Qualk Talk: Top Five Toughest Non-Conference Schedules in America

William QualkinbushSenior Analyst IAugust 14, 2008

We hear a great deal of discussion around the college football universe about how the big time programs are more interested in getting easy wins than scheduling quality opponents.  A great example is right here in my backyard, where Clemson will play two FCS (formerly Division I-AA) opponents this season.

On one hand, many coaches feel that the season is enough of a grind with the conference schedule and would like a couple of weeks during the season to rest starters and heal as a team.  Also, a large portion of the funding for many smaller FBS (formerly Division I-A) and virtually all FCS schools is earned via royalties for playing more prestigious programs.

On the other hand, fans want to see good football.  Fans are much more willing to pay to see their teams play the USCs of the world and possibly lose than they are to watch Directional South Dakota in a glorified scrimmage.  Potential revenues make it a tough call for athletic directors and coaches across the country.

Choosing the top five schedules was pretty tough, to be perfectly honest.  There are about 10 or 12 worthy teams for this list, so trimming it down was a chore.  I'm sure there will be some backlash from some fans who think their team should be included for a schedule that is utterly ridiculous.

Here are the top five as I see them.


5. Miami (FL)

Yes, they start off with Charleston Southern—that knocks them down the list.  But for a team consisting of mostly freshmen and sophomores, the next two trips will be daunting.

On Sep. 6, the Hurricanes travel to Gainesville to take on Florida in the Swamp.  After a week off to regain sanity, they travel to another hostile environment, Kyle Field, to take on Texas A&M.

Tack on a game against a potentially dangerous UCF team at midseason, and you're looking at a rough schedule overall.


4. Florida Atlantic

Howard Schnellenberger has some work to do if he wants to improve on his team's 8-5 finish of a season ago.  The Owls will start with an almost-impossible-to-win trip to Texas, followed by a home date with UAB.

After that, it's off to Big Ten country for games against Michigan State and Minnesota.  Coach Schnellenberger had better be stockpiling frequent flyer miles.


3. East Carolina

I believe I have been perfectly articulate about my feelings on this East Carolina team.  They will start with a neutral-site game against Virginia Tech, which should be interesting.  They then host the West Virginia Mountaineers, which is also an intriguing matchup.

From there, they have a couple of games with ACC opponents Virginia and NC State mixed in the schedule.  While these may not be the class of the conference, kudos to Skip Holtz for putting together a non-conference schedule totally void of mid- or low-major conference opponents.


2. Washington

The Pac-10 has, by far, the toughest group of out-of-conference schedules in the country.  I debated putting UCLA and USC on this list, but Washington made the cut despite having all three of its non-league contests at home.

The Huskies will welcome BYU, the best non-BCS team in the country, and Oklahoma on consecutive September Saturdays, and they could be looking at an ugly start.  Tyrone Willingham's former team, Notre Dame, comes calling on Oct. 25.

This slate is made tougher by the intense pressure—that's the way it's being perceived, at least—on Willingham to win this season.  Good luck with that.


1. Troy

Man, I do not envy this schedule for a second.  Yes, there is the game with Alcorn State, but other than that, you can forget about anybody touching this difficulty—three road games in four weeks against really, really good teams in really, really tough environments.

The slate is as follows: Sep. 6 at LSU, Sep. 13 vs. Alcorn State, Sep. 20 at Ohio State, and Sep. 27 at Oklahoma State.  In the words of a good friend of mine: Doneya.


As always, thanks for reading.  I haven't decided about tomorrow yet, but I'm leaning towards either the easiest non-conference schedules or a rundown of the winners from each conference.  God bless!