College Football Schedules 2012: Ranking The Toughest Out-Of-Conference Roads

BOISE, ID - NOVEMBER 26: Jarrell Root #96 of the Boise State Broncos psyches up his team before the game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Bronco Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images)

The out-of-conference college football game. A team can either exert itself for possible glory or sit back and bank wins. Which 2012 teams have given themselves the toughest out-of-conference competition?

After careful spreadsheeting, I've determined the following 60 to be the toughest 2012 out-of-conference schedules in college football. UMass, a newcomer, is to be hailed for its sheer brazenness, while the Oregon St. Beavers, UCLA Bruins and Virginia Cavaliers lead the power conference entrants.

After the list, I hope you'll allow me to explain how we've reached such a conclusion.

Rank Team Out-Of-Conference Opponents

1 UMass Michigan, Vanderbilt, UConn, Indiana

2 North Texas LSU, Houston, Kansas State, Texas Southern

3 Florida Atlantic Alabama, Georgia, Navy, Wagner

4 UL-Monroe Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Tulane

5 UTEP Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, New Mexico State

6 Buffalo Georgia, Pitt, UConn, Morgan State

7 Akron Tennessee, FIU, UCF, Morgan State

8 Idaho LSU, BYU, UNC, Bowling Green, Wyoming, EWU

9 SMU Texas A&M, TCU, Baylor, Stephen F. Austin

10 Miami (Ohio) Ohio State, Boise State, Cincinnati, Southern Illinois

11 Troy Tennessee, Mississippi State, Navy, UAB

12 Ball State Clemson, USF, Army, Indiana

13 East Carolina South Carolina, UNC, Navy, Appalachian State

14 Western Kentucky Alabama, Southern Miss, Kentucky, Austin Peay

15 Oregon State Wisconsin, BYU, Nicholls State

16 UCLA Nebraska, Houston, Rice

17 San Jose State Stanford, BYU, Navy, SDSU, CSU, UC-Davis

18 Central Michigan Michigan State, Iowa, Army, SE Missouri State

19 Boise State Michigan State, Southern Miss, BYU, Miami (OH)

20 Virginia TCU, Penn State, La Tech, Richmond

21 Texas State Houston, Texas Tech, Nevada, Navy, New Mexico, Stephen F. Austin

22 Marshall West Virginia, Ohio, Purdue, Western Carolina

23 Miami Notre Dame, South Florida, Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman

24 Arkansas State Oregon, Nebraska, Memphis, Alcorn State

25 Syracuse USC, Missouri, Northwestern, Minnesota, Stony Brook

26 Southern Miss Nebraska, Boise State, Louisville, Western Kentucky

27 UAB South Carolina, Ohio State, Troy, SE Louisiana

28 Tulane Rutgers, Ole Miss, UL-Monroe, UL-Lafayette

29 Wake Forest Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Army, Liberty

30 New Mexico State Auburn, BYU, Ohio, UTEP, NMU, Sacramento State

31 Central Florida Ohio State, Missouri, FIU, Akron

32 Fresno State Oregon, Tulsa, Colorado, Weber State

33 New Mexico Texas, Texas Tech, NMSU, Texas State, Southern

34 Air Force Michigan, Navy, Army, Idaho State

35 Arizona Oklahoma State, Toledo, South Carolina State

36 Maryland West Virginia, UConn, Temple, William & Mary

37 Middle Tennessee Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Navy, UAB

38 Rice La Tech, UCLA, Kansas, UTSA

39 Utah State Wisconsin, Utah, BYU, CSU, UNLV, Southern Utah

40 Iowa State Iowa, Tulsa, Western Illinois

41 South Alabama Mississippi State, N.C. State, Hawai'i, UTSA, Nicholls State

42 Michigan Alabama, Notre Dame, Air Force, UMass

43 Eastern Michigan Michigan State, Purdue, Army, Illinois State

44 UNLV La Tech, Washington State, Utah State, Minnesota, Northern Arizona

45 Louisiana Tech Texas A&M, Houston, Illinois, virginia, Rice, UNLV

46 Northwestern Vanderbilt, Boston College, Syracuse, South Dakota

47 USC Notre Dame, Syracuse, Hawai'i

48 Arizona State Missouri, Illinois, Northern Arizona

49 Duke Stanford, FIU, Memphis, NC Central

50 Washington LSU, SDSU, Portland State

51 South Florida FSU, Miami, Nevada, Ball State, Chattanooga

52 Louisville UNC, Louisville, FIU, Kentucky, Missouri State

53 Penn State Ohio, Virginia, Temple, Navy

54 Memphis Duke, Arkansas State, MTSU, UT-Martin

55 Kent State Rutgers, Kentucky, Army, Towson

56 Cal Ohio State, Nevada, Southern Utah

57 Kansas NIU, Rice, South Dakota State

58 Washington State BYU, UNLV, EWU

59 Florida International UCF, Louisville, Duke, Akron

60 Temple Penn State, Maryland, Army, Villanova

Related: The Must-Watch Games From Every Week Of The College Football Season

To make this list, I combined two different rankings: a raw strength-of-schedule ranking and a challenge-adjusted schedule strength ranking.

But first, I ruled out any team that plays more than one FCS opponent this year. This narrowed the list of schedules from 124 to 80 or so. If your school plays half its out-of-conference games against FCS teams, then its schedule lacks an element of adventure, at the least. You'll not be shocked to learn this eliminated much of the SEC from contention, along with other power conference teams. The SEC plays brutal conference games, but doesn't make itself do a lot of traveling otherwise.

(This isn't to say all SEC out-of-conference schedules are free of challenge. Several SEC teams scheduled big-name opponents, but most of them offset the risk with multiple money games. And we should note that, likewise, most mid-majors typically agree to play top teams due to money and recruiting gains, not due to codes of honor. C.R.E.A.M.)

Next, I used unofficial 2012 F/+ projections to figure out each team's strength of schedule by combining opponent rankings. (F/+ indeed remains a work in progress, but that's the best metric we've got to this point.) That produced a raw strength of schedule ranking. Here's that list's top 60:

Raw Strength Of Schedule Rankings

Rank Team Out-Of-Conference Opponents SOS

1 Boise State Michigan State, Southern Miss, BYU, Miami (OH) 44

2 UL-Monroe Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Tulane 45

3 SMU Texas A&M, TCU, Baylor, Stephen F. Austin 47.5

4 North Texas LSU, Houston, Kansas State, Texas Southern 47.7

5 Miami Notre Dame, South Florida, Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman 49

6 UMass Michigan, Vanderbilt, UConn, Indiana 49.7

7 Southern Miss Nebraska, Boise State, Louisville, Western Kentucky 50.2

8 Florida Atlantic Alabama, Georgia, Navy, Wagner 52.2

9 UTEP Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, New Mexico State 53.5

10 UCLA Nebraska, Houston, Rice 55

11 Buffalo Georgia, Pitt, UConn, Morgan State 56.5

12 Miami (Ohio) Ohio State, Boise State, Cincinnati, Southern Illinois 57

13 Michigan Alabama, Notre Dame, Air Force, UMass 57.5

14 Central Florida Ohio State, Missouri, FIU, Akron 57.7

15 Virginia TCU, Penn State, La Tech, Richmond 58.7

16 Oregon State Wisconsin, BYU, Nicholls State 59

17 USC Notre Dame, Syracuse, Hawai'i 60.6

18 East Carolina South Carolina, UNC, Navy, Appalachian State 62

19 Ball State Clemson, USF, Army, Indiana 62.2

20 Idaho LSU, BYU, UNC, Bowling Green, Wyoming, EWU 62.5

21 Akron Tennessee, FIU, UCF, Morgan State 63.2

22 Western Kentucky Alabama, Southern Miss, Kentucky, Austin Peay 63.7

23 Troy Tennessee, Mississippi State, Navy, UAB 64.5

24 Syracuse USC, Missouri, Northwestern, Minnesota, Stony Brook 65

25 Louisiana Tech Texas A&M, Houston, Illinois, virginia, Rice, UNLV 65

26 Central Michigan Michigan State, Iowa, Army, SE Missouri State 65.7

27 South Florida FSU, Miami, Nevada, Ball State, Chattanooga 66

28 Wake Forest Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Army, Liberty 66.7

29 Maryland West Virginia, UConn, Temple, William & Mary 67

30 Arizona Oklahoma State, Toledo, South Carolina State 67.6

31 Arkansas State Oregon, Nebraska, Memphis, Alcorn State 67.7

32 Penn State Ohio, Virginia, Temple, Navy 68

33 Marshall West Virginia, Ohio, Purdue, Western Carolina 68.2

34 Louisville UNC, Louisville, FIU, Kentucky, Missouri State 68.4

35 Arizona State Missouri, Illinois, Northern Arizona 68.6

36 Fresno State Oregon, Tulsa, Colorado, Weber State 69.5

37 Northwestern Vanderbilt, Boston College, Syracuse, South Dakota 70.2

38 Washington LSU, SDSU, Portland State 71

39 Iowa State Iowa, Tulsa, Western Illinois 71.6

40 San Jose State Stanford, BYU, Navy, SDSU, CSU, UC-Davis 72

41 Florida State Florida, South Florida, Murray State, Savannah State 72

42 Utah State Wisconsin, Utah, BYU, CSU, UNLV, Southern Utah 72.5

43 Cal Ohio State, Nevada, Southern Utah 72.6

44 Florida International UCF, Louisville, Duke, Akron 74.2

45 Boston College Notre Dame, Northwestern, Army, Maine 74.7

46 Tulane Rutgers, Ole Miss, UL-Monroe, UL-Lafayette 75.2

47 Texas State Houston, Texas Tech, Nevada, Navy, New Mexico, Stephen F. Austin 75.8

48 UAB South Carolina, Ohio State, Troy, SE Louisiana 76.2

49 Tulsa Arkansas, Fresno State, Iowa State, Nicholls State 76.2

50 Duke Stanford, FIU, Memphis, NC Central 76.7

51 Air Force Michigan, Navy, Army, Idaho State 77

52 Eastern Michigan Michigan State, Purdue, Army, Illinois State 77.2

53 Missouri UCF, Arizona State, Syracuse, SE Louisiana 78

54 Nebraska Southern Miss, UCLA, Arkansas State, Idaho State 79

55 New Mexico State Auburn, BYU, Ohio, UTEP, NMU, Sacramento State 79.1

56 Utah BYU, Utah State, Northern Colorado 79.3

57 Middle Tennessee Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Navy, UAB 79.7

58 Temple Penn State, Maryland, Army, Villanova 80.7

59 Rice La Tech, UCLA, Kansas, UTSA 81

60 New Mexico Texas, Texas Tech, NMSU, Texas State, Southern 83.2

(One note about this list. If the West Virginia Mountaineers hadn't dropped their game against the Florida St. Seminoles, FSU would've had the second-toughest out-of-conference schedule in the country, with the Florida Gators and South Florida Bulls also on the slate.)

But that doesn't account for certain teams punching well above their weight classes. The USC Trojans play a relatively tough OOC schedule, but they'll likely be favored in all three of those games. And isn't it asking more of Ball State to play the Clemson Tigers than it is of the South Carolina Gamecocks?

For this next set of rankings, I used the difference between each team's own projected F/+ and its opponent's projections, so that we can get a sense of which teams are going to be most highly challenged by their own schedules:

Challenge-Adjusted Schedule Rankings

Rank Team SOS Ranking Difference

1 UMass Michigan, Vanderbilt, UConn, Indiana 49.7 116 66.3

2 Florida Atlantic Alabama, Georgia, Navy, Wagner 52.2 114 61.8

3 Akron Tennessee, FIU, UCF, Morgan State 63.2 123 59.8

4 North Texas LSU, Houston, Kansas State, Texas Southern 47.7 106 58.3

5 Idaho LSU, BYU, UNC, Bowling Green, Wyoming, EWU 62.5 118 55.5

6 UTEP Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, New Mexico State 53.5 104 50.5

7 Buffalo Georgia, Pitt, UConn, Morgan State 56.5 107 50.5

8 Texas State Houston, Texas Tech, Nevada, Navy, New Mexico, Stephen F. Austin 75.8 122 46.2

9 UL-Monroe Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Tulane 45 90 45

10 New Mexico State Auburn, BYU, Ohio, UTEP, NMU, Sacramento State 79.1 121 41.9

11 New Mexico Texas, Texas Tech, NMSU, Texas State, Southern 83.2 124 40.8

12 UAB South Carolina, Ohio State, Troy, SE Louisiana 76.2 115 38.8

13 San Jose State Stanford, BYU, Navy, SDSU, CSU, UC-Davis 72 110 38

14 Tulane Rutgers, Ole Miss, UL-Monroe, UL-Lafayette 75.2 111 35.8

15 Troy Tennessee, Mississippi State, Navy, UAB 64.5 100 35.5

16 Middle Tennessee Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Navy, UAB 79.7 113 33.3

17 South Alabama Mississippi State, N.C. State, Hawai'i, UTSA, Nicholls State 85.8 119 33.2

18 UNLV La Tech, Washington State, Utah State, Minnesota, Northern Arizona 88.2 120 31.8

19 Rice La Tech, UCLA, Kansas, UTSA 81 112 31

20 Ball State Clemson, USF, Army, Indiana 62.2 89 26.8

21 Air Force Michigan, Navy, Army, Idaho State 77 103 26

22 Marshall West Virginia, Ohio, Purdue, Western Carolina 68.2 94 25.8

23 Western Kentucky Alabama, Southern Miss, Kentucky, Austin Peay 63.7 88 24.3

24 Miami (Ohio) Ohio State, Boise State, Cincinnati, Southern Illinois 57 77 20

25 East Carolina South Carolina, UNC, Navy, Appalachian State 62 82 20

26 Arkansas State Oregon, Nebraska, Memphis, Alcorn State 67.7 87 19.3

27 Central Michigan Michigan State, Iowa, Army, SE Missouri State 65.7 84 18.3

28 SMU Texas A&M, TCU, Baylor, Stephen F. Austin 47.5 65 17.5

29 Memphis Duke, Arkansas State, MTSU, UT-Martin 100 117 17

30 Oregon State Wisconsin, BYU, Nicholls State 59 74 15

31 Eastern Michigan Michigan State, Purdue, Army, Illinois State 77.2 91 13.8

32 Wake Forest Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Army, Liberty 66.7 80 13.3

33 Syracuse USC, Missouri, Northwestern, Minnesota, Stony Brook 65 78 13

34 Fresno State Oregon, Tulsa, Colorado, Weber State 69.5 81 11.5

35 Kansas NIU, Rice, South Dakota State 98 105 7

36 Utah State Wisconsin, Utah, BYU, CSU, UNLV, Southern Utah 72.5 79 6.5

37 Kent State Rutgers, Kentucky, Army, Towson 85.7 92 6.3

38 Washington State BYU, UNLV, EWU 93 97 4

39 Virginia TCU, Penn State, La Tech, Richmond 58.7 62 3.3

40 UCLA Nebraska, Houston, Rice 55 58 3

41 Iowa State Iowa, Tulsa, Western Illinois 71.6 85 1.4

42 Arizona Oklahoma State, Toledo, South Carolina State 67.6 67 -0.6

43 Maryland West Virginia, UConn, Temple, William & Mary 67 66 -1

44 Colorado Fresno State, CSO, Sacramento State 102.6 101 -1.6

45 Duke Stanford, FIU, Memphis, NC Central 76.7 75 -1.7

46 Colorado State Utah State, Colorado, SJSU, North Dakota State 103.7 102 -1.7

47 Minnesota WMU, Syracuse, UNLV, New Hampshire 98 96 -2

48 Northwestern Vanderbilt, Boston College, Syracuse, South Dakota 70.2 68 -2.2

49 Indiana Navy, Ball State, UMass, Indiana State 101.5 98 -3.5

50 Miami Notre Dame, South Florida, Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman 49 45 -4

51 Southern Miss Nebraska, Boise State, Louisville, Western Kentucky 50.2 46 -4.2

52 Boise State Michigan State, Southern Miss, BYU, Miami (OH) 44 39 -5

53 Temple Penn State, Maryland, Army, Villanova 80.7 73 -7.7

54 Arizona State Missouri, Illinois, Northern Arizona 68.6 60 -8.6

55 Central Florida Ohio State, Missouri, FIU, Akron 57.7 49 -8.7

56 San Diego State Washington, Army, SJSU, North Dakota 97.2 86 -11.2

57 Washington LSU, SDSU, Portland State 71 59 -12

58 Western Michigan Illinois, UConn, Minnesota, Eastern Illinois 81.2 69 -12.2

59 Louisiana Tech Texas A&M, Houston, Illinois, virginia, Rice, UNLV 65 52 -13

60 Toledo Cincinnati, Arizona, Wyoming, Coastal Carolina 86 71 -15

That list makes lower-tier teams look especially brave, but at the expense of teams like the Miami Hurricanes and Boise St. Broncos, who have really tough schedules. Boise State will be a good team, but we still have to acknowledge what a relentless out-of-conference schedule they're facing. Likewise, teams like the Michigan Wolverines and Penn St. Nittany Lions deserve credit for playing zero FCS schools.

To resolve this, I combined the raw strength-of-schedule rankings with the challenge-adjusted rankings, making a hybrid. That's what produced the very first list in this piece. There you have it!

Also, one more thing.

The No Sleep Gang

Here are the 18 FBS teams that scheduled nary a FCS team this year, so that their names may be praised:

  • Ball State
  • Boise State
  • Central Florida
  • Florida International
  • Louisiana Tech
  • Louisiana-Monroe
  • Michigan (Though UMass was a FCS program at the beginning of their series.)
  • Michigan State
  • Middle Tennessee
  • Penn State
  • Rice
  • Southern Miss
  • Troy
  • Tulane
  • UCLA
  • UMass
  • USC
  • UTEP

While we're here, let's watch some college football videos from SB Nation's new YouTube channel together:

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