If it were college basketball season and Dick Vitale were here, he’d say it’s “Cupcake City, baby!” after looking at the weakest college football non-conference schedules. Who has the easiest slates in the nation? We take a closer look.
10. Southern Miss
Schedule: vs. Louisiana Tech (9/3), vs. SE Louisiana (9/17), at Virginia (9/24), vs. Navy (10/8)
Don’t strain yourself, Southern Miss. We know you have that tough Conference USA schedule (sarcasm!), but please provide yourself with more challenges than these non-conference opponents. Other than Navy, the Golden Eagles’ toughest non-conference road game is at Virginia, an ACC cellar dweller last season. Add in an FCS opponent (Southeastern Louisiana) and one from the WAC (Louisiana Tech) and this is a cakewalk.
Schedule: vs. UNLV (9/3), vs. Oregon State (9/10), vs. Northern Illinois (9/17), vs. South Dakota (9/24)
Hello, Russell Wilson, have you met FCS opponent South Dakota? If that’s too easy for you, try 2-11 UNLV. OK, we understand you want more of a challenge in your lone season in Madison. How ’bout Oregon State? The Beavers had five wins in 2010! All kidding aside, the Badgers should be a favorite for the Big Ten title with Wilson under center, no matter who they play. It looks they have an ever better chance thanks to a forgiving non-conference slate, in which the toughest team is Northern Illinois. Yes, the Huskies won 11 games, including all their conference contests – in the MAC.
8. Washington State
Schedule: vs. Idaho State (9/3), vs. UNLV (9/10), at San Diego State (9/17)
We understand that a .500 season would be cause for a parade through Pullman, WA, so the Cougars can take all the help they can get from an easy schedule. And yes, the new Pac-12 doesn’t offer many weeks offs, but Washington State really went easy on itself when filling out the non-conference slate for 2011. It did not schedule a team from a fellow BCS conference. Beside that, it penciled in FCS foe Idaho State, a mediocre UNLV squad and San Diego State, which has been on the upswing but loses coach Brady Hoke. The Cougars won just two games last year; they should be able to equal or top that in September.
Schedule: vs. Murray State (9/1), vs. FIU (9/9), at Kentucky (9/17), vs. Marshall (10/1), at North Carolina (10/8)
OK, the Cardinals scheduled an SEC opponent, Kentucky, but they almost were forced to do so. The two intra-state rivals have played every year since 1994. Even so, the ‘Cats aren’t exactly a heavyweight. Louisville filled out the rest of its schedule with home games against a Sun Belt opponent (FIU) and a sub-.500 Conference USA squad (Marshall). Oh yeah, and there’s Murray State. But this isn’t March Madness. The FCS Racers are
doormats a .500 team.
Schedule: vs. Ball State* (9/3), vs. Virginia (9/10), vs. South Carolina State (9/17), at North Texas (9/24) *Indianapolis
It looks like Kevin Wilson is trying to trick Indiana’s fanbase into thinking it’s watching a good team. It was reported this week that the Hoosiers will wear different uniforms in 2011 – outfits that make them look eerily similar to Oklahoma, Wilson’s old employer. Now, it looks like IU will try to feast on non-conference weaklings to pad its record. September home games against Virginia, Ball State and South Carolina State of the FCS level precede a “daunting” road trip to three-win North Texas. IU could be 4-0 at the end of September. Wanna bet they still miss a bowl game?
5. NC State
Schedule: vs. Liberty (9/3), vs. South Alabama (9/17), at Cincinnati (9/22), vs. Central Michigan (10/8)
What a way to break in new quarterback Mike Glennon. The Wolfpack will face two FCS teams, though South Alabama will be moving up to the Sun Belt Conference next year. But two FCS teams is … two FCS teams. That’s half of NC State’s out-of-conference slate. Central Michigan won three games last year and again will be rebuilding in 2011. Four-win Cincy has some talent and could sniff a bowl game but, if that’s your toughest non-conference game, you’re living easy.
4. Texas Tech
Schedule: vs. Texas State (9/3), at New Mexico (9/17), vs. Nevada (9/24)
The Big 12 is tough every year, but it looks like Texas Tech is treating it like the SEC. It packed September with FCS Texas State to open the campaign, one-win New Mexico and Nevada, which lost quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua. Looks like Tech’s questionable defense won’t have to strain itself at all during an opening month in which the Red Raiders also have a bye.
3. Colorado State
Schedule: vs. Northern Colorado (9/10), Colorado* (9/17), at Utah State (9/24), vs. San Jose State (10/1), at UTEP (10/22) *Denver
To be fair, a lot is up in the air for Colorado State heading into the fall. It has competitions at most every position. The least it could do was go easy on the schedule – and that it did. One-win San Jose State, Northern Colorado of the FCS and Utah State, which is rebuilding under Gary Andersen, makes it like a country club for CSU. Yes, Colorado is in the Pac-12, but it hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2005.
Schedule: vs. Montana (9/3), vs. Cincinnati (9/10), vs. Buffalo (10/1), vs. Middle Tennessee (11/5)
Not only did the Vols schedule four weaklings, they won’t even go on the road for any of their non-conference games. Good ol’ Rocky Top indeed. Buffalo barely scratched a league win in the MAC, and Middle Tennessee – mediocre in the Sun Belt – has no chance to win in Knoxville. Sure, Montana is a perennially tough team, but that’s in the FCS. Don’t expect the Grizzlies to win against an SEC opponent on the road. Cincinnati? Well we’ve already told you about them. What a vacation for the Vols.
1. Mississippi State
Schedule: at Memphis (9/1), vs. Louisiana Tech (9/24), at UAB (10/8), vs. Tennessee-Martin (11/5)
We know the SEC is the toughest conference in America but this is just absurd. The Bulldogs don’t face a single BCS team outside conference play and the combined record of their four non-conference opponents last season was 16-31. The only team over .500 (Tennessee-Martin) was an FCS program. Yes, two of the games are on the road but all that’s missing is a home-and-home series with the Little Sisters of the Poor. (Oops, we take that back, Sister Cecilia.)