College Football Nation: Schedule rank 061009
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.
Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:
1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami
The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.
2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia
Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.
3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada
The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.
4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette
No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.
5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling
Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.
6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State
The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons underDoug Martin.
7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi
The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.
8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.
9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico
Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.
10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida
The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.
11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army
Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.
12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech
The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.
This is schedule week here at ESPN.com, and I'm doing my part with the plethora of teams I cover. However, unlike my blogger brethren, I'm not going to rank my 54 team's nonconference schedules from toughest to easiest. That would be ridiculous. Instead, I'm going to provide my top 10 toughest nonconference schedules below and my top 10 easiest nonconference schedules in a later post.
Ranking these teams is so different than ranking teams in automatic qualifying conferences. Several of the teams on the list below have to play outrageously tough nonconference schedules, mostly against BCS teams on the road, simply to pay for their programs. Not an enviable position and not a favorable road to that elusive BCS berth.
1. Florida International: FIU is one of my surprise teams this season, but its nonconference schedule won't do much to build confidence. It has games at Alabama, at Rutgers and at Florida and FIU is 0-14 in its history against BCS teams. The Golden Panthers only nonconference respite is against Toledo, a team they beat 35-16 last season.
2. East Carolina: The Pirates aren't afraid to play BCS teams in their area and they've struck up some good rivalries with teams in North Carolina and the Virginias. The Pirates open the season against a tough Appalachian State team before playing at West Virginia and North Carolina. The kicker is the game against Virginia Tech right in the middle of the Conference USA schedule.
3. Central Michigan: This is one of those schools that has a tough road schedule because of the guaranteed money. The Chippewas travel to Arizona, Michigan State and Boston College, and quarterback Dan LeFevour has not defeated a BCS team as a starter (I know everyone loves when I point that out). The Chippewas' win against Indiana was with graduated senior Brian Brunner under center. CMU does get a break with Alcorn State.
4. Fresno State: Not a shocker that the Bulldogs are in the top 5 of this list. They consistently have tough nonconference schedules. Last season, the Bulldogs played three nonconference road games and swept them, including wins against Rutgers and UCLA. The Bulldogs travel to Wisconsin, Cincinnati, and have their first-ever nonconference game in December against Illinois.
5. Louisiana: The Ragin' Cajuns have a rare home game against a BCS team, unfortunately it's against Kansas State, a team many believe will be one of the best in the Big 12 Conference. The Ragin' Cajuns also have ridiculously tough road games against Nebraska and LSU, two of the toughest places in the country to play.
6. Louisiana-Monroe: Two years ago, the Warhawks pulled off a major upset against Alabama, and last year they lost by one to Arkansas. This year, the Warhawks start the season at Texas, but are 0-15 in road openers. But they could pull off upsets when they travel to Arizona State and Kentucky, two teams that are expected to be down this year.
7. Toledo: The Rockets' win at Michigan was one of the biggest upsets of the regular season last season, and this year, with a new head coach and several of last year's players returning, the Rockets could shock again. They open the season at Purdue, host Colorado, a game that was added late, and play a neutral site game against Ohio State. Colorado better beware: Toledo is 2-4 against current Big 12 teams, but both wins have come at home and in the past three years.
8. Miami (Ohio): The RedHawks were central in a scheduling snafu that affected 10 teams and left the RedHawks with a pretty tough nonconference schedule. They open with a neutral site game against Kentucky before travelling to Boise State. The RedHawks play two conference games before finishing their nonconference schedule against Cincinnati and Northwestern.
9. San Jose State: The Spartans might have the toughest two games to open the season based on last year's rankings since both USC and Utah played in BCS games. The Spartans also travel to Stanford and have to face a tough Cal Poly team that defeated San Diego State last season.
10. Houston: The Cougars' offense is going to be fun to watch against high-scoring offenses Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The Cowboys should be one of the top teams in the Big 12 this season while Tech is an unknown. The Cougars also must travel to Mississippi State, a winnable game, but still an SEC opponent.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
This is a ranking of the Pac-10 nonconference schedules from toughest to easiest.
Got to be honest, though: After switching these around for 30 minutes or so, I just threw them into the air.
Because just about every conference team plays at least one traditionally challenging foe, it's hard to differentiate.
Is it more difficult to play two mid-level BCS teams -- say Maryland and Minnesota (California) -- or one against a nationally ranked foe, say Georgia (Arizona State) or Iowa (Arizona)?
And what about the home-road variable? For example: Would you rather play at Ohio State (USC) or have LSU (Washington) come to town?
Anyway... away we go.
1. Oregon (at Boise State, Purdue, Utah): Boise State and Utah will be ranked in the preseason. Boise State never loses at home on the Smurf Turf. Purdue is a BCS foe. And there's the added element of Boise State and Utah being non-BCS, which puts further pressure on the Ducks.
2. USC (San Jose State, at Ohio State, at Notre Dame): Two road games against BCS foes, including the Buckeyes, likely a preseason top-10 team.
3. Washington (LSU, Idaho, at Notre Dame): It was really stupid for Huskies administrators to invite LSU to town, but... oh well. The upside is the nation's longest losing streak (14 games, then 15 after the Tigers pack up for Baton Rouge) ends against Idaho.
4. UCLA (San Diego State, at Tennessee, Kansas State): Tennessee and Kansas State are breaking in new coaches (or new-old, in K-State's case), but they are still legit BCS foes. And it's never easy to play in front of 110,000 orange-clad crazies.
5. Stanford (at Wake Forest, San Jose State, Notre Dame): This slate nips California's because San Jose State is FBS team. That visit to Wake should be particularly interesting -- it might define the Cardinal's season.
6. California (Maryland, Eastern Washington, at Minnesota): None of these teams figures to earn a preseason ranking, but Maryland and Minnesota will be good test for a Bears team with big goals. The Terrapins embarrassed Cal last year, while the Golden Gophers are breaking in a fancy new stadium.
7. Arizona (Central Michigan, Northern Arizona, at Iowa): While most will look at the visit to Iowa as a measuring stick game for the Wildcats -- and, perhaps, the Pac-10 -- I'd advise the Wildcats not to overlook a good Central Michigan team.
8. Arizona State (Idaho State, Louisiana-Monroe, at Georgia): The Sun Devils scheduled themselves a 2-0 start with at least a puncher's shot Between the Hedges.
9. Oregon State (Portland State, at UNLV, Cincinnati): Hardly easy. There's a road game and Cincinnati is the defending Big East champion. Still, the Beavers should get a rare fast start vs. this slate.
10. Washington State (Hawaii in Seattle, SMU, Notre Dame in San Antonio): This is a solid schedule for the Cougars, who could win two of these games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Now it's time to get more specific and look at the nonconference schedules for each Big Ten team. The Big Ten has taken a lot of heat for softening its nonleague slates, though other BCS conferences, namely the SEC, are also guilty of the practice.
Here's how they stack up, from toughest to easiest.
1. ILLINOIS -- vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Illinois State, at Cincinnati, Fresno State
It's not just the opponents that make the slate tough, but also unusual dates of the games. Illinois must finish with two tough nonleague foes in late November and early December, when a bowl berth likely will be on the line. The Illini have lost their last five games against Missouri in St. Louis.
2. PURDUE -- Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame
First-year head coach Danny Hope has his work cut out for him early on this fall. Oregon is the toughest nonconference road game for a Big Ten team this season, and Notre Dame has been pegged as a BCS bowl contender (jury's still out for me) and lit up the Boilermakers' defense last year in South Bend. Northern Illinois also could be a very tough game for Purdue.
3. MINNESOTA -- at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State
Arguably no Big Ten team has a tougher opening stretch than the Gophers. Sure, Syracuse is down, but Doug Marrone's first game and the possible debut of Greg Paulus at quarterback should get the Carrier Dome cranked. Air Force and especially Cal provide major tests at the new TCF Bank stadium.
4. OHIO STATE -- Navy, USC, vs. Toledo (at Cleveland), New Mexico State
The USC factor simply can't be overlooked on what is otherwise a soft slate for the Buckeyes. Ohio State's matchup with USC once again serves as the league's premier nonconference matchup and a chance for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten to gain some redemption. Navy is never an easy game, especially in the opener.
5. IOWA -- Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas StateThe Hawkeyes are consistently solid in scheduling, and this slate shouldn't generate too many complaints. If you're going to play an FCS team, Northern Iowa is a darn good one. Mike Stoops returns to Iowa City with an Arizona team coming off of a bowl victory in 2008. Iowa shouldn't have much trouble going 4-0 -- rival Iowa State remains a disaster -- but the competition isn't terrible.
6. MICHIGAN STATE -- Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan
The Spartans' slate isn't as challenging as it was last season, but a trip to what should be an improved Notre Dame team could be tough. Michigan State has won three straight against the Irish, who crumbled on offense last year in East Lansing. Two tough MAC opponents with talented quarterbacks (Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour) should test Michigan State's defense.
7. INDIANA -- Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia
The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to play two true nonconference road games, which stands for something even though both Akron and Virginia have struggled recently. Western Michigan also provides a big test in Week 2 for a Hoosiers defense hoping to turn a corner behind Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton and Matt Mayberry.
8. MICHIGAN -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State
Michigan doesn't deserve to be ranked this high, but the Wolverines' schedule looks like a gauntlet compared to the sorry slates belonging to some other Big Ten teams. Western Michigan presents a sizable challenge in the opener, as Greg Robinson's defense faces off against Hiller. A transitioning Michigan offense might need to keep pace on the scoreboard. Notre Dame also will test the Wolverines with its high-powered passing attack.
9. WISCONSIN -- Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii
Soft scheduling has been a hot topic in Badger Nation, and this year's rundown won't do much to quench the fire. Northern Illinois and Fresno State are decent teams, but the lack of a BCS opponent drags down the quality of the schedule. Hawaii has been tough to beat at home in recent years, and Wisconsin could be fighting for bowl position when it heads to Oahu.
10. NORTHWESTERN -- Towson, Eastern Michigan, at Syracuse, Miami (Ohio)
Northwestern is trying to make bowl games on a more consistent basis, and another visit to Cupcake City should help. All four of these teams have new head coaches, and the lone "test," a trip to Syracuse, certainly isn't what it used to be. The watered-down slate certainly won't remedy Northwestern's attendance problems, and the school should (and will) take a more aggressive approach to scheduling in the future.
11. PENN STATE -- Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois
This is the hard truth for Penn State: A desire to fill Beaver Stadium eight times could very well keep the Nittany Lions out of the national title game. We won't get a true read on Penn State until Iowa visits Happy Valley on Sept. 26, and anything less than an undefeated season will prevent the Lions from reaching the BCS championship in Pasadena. Sure, Penn State had no idea Syracuse would be this bad, but the absence of a road game against a decent opponent could really hurt the national profile of the team and its individual stars this fall.
It's schedule week here on ESPN.com. We're examining how teams schedule and why, what some of the best potential matchups would be and more.
You knew we couldn't get through this week without some rankings. And so it's time to rate the Big East's nonconference schedules, which is of course the only part of the slate that the schools control.
How do we rank schedules when we don't yet know how good any team will be? I'm going to give heavy weight to the teams with the most potential top-line opponents; in other words, teams that went to decent or major bowl games last season, figure to be ranked in the Top 25 this preseason or look much improved from 2008. Similarly, teams will get docked in these rankings for the number of bottom-tier opponents on their schedule, meaning FCS schools and low-level conference foes.
Away we go ...
1. Syracuse: The Orange get the top spot by virtue of their opening three games: Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern. All three went to bowl games last year and should at least contend for Top 25 status this season. Another nonconference opponent, Akron, won in the Carrier Dome a year ago.
2. Connecticut: This schedule is more difficult than it might appear on first glance. The Huskies play a potential Top 15-to-20 team in North Carolina team at home and have to travel to both Notre Dame and Baylor, which could be two of the most improved teams in America. Throw in another road game in the opener against Ohio, and UConn has some work to do away from East Hartford this year.
3. Pittsburgh: The Panthers' schedule isn't full of glitz but has plenty of solid teams. A road game looms at NC State, which caught fire at the end of last year and could easily be a Top 25 club this season. The Panthers also play Navy and Notre Dame at home and travel to defending MAC champion Buffalo.
T-4. Cincinnati: The Bearcats will face stiff challenges early and late, traveling all the way across the country to play Sun Bowl winner Oregon State on the Beavers' turf and welcoming an improved Illinois to Nippert Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend. There's also a home game against always-tough Fresno State, though Miami of Ohio and Southeast Missouri State shouldn't pose many problems.
T-4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers' schedule reminds me a lot of Cincinnati's. They don't necessarily play any elite teams, but they face a formidable obstacle on unfriendly turf (at Auburn) and get a possible sleeper at home (Colorado), plus an always dangerous mid-major in East Carolina. Like Cincinnati, they have a very winnable traditional rivalry game with Marshall and an FCS team in Liberty. Too close to differentiate these schedules.
6. South Florida: The Bulls' schedule is the hardest to rank. They have two of the tougher games in the league with in-state rivals Florida State and Miami, both of which should be Top 25-caliber bowl teams this year. But the rest of the schedule is wimpy: Wofford, Western Kentucky and Charleston Southern. I give South Florida a little understanding since they had a game swiped from them at the last minute by Rutgers, although that opponent (Florida International) doesn't strike fear in many hearts, either.
7. Louisville: The Cardinals have one of the hardest road tests of any Big East school this year, as they travel to defending Sugar Bowl champion Utah. Rivalry games against Kentucky and a sneakily-good Southern Miss won't be easy, either. But the rest of the slate -- Indiana State and Arkansas State -- is not ambitious enough.
8. Rutgers: There's not much more than can be said about the Scarlet Knights' awful schedule, which includes two FCS teams, Florida International and Army, in addition to Maryland. There's no question that it's the worst in the Big East -- and maybe all of the BCS conferences.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Who in the ACC is afraid to schedule the big boys? Who's willing to play some prime-time nonconference games? Today ESPN.com is examining just how tough this year's nonconference schedules are.
Factoring in ranked opponents and road trips, here's how the ACC ranks, from toughest nonconference schedule to the easiest:
1. Virginia Tech: You won't find a "Sisters of the Poor" on this list. It's the only school in the conference that doesn't have an FCS team on its schedule. The only breather is Marshall, and the Hokies will need it, as that game is sandwiched between Alabama and Nebraska. A road trip to East Carolina on Nov. 5 could be a trap game.
2. Florida State: Road trips to BYU and defending national champion Florida earned the Noles this spot. Jacksonville State is the only warm-up they've got, and it ends the only back-to-back home game stretch on the schedule. FSU will return from BYU to host South Florida on Sept. 26.
3. Miami: There's nothing like starting off October against Oklahoma, the runner up for the national title featuring a Heisman Trophy winner. Add a bus tour through the state of Florida (Florida A&M, at Central Florida, at South Florida), and you've got the potential for a Top 25 ranking or disaster.
4. Georgia Tech: It's a good thing they've got Jax State as a warm-up, because the Yellow Jackets have three SEC schools, including the usual season finale against rival Georgia. Road trips to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt bookend the October schedule.
5. Maryland: Starting off the season with a 10 p.m. ET kickoff at Cal is not going to be easy. The Golden Bears should be a top 20-team, but the Terps are in good shape with three straight home games after that (James Madison, Middle Tennessee and Rutgers), but we all know what happened against Middle Tennessee last year, and Rutgers has become an interesting opponent for the Terps.
6. Clemson: Unless the Tigers are playing Coastal Carolina's baseball team, this schedule is rather soft. They've got Middle Tennessee at home, but at least the Tigers have what should be a ranked team in TCU and a trip to an SEC school in rival South Carolina.
7. Virginia: William & Mary isn't exactly USC, and that's a good thing for these in-transition Cavaliers. They'll have their hands full, though, with TCU -- a preseason Top-25 team -- and a road trip to Southern Miss. Indiana hasn't been a threatening opponent since ...
8. NC State: South Carolina and Pitt help compensate for back-to-back home games against Murray State and Gardner-Webb. Careful, though. That Gardner-Webb program can sneak up on you. Ask Georgia Tech.
9. Boston College: The Eagles only have one nonconference road game, and it's their only legit test outside of the ACC. Notre Dame should be much improved this year, and South Bend will be a difficult trip. Home games against Northeastern, Kent State and Central Michigan kept them in the lower half of this list.
10. Duke: The road trips to Army and what should be a Top-25 team in Kansas help legitimize a nonconference schedule that includes two FCS teams in Richmond and North Carolina Central. It's tough to ask more of Duke, though, when it's trying desperately to change a culture of losing. Baby steps.
11. Wake Forest: It's not exactly the kind of schedule that strikes fear into you, and it helps that the first three games are in Winston-Salem, but Baylor should be better than it was a year ago. Stanford, Elon and Navy should be wins, but Navy got the edge in one of two games against the Deacs last year.
12. North Carolina: East Carolina has always been a pesky opponent for ACC teams, and a road trip to Connecticut will provide a legitimate nonconference test, but The Citadel and Georgia Southern? Good opportunities to get the other Paulus some work. No ranked teams, two FCS schools and one road trip against a Big East school earned UNC the last spot.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Who in the SEC lined up the cupcakes for this coming season?
Truthfully, there are always a few on every nonconference schedule, but one SEC team in particular should be ashamed. Here's a look at how the nonconference schedules rank in 2009 from toughest to easiest:
1. Georgia: Remember when the criticism of the Bulldogs was that they didn't play anybody outside the SEC? Well, they open the 2009 season at Oklahoma State and end the season against Georgia Tech on the road, two top 15-caliber teams. Arizona State also comes to Athens this season. Whew! Tennessee Tech should provide the only breather.
2. South Carolina: The Gamecocks face three teams that went to bowls a year ago, including NC State on the road to open the season in a Thursday night game. Florida Atlantic and South Carolina visit Columbia. Having that Clemson game on the tail end of a grueling SEC slate is also anything but ideal.
3. Alabama: Granted, there are three sure wins on Alabama's nonconference schedule, but the Crimson Tide make up for games against FIU, North Texas and Chattanooga by playing a top 10 team (Virginia Tech) at a neutral site to open the season. The Hokies will be one of the best defensive clubs in the country.
4. Mississippi State: It's not that Mississippi State's nonconference schedule is dotted with great teams, but the Bulldogs face three very losable games after the home opener against Jackson State. They get Georgia Tech and Houston at home, two bowl teams from a year ago, and have to play at Middle Tennessee, one of those nothing-to-gain, everything-to-lose contests.
5. Florida: The next time the Gators leave the state of Florida to play a tough nonconference game will be the first time. They get a little bit of a pass, though, because they face Florida State every year. The Seminoles have to come to Gainesville in 2009, as does a Troy team that should be even better than the one that almost knocked off LSU last season. Charleston Southern and FIU also visit the Swamp this season.
6. Auburn: While the Tigers don't have to leave the comfy confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium to play a single nonconference game in 2009, West Virginia and Ball State are hardly pushovers. Of course, it helps that WVU's Pat White has finally moved on. The Tigers also will host Louisiana Tech and Furman.
7. Vanderbilt: It certainly isn't the best year to be playing Georgia Tech, which brings its triple-option attack to Nashville on Oct. 31 -- a week before Vanderbilt has to travel to Florida. The Commodores also have to go on the road to face Army and Rice. Good thing Western Carolina is the home opener.
8. Arkansas: The Razorbacks' SEC schedule is so difficult that anything else would pale in comparison. But their nonconference schedule isn't what you would call easy. They play Texas A&M in the Cowboys' new stadium and face a very capable Troy team that will be thinking upset come Nov. 14. Missouri State and Eastern Michigan round out the schedule.
9. LSU: At first glance, the trip to Washington looks ominous enough, but then you remember that the Huskies went 0-12 last season. There's also a "trip" to Tulane. Throw in home games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech, and it's a nonconference schedule that has 4-0 written all over it.
10. Tennessee: The Vols have always been pretty good about playing one big intersectional game a year, and UCLA comes to town next fall. But other than the Bruins, who will have to make the cross-country trip, there's not much to Tennessee's nonconference schedule (Western Kentucky, Ohio and Memphis) in 2009.
11. Kentucky: Louisville's program isn't what it used to be, which hurts Kentucky when it comes to schedule strength. All in all, this nonconference schedule, which also includes a trip to Miami (Ohio) and home games against Louisiana-Monroe and Eastern Kentucky, looks a lot like the one last season, one that features four built-in wins.
12. Ole Miss: For a team that's supposed to be loaded, the Rebels have a ridiculously cushy nonconference schedule (at Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, UAB and Northern Arizona). They're the only team in the league that will play two FCS schools in 2009. That should never happen in the SEC.