College football's 2014 non-conference strength-of-schedule rankings

Harry How

Here's a glance at the most impressive and least daunting non-conference schedules that we can look forward to or mostly ignore in the season ahead. Who's taking the biggest bite? And who's putting the home crowd to sleep?

Which schools have the best and worst non-conference schedules lined up for the 2014 season? In many cases, a quick look is all it takes to judge one way or the other, but in an effort to add a bit more precision, we've ranked every FBS team's non-conference schedule according to its opponents' average 2013 Sagarin rating.

We would prefer to use F/+ or S&P, but Sagarin's rankings include FCS schools. It's a little tidier this way since it offers some number-y account for those lower-division foes. That's actually important, because in many cases, those matchups aren't the assumed blowouts by FBS schools that they once were.

The drawback of going this route is that we're looking at what teams were, and not necessarily what they will be. Admittedly, this is not perfect, but it works well enough for our purposes here. If you're searching for early 2014 projections for FBS schools, our own Bill Connelly has you covered.

10 best AQ non-conference schedules

  1. Texas: North Texas, BYU, UCLA
  2. Iowa State: North Dakota State, at Iowa, Toledo
  3. West Virginia: Alabama, Towson, at Maryland
  4. USC: Fresno State, at Boston College, Notre Dame
  5. Missouri: South Dakota State, at Toledo, UCF, Indiana
  6. Oklahoma State: Florida State, Missouri State, UTSA
  7. Florida State: Oklahoma State, The Citadel, Notre Dame, Florida
  8. North Carolina: Liberty, San Diego State, at East Carolina, at Notre Dame
  9. Minnesota: Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, at TCU, San Jose State
  10. Ohio State: Navy, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati

Several established, winning programs schedule aggressively and rate near the top of the list. Some not-so-winning programs are in for some tough afternoons.

With Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, and Florida on the slate, FSU might have the most interesting group of games, if not the group that rates as the strongest. Texas gets a trio of opponents that reached bowl games last year, and the Horns' trip to Cowboys Stadium to play UCLA will be an early-season highlight.

These teams are also subject to different scheduling constraints. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine league games, limiting them to three non-conference games, so they might not be able to fit in a glorified scrimmage opponent otherwise known as, say, The Citadel. This also means a Big 12 or Pac-12 schedule with a cupcake ranks very poorly (this applies to 11 of our bottom 30 teams).

Iowa State and West Virginia are aiming for bounce-backs after finishing under .500 in 2013, but getting ahead on that goal through the non-conference schedule won't be easy. The Cyclones play at rival Iowa and have the unenviable task of hosting FCS power North Dakota State. The three-time defending national champion Bison have beaten an FBS team in each of the last four seasons and opened 2013 with a victory at Kansas State.

West Virginia opens with Alabama in Atlanta, gets a Towson team that is coming off an FCS title game appearance and has a road trip to Maryland, which might be poised for a breakout campaign if it can maintain any semblance of health.

10 worst AQ non-conference schedules

  1. NC State: Old Dominion, Georgia Southern, USF, Presbyterian
  2. Vanderbilt: Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern, Old Dominion
  3. Mississippi State: Southern Miss, UAB, at South Alabama, UT-Martin
  4. Alabama: West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, Western Carolina
  5. Florida: Idaho, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Kentucky, at Florida State
  6. Arizona State: Weber State, at New Mexico, Notre Dame
  7. Duke: Elon, at Troy, Kansas, Tulane
  8. Pittsburgh: Delaware, at Florida International, Iowa, Akron
  9. Texas Tech: Central Arkansas, at UTEP, Arkansas
  10. Colorado: Colorado State, at UMass, Hawaii

NC State takes the top honors, and it's easy at a glance to see why. That's two schools making the transition to FBS, an FBS school coming off a 2-10 year, and an FCS bottom-feeder. Good seats still available.

The list has a heavy SEC presence, led by Vanderbilt, which will give first-year coach Derek Mason the opportunity to get the Commodores to another bowl. They'll get Temple and UMass in September, though they'll also play Ole Miss and Georgia in the first month, which illustrates in part why there are four SEC teams here.

5 best mid-major non-conference schedules

  1. SMU: at Baylor, at North Texas, Texas A&M, TCU
  2. Wyoming: Montana, at Oregon, Florida Atlantic, at Michigan State
  3. South Alabama: at Kent State, Mississippi State, at South Carolina, Navy
  4. Hawaii: Washington, Oregon State, Northern Iowa, at Colorado, at Rice
  5. UMass: Boston College, Colorado, at Vanderbilt, at Penn State

The Mustangs won't have to travel much, at least, but that's a difficult run through the state. SMU lost to both A&M and TCU by more than four touchdowns in 2013, though those games were both on the road.

Wyoming faces probably the most daunting pair of non-conference road games of any FBS school, with September trips to both Eugene and East Lansing. The Cowboys have a secret weapon, though: new head coach Craig Bohl is plenty familiar with being underestimated on big stages. He built North Dakota State into a FBS-school-slaying monster, and while Wyoming isn't going to approximate that overnight, the Ducks and Spartans couldn't be faulted for feeling a tad uneasy.

5 worst mid-major non-conference schedules

  1. Marshall: at Miami (OH), Rhode Island, Ohio, at Akron
  2. Appalachian State: at Michigan, Campbell, at Southern Miss, Liberty
  3. Ball State: at Iowa, at Army, Colgate, Indiana State
  4. Buffalo: Duquesne, at Army, Baylor, Norfolk State
  5. Air Force: Nicholls State, at Georgia State, Navy, at Army

The Thundering Herd's slate ranks dead last among all FBS schools. It's highlighted, as it were, by Miami, which finished 2013 winless, and Rhode Island, a 3-9 FCS team.

Appalachian State can at least be forgiven for going soft in its first full FBS season. There aren't much in the way of interesting matchups here ... Michigan-App State sounds fun in theory, if only because those two produced one of the most memorable games of the last decade.

Ball State could be a wrench in Iowa's season, but has to replace a veteran quarterback. Buffalo is coming off an eight-win year and gets the rare opportunity to host a top-25 team, but the Bulls gave up 70 to the Bears in Waco last season.

The full non-conference schedule rankings (excluding independents, for obvious reasons):

School Non-Conference Opponents Sagarin Average
1 Texas North Texas BYU UCLA (Arlington) 35.3
2 SMU at Baylor at North Texas Texas A&M TCU 35.5
3 Iowa State North Dakota State at Iowa Toledo 39
4 West Virginia Alabama (Atlanta) Towson at Maryland 47.3
5 USC Fresno State at Boston College Notre Dame 48.7
6 Wyoming Montana at Oregon Florida Atlantic at Michigan State 51.3
7 South Alabama at Kent State Mississippi State at South Carolina Navy 53.8
8 Hawaii Washington Oregon State Northern Iowa at Colorado at Rice 55.4
9 UMass Boston College Colorado at Vanderbilt at Penn State 56.8
10 UL-Monroe Wake Forest at LSU at Kentucky at Texas A&M 56.8
11 UTSA at Houston Arizona at Oklahoma State New Mexico 58.3
12 Toledo New Hampshire Missouri at Cincinnati at Iowa State 58.8
13 Missouri South Dakota St at Toledo UCF Indiana 61
14 Oklahoma State Florida State (Arlington) Missouri State UTSA 64
15 Florida State Oklahoma State (Arlington) The Citadel Notre Dame Florida 65.5
16 Tulane Georgia Tech SE Louisiana at Duke at Rutgers 65.8
17 Boise State Ole Miss (Atlanta) at UConn UL-Lafayette BYU 66
18 Fresno State at USC at Utah Nebraska Southern Utah 66
19 Louisiana Tech at Oklahoma at UL-Lafayette Northwestern State at Auburn 67.5
20 Nevada Southern Utah Washington State at Arizona at BYU 67.5
21 North Carolina Liberty San Diego State at East Carolina at Notre Dame 69.5
22 Minnesota Eastern Illinois Middle Tennessee at TCU San Jose State 69.8
23 Ohio State Navy Virginia Tech Kent State Cincinnati 71
24 Tennessee Utah State Arkansas State at Oklahoma UT-Chattanooga 72
25 Iowa Northern Iowa Ball State Iowa State at Pittsburgh 72.5
26 Virginia UCLA Richmond at BYU Kent State 73
27 Arkansas State Montana State at Tennessee at Miami (FL) Utah State 76.5
28 Indiana Indiana State at Bowling Green at Missouri North Texas 76.8
29 South Carolina East Carolina Furman South Alabama Clemson 76.8
30 Florida Atlantic at Nebraska at Alabama Tulsa at Wyoming 76.8
31 Tulsa Oklahoma at Florida Atlantic Texas State at Colorado State 78
32 East Carolina NC Central at South Carolina at Virginia Tech North Carolina 78.5
33 Nebraska Florida Atlantic McNeese State at Fresno State Miami (Fla) 78.8
34 UCF Penn State (Ireland) at Missouri BYU Florida Atlantic 78.8
35 Miami (OH) Marshall Eastern Kentucky at Michigan at Cincinnati 79
36 Western Kentucky Bowling Green at Illinois at Navy Army 80.3
37 Syracuse Villanova at Central Michigan Maryland Notre Dame 82
38 UCLA at Virginia Memphis Texas (Arlington) 82
39 Rice at Notre Dame at Texas A&M Hawaii at Army 83
40 Georgia Clemson Troy Charleston Southern Georgia Tech 83.8
41 San Jose State North Dakota at Auburn at Minnesota at Navy 84.5
42 Illinois Youngstown State Western Kentucky at Washington Texas State 86.5
43 Georgia State Abilene Christian Air Force at Washington at Clemson 87.8
44 UNLV at Arizona Northern Colorado Northern Illinois at BYU 88
45 Virginia Tech William & Mary at Ohio State ECU Western Michigan 89
46 Wisconsin LSU (Houston) Western Illinois Bowling Green USF 89
47 Temple at Vanderbilt Navy at Penn State Delaware State 89
48 Cincinnati Toledo Miami (OH) at Ohio State at Miami (FL) 89.3
49 Northwestern Cal NIU Western Illinois at Notre Dame 91
50 Kent State South Alabama at Ohio State at Virginia Army 91.2
51 Arizona UNLV at UTSA Nevada 92.3
52 Akron Howard at Penn State Marshall at Pittsburgh 92.3
53 Clemson at Georgia SC State Georgia State South Carolina 92.5
54 Cal at Northwestern Sacramento State BYU 93
55 UConn BYU Stony Brook Boise State Army (Bronx) 93.3
56 Washington at Hawaii Eastern Washington Illinois 94
57 Memphis Austin Peay at UCLA Middle Tenn at Ole Miss 94.3
58 Rutgers Washington State (Seattle) Howard at Navy Tulane 96.3
59 North Texas at Texas SMU Nicholls State at Indiana 96.8
60 UTEP at New Mexico Texas Tech New Mexico State at Kansas State 97.5
61 Bowling Green at Western Kentucky VMI Indiana at Wisconsin 98
62 Boston College at UMass USC Maine Colorado State 98.5
63 Oregon South Dakota Michigan State Wyoming 100
64 Troy at UAB Duke Abilene Christian at Georgia 100
65 Ohio at Kentucky at Marshall Idaho Eastern Illinois 100.3
66 Utah State at Tennessee Idaho State Wake Forest at Arkansas State at BYU 101
67 Maryland James Madison at USF West Virginia at Syracuse 102.5
68 Kentucky UT-Martin Ohio UL-Monroe at Louisville 102.8
69 Eastern Michigan Morgan State at Florida at Old Dominion at Michigan State 103
70 San Diego State Northern Arizona at UNC at Oregon State Idaho 103.3
71 Southern Miss at Mississippi State Alcorn State at Alabama Appalachian State 104
72 TCU Samford Minnesota at SMU 104.7
73 USF Western Carolina Maryland NC State at Wisconsin 105.5
74 Auburn San Jose State at Kansas State Louisiana Tech Samford 106.3
75 Miami Florida A&M Arkansas State at Nebraska Cincinnati 106.8
76 Utah Idaho State Fresno State at Michigan 109
77 Florida International Bethune-Cookman Wagner Pittsburgh Louisville 110
78 Georgia Tech Wofford at Tulane Georgia Southern at Georgia 110.3
79 LSU Wisconsin (Houston) Sam Houston St UL-Monroe New Mexico State 110.5
80 Middle Tennessee Savannah State at Minnesota at Memphis BYU 110.5
81 Georgia Southern at NC State Savannah State at Georgia Tech at Navy 110.8
82 Michigan State Jacksonville State at Oregon Eastern Michigan Wyoming 111.3
83 Idaho at Florida Western Michigan at Ohio at San Diego State 111.3
84 Colorado State Colorado (Denver) UC Davis at Boston College Tulsa 112
85 Arkansas Nicholls State at Texas Tech Northern Illinois UAB 112.8
86 Purdue Western Michigan Central Michigan Notre Dame (Indianapolis) Southern Illinois 114
87 Michigan Appalachian State at Notre Dame Miami (OH) Utah 115.3
88 UAB Troy at Mississippi State Alabama A&M at Arkansas 115.8
89 UL-Lafayette Southern Louisiana Tech at Ole Miss at Boise State 115.8
90 Ole Miss Boise State (Atlanta) UL-Lafayette Memphis Presbyterian 116.5
91 Penn State UCF (Ireland) Akron UMass Temple 118
92 Northern Illinois Presbyterian at Northwestern at UNLV at Arkansas 118
93 New Mexico UTEP Arizona State at New Mexico State at UTSA 118.8
94 Baylor SMU Northwestern State at Buffalo 119.3
95 Oklahoma Louisiana Tech at Tulsa Tennessee 119.3
96 Central Michigan Chattanooga at Purdue Syracuse at Kansas 119.5
97 Stanford UC Davis Army at Notre Dame 120
98 Washington State Rutgers at Nevada Portland State 120
99 Houston*
UTSA at BYU Grambling 120.7
100 New Mexico State Cal Poly at UTEP New Mexico at LSU 121
101 Texas A&M Lamar Rice at SMU at UL-Monroe 121.3
102 Oregon State Portland State at Hawaii San Diego State 122.3
103 Texas State Arkansas-Pine Bluff Navy at Illinois at Tulsa 125
104 Wake Forest at UL-Monroe Gardner-Webb at Utah State Army 126
105 Louisville Murray State at Florida International at Notre Dame Kentucky 126.5
106 Kansas SE Missouri State at Duke Central Michigan 127
107 Kansas State Stephen F. Austin Auburn UTEP 128.7
108 Colorado Colorado State (Denver) at UMass Hawaii 130.3
109 Texas Tech Central Arkansas at UTEP Arkansas 132.3
110 Pittsburgh Delaware at Florida International Iowa Akron 133.8
111 Duke Elon at Troy Kansas Tulane 134
112 Arizona State Weber State at New Mexico Notre Dame 134
113 Florida Idaho Eastern Michigan Eastern Kentucky at Florida State 135.8
114 Western Michigan at Purdue at Idaho Murray State at Virginia Tech 135.8
115 Old Dominion Hampton at NC State Eastern Michigan at Vanderbilt 140.3
116 Alabama West Virginia (Atlanta) Florida Atlantic Southern Miss Western Carolina 144.5
117 Air Force Nicholls State at Georgia State Navy at Army 146
118 Buffalo Duquesne at Army Baylor Norfolk State 147.8
119 Ball State at Iowa at Army Colgate Indiana State 148.8
120 Mississippi State Southern Miss UAB at South Alabama UT-Martin 149.3
121 Appalachian State at Michigan Campbell at Southern Miss Liberty 151.8
122 Vanderbilt Temple UMass Charleston Southern Old Dominion 153
123 NC State Georgia Southern Old Dominion at USF Presbyterian 163.8
124 Marshall at Miami (OH) Rhode Island Ohio at Akron 172.3

*Houston apparently still needs to secure a fourth non-conference opponent, but given how close we are to 2014, that team-to-be-named-soon doesn't figure to improve the Cougars' standing much, if at all. Their average is generated from the three known opponents on their schedule.

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