Even if only entering its fourth year of existence, the early stages of the College Football Playoff era has hammered home one fact: strength of schedule matters.
Teams can’t necessarily control their own conference slate – it may be a down year in a given league, for example, and the increase in teams across the Power Five landscape means a playoff contender might miss one or two of the strongest opponents in its league during the regular season.
But the non-conference slate? While games scheduled years in advance might not look as appealing when kickoff rolls around, it’s in this area that a title contender can impress the selection committee by matching wits with a premier opponent.
Last week’s top 10 list glanced at the toughest out-of-conference slates during the 2017 season. One or more of those teams might reap the benefits when the committee convenes for the debut rankings on Halloween.
On the other hand, others went with an easier route. This week’s list takes a look at those on the opposite end of the spectrum: Which teams from the Power Five ranks will face the easiest non-conference schedule this fall?
► Schedule: at Rutgers (9/1), vs. Montana (9/9), vs. Fresno State (9/16)
This non-conference slate will hurt and not help Washington if push comes to shove in early December – if the Huskies are compared to a similar team with a better out-of-conference strength of schedule, for example.
► Schedule: vs. Colorado State in Denver (9/1), vs. Texas State (9/9), vs. Northern Colorado (9/16)
Colorado State won’t be an easy one, but Colorado’s non-conference schedule of three beatable teams won’t tell us anything about the Buffaloes’ ability to defend last season’s Pac-12 South Division title.
► Schedule: vs. Southeast Missouri State (9/2), vs. Central Michigan (9/9), at Ohio (9/16)
Maybe things are a little relative. Kansas might not be better than Central Michigan and Ohio, in other words. This is still a flimsy schedule for a Power Five team.
► Schedule: vs. Northern Arizona (9/2), vs. Houston (9/9), at Texas-El Paso (9/15)
Houston is set to take a step back, even if the Cougars remain a contender in the American. NAU and UTEP, meanwhile, are snooze-worthy matchups to kill time and pad win total before the Wildcats begin Pac-12 play.
► Schedule: vs. Liberty (9/2), vs. Texas-San Antonio (9/9), at Duke (9/16)
It is Baylor, after all. The only commendable part of the Bears’ three non-league games is that they play at Duke. It’s a small victory. But this will be good for Baylor’s win total.
► Schedule: vs. Missouri State (9/2), vs. Purdue (9/16), vs. Idaho (10/21), at Connecticut (10/28)
This will help Missouri rebound in the win column after finishing last in the SEC East Division in 2016. But for the Tigers, any national recognition – if it comes at all – will have to be gained via wins in league play.
► Schedule: vs. South Alabama (9/2), vs. Tennessee-Martin (9/9), at California (9/16), vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (11/11)
The Rebels’ road trip to Berkeley is one of those games that looks far better on paper than it will in person. (And it doesn’t look that good, honestly.) The remaining three non-SEC games are a joke.
► Schedule: vs. Florida A&M (8/31), vs. TCU (9/9), vs. New Mexico State (9/30), vs. Coastal Carolina (11/4)
The only thing saving Arkansas from a spot far higher on this list is that home game against a TCU team that should be vastly improved after an average 2016 season. But Florida A&M is in the FCS, Coastal Carolina is transitioning into the Sun Belt and New Mexico State is the longest-suffering program in the FBS.
9. Oregon State
► Schedule: at Colorado State (8/26), vs. Portland State (9/2), vs. Minnesota (9/9)
The Beavers’ opener marks the christening of Colorado State’s shiny new stadium, so who knows what might happen there. But Portland State’s a laugher and Minnesota will be one of the bottom three teams in the Big Ten.
10. Mississippi State
► Schedule: vs. Charleston Southern (9/2), at Louisiana Tech (9/9), vs. Brigham Young (10/14), vs. Massachusetts (11/4)
Two things. One, Louisiana Tech should be pretty good. Two, BYU is never an easy out. Still, Mississippi State’s non-conference schedule doesn’t feature one team from a Power Five league. That’s not fun.
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