference schedule now that coach Rich Rodriguez is settling in for his third season.

Byrne made the comment while appearing in-studio at Fox Sports 910 in Phoenix on Thursday.

Arizona doesn’t have a non-conference opponent from another Big 5 conference — ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC, in addition to the Pac-12 — on its schedule until 2022, when the Cats begin a two-game series against Mississippi State.

Arizona has one of the softest non-conference schedules in the Pac-12 this season, opening at home vs. UNLV, followed by a trip to Texas-San Antonio and a home game against Nevada.

"I told Coach Rodriguez when we hired him that we were going to give him a few years to get going," Byrne said. "We felt that was needed. That is why you have seen some of the non-conference games early on that you have. But we’re going to gear that up a little bit going forward."

The series against the SEC’s Mississippi State was announced early last month, and Byrne pointed to a three-game contract against BYU as being against a team of major-conference quality. Arizona will play BYU in Glendale in 2016, in Tucson in 2018 and in Provo, Utah, in 2020.

"We’re talking to about three other Big 5 conference schools to add to the schedule," Byrne said.

Going forward, Arizona’s scheduling philosophy is moving toward what it was through much of the Dick Tomey years — one major conference school, a "mid-major" school and then a lower-division school, such as NAU from the Football Championship Subdivision.

"We like playing Northern Arizona," Byrne said. "It’s good for the state."

Arizona also recently announced a home-and-home series, in 2021 and 2022, against San Diego State of the Mountain West.

Arizona State, by comparison, has been more aggressive. The Sun Devils are finishing up a two-game series against Notre Dame this season, have Texas A&M scheduled for 2015 and have two-game contracts with Texas Tech, Michigan State, BYU and LSU in succession, starting in 2016.

Here are Arizona’s future non-conference schedules:

2014: UNLV, at Texas-San Antonio, Nevada

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2015: Texas-San Antonio, at Nevada

2016: BYU (Glendale), Grambling State

2017: Houston, at UTEP

2018: BYU, at Houston, UTEP

2019: at Hawaii

2020: Hawaii, at BYU

2021: San Diego State

2022: at San Diego State, Mississippi State

2023: at Mississippi State