Top 10 toughest nonconference schedules
Updated: June 29, 2009, 4:55 PM ETBy Bruce Feldman
The previous top 10 list was devoted to the softest nonconference schedules in the country. Naturally, in this week's list, we look at the toughest nonconference skeds. And, as I explained last time, I'm using a formula in which I've assigned a value to each opponent based on a 10-point scale, with a 10 going for a team that I expect to be an elite, top-five-caliber team this year and with that game being in the powerhouse's home stadium. (It would be a 9 if that powerhouse is the road team, meaning home-field is worth one point.) I'm also averaging the points out since some teams have three nonleague opponents and some have five. 1. FIU (at Bama; at Rutgers; Toledo; at Florida) Quality point average: 7.25: Sun Belt schools often draw some brutal assignments, and the Golden Panthers got the worst of it. Truth is, it doesn't get any tougher than a trip to the Swamp, but a visit to Tuscaloosa won't be much easier. The softer games are a visit to Rutgers, where FIU coach Mario Cristobal gets to face his mentor Greg Schiano and a team that experts predict will win the Big East. The easiest matchup: a visit from a Toledo squad that some project to contend for the MAC West title. Although it should be noted that FIU did drill the Rockets last year up in Ohio. 2. Miami (Ohio) (Kentucky in Cincy; at Boise; Cincy; at NW) Quality point average: 7.13: The Redhawks are expected to be in the cellar of the MAC East, and the worst part should come out of conference, where they get to face four very solid programs. The opener seems to be the most winnable: against UK in Cincinnati. MU is a respectable 11-13-1 against SEC foes. (That is a surprising stat.) Then it travels to Boise, which could be a rout. The Redhawks' lone home game is against Cincinnati, which has beaten them by 62 points combined in their past two meetings. 3. USC (San Jose State; at OSU; at ND) Quality point average: 7: A lot of folks will scoff at the Spartans as an opener, but Dick Tomey is an outstanding coach, and his team has won 20 games in the past three seasons. They're not awful. And they're not an FCS team. Then USC visits Ohio State, which is 19-2 the past three seasons at home. And in mid-October, the Trojans visit South Bend. USC has dominated the ND series since Pete Carroll arrived, but the Irish should be at least formidable this season. 4. Florida State (Jax. St; at BYU, USF and at UF) Quality point average: 6.75: It's always hard to factor in the worth of playing the FCS schools. For what it's worth, the Gamecocks were 8-3, so at least they're a tough FCS program. The rest of the way, the Noles have some big toe-to-toe battles. They visit a big, experienced BYU team that hasn't lost at home since 2005. The next week, they play USF, which also has a ton of experience and a proven winner at QB. The final game of the regular season is against Florida in the Swamp. That's a lot of juice. 5. Oregon (at Boise State; Purdue, Utah) Quality point average: 6.67: New head coach Chip Kelly gets thrown into the deep end of the pool right away. The Ducks' opener at Boise might be the biggest matchup ever on the blue turf. Purdue, which is in rebuilding mode, should be a romp, but then the Ducks get a physical Utah team that is coming off a 13-0 season. 6. ECU (App St; at WVU at UNC; VT) Quality point average: 6.5: Good thing the Pirates have a seasoned QB in Patrick Pinkney. They'll need him as App. State is still dangerous. Then it gets a lot tougher with road trips to Morgantown and Chapel Hill before a Virginia Tech team with revenge on its mind pays a visit. 7. Virginia Tech (Alabama in Atlanta; Marshall; Neb and at ECU) Quality point average: 6.38: Exciting opener for the Hokies against Nick Saban's team and what should be a salty defense. Marshall has been down, but the Herd is expected to challenge for a bowl this season, while Nebraska also is on the way up. Playing ECU at home on a Thursday night could be an electric atmosphere. 8. (tie) SJ State (at USC, Utah; at Stanford; Cal Poly) Quality point average: 6.25: Going to USC is a brutal way to start the season. Then, it hosts a Utah team that just went 13-0. Week 3 opponent Stanford -- which has beaten SJSU five straight times at Stanford by an average of 30 ppg -- is much improved. Cal Poly is a good FCS team which beat SJSU and almost beat Wisconsin last season. 8. (tie) Fresno State (UC-Davis; at Wisc; at Cincy; at Illinois) Quality point average: 6.25: The Bulldogs have a cushy opener, but then are on the road in their other three games. The game at Wisconsin might be the easiest of the three, and FSU still might be a two-TD underdog in that one. 10. Georgia (at Okla. St., ASU; Tenn. Tech; at Ga. Tech) Quality point average: 6: SEC teams often get ripped for their non-league opponents. You can't knock this one. Playing in Stillwater against the dynamic Cowboys offense will be a fun way to kick off the season. The Dawgs get a visit from an Arizona State team that still has QB concerns and a suspect O-line and is probably headed for the second division in the Pac-10. Tenn. Tech will be the easiest game on the slate, as it struggles at the FCS level. Georgia Tech will be a great way to end the regular season. To check out the rest of Bruce's blog -- including Ole Miss' thoughts on David Cutcliffe, the next great UCLA QB, and what Auburn might accomplish this season -- you must be an ESPN Insider.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider