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Links: Nonconference schedules and Buffs rising

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The first thing to know about this first link ... there’s a puppy with a football! There’s football stuff too, if you’re into that kind of stuff. But seriously ... a puppy ... with a football!

OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman analyzed and broke down the 10 softest nonconference schedules in 2015, and a pair of Pac-12 teams made the list.

Colorado checked in as having the fourth softest non-conference schedule in the country. Here’s Feldman’s take on the Buffs:

"Due to a game at Hawaii, the Buffs are the rare Pac-12 team with four non-conference games. Three are very, very winnable. UH is 8-29 the past three seasons. UMass was 3-9 last season. The FCS opponent is a dreadful one: Nicholls State was just 0-12 and is 6-40 the past four years. The most formidable game is against arch-rival CSU, which was 10-3 last season."

Also in the top 10 is Washington State, which tied (via Feldman’s metrics) as having the eighth softest nonconference slate.

"The opener is against a Portland State squad that has been at the bottom or close to it the past few seasons in the FCS's Big Sky. Then, Mike Leach's team travels across the country to face a Rutgers team that went 8-5 in 2014. The Cougars' other non-conference game is against mediocre Wyoming (13 wins the past three seasons)."

Now, if this were Oregon, Stanford, USC (or pretty much anyone else in the South) etc..., there would be obvious criticism because those are teams vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, for these teams, I have no real issue.

The Buffs are looking to get to a bowl game for the first time since their 30-24 loss to Alabama in the Independence Bowl in 2007. And though they have to get to seven wins this season (the Hawaii rule), this is a program that could use a little extra work. When you look at the nonconference slate, there’s optimism that the Buffs could start the season 4-0. Remember, it was Year 3 under Mike MacIntyre that San Jose State made its biggest jump while gaining a measure of national relevance.

For more on the Buffs, check out Holly Anderson’s piece from Grantland, which examines the team MacIntyre inherited and its chances of turning things around in 2015.

Writes Anderson:

"A 10-win, third-year MacIntyre team does not appear on the horizon, but bowl eligibility is back within reach for Colorado, and that’s not insignificant. And if you’re familiar at all with MacIntyre’s work, this is about the time you’ll want to start paying attention."

And for a final link, Athlon Sports released its annual off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush article where Pac-12 coaches talk anonymously about each other. All 12 schools are represented. No one really dishes any dirt, so don’t click expecting to find much mud-slinging. But there’s some good general analysis and it’s always fun to hear what coaches think about other programs.

By the way, did I mention in that first link there is a puppy with a football?