College Football Teams with Absurdly Easy Nonconference Schedules
Regardless of a college football team's best-case scenario, avoiding an upset is critical to reaching a season-long goal. Whether that's challenging for a national title or reaching a bowl, a friendly schedule can be helpful.
And in 2019, a bunch of nonconference slates look delightful.
Hopefully you haven't had dessert, because we're ready to look at a whole bunch of cupcakes.
Perceived team strength factors into the list, which is heavy on Football Championship Subdivision and non-power-conference opponents. The percentage of home games is also weighted.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Nonconference games: at Oregon State, vs. McNeese, at Tulsa
At least Oklahoma State is traveling a bit, right? The Cowboys will leave Stillwater for two of their three nonconference outings.
But the list is underwhelming.
Oregon State has a combined 3-21 record over the last two seasons, while Tulsa checks in at 5-19 during that span. McNeese is an FCS program.
As long as the Pokes don't have any travel nightmares, they should breeze to a 3-0 start this season.
Nonconference games: vs. Georgia State, vs. BYU, vs. Chattanooga, vs. UAB
Jeremy Pruitt's second year will be properly measured based on Tennessee's success in SEC play. Still, the Volunteers' other four contests offer a relatively high floor in 2019.
Georgia State has only stayed within 28 points of a power-conference opponent once in five years and finished 2-10 last season. FCS squad Chattanooga won't be too competitive, and UAB is overhauling the roster. The Vols should easily win those matchups.
BYU is the wild card.
Zach Wilson is a promising quarterback, and the Cougars have plenty of experience across the roster. But BYU is a bit unpredictable because the team's performance has varied so dramatically recently. Tennessee might have a legitimate 60-minute fight, but a painless win is possible, too.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Nonconference games: vs. Florida Atlantic, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Miami (Ohio)
Other than falling to Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in 2017, the Buckeyes haven't dropped a regular-season nonconference tilt in five years. That trend probably isn't ending this season.
Head coach Ryan Day will make his official debut opposite Florida Atlantic, which is simply looking to avoid an Oklahoma-esque blowout. Last season, the Owls lost 63-14 in Norman.
Week 2 brings a potentially tricky matchup, given Cincinnati's level of returning production after an 11-win campaign. However, the Bearcats will likely still be breaking in a new group of pass-rushers. Ohio State has a massive advantage up front with transfer Jonah Jackson improving the middle of the trenches.
Throw in a possible blowout win against Miami two weeks later, and the Buckeyes should cruise into Big Ten action.
Nonconference games: vs. Toledo, vs. Eastern Michigan, vs. UT Martin, vs. Louisville
After a breakout season with 10 victories, Kentucky has a terrific opportunity to threaten for double-digit wins again.
That's in no small part because the Wildcats stay in Lexington throughout nonconference play. They open with MAC programs Toledo and Eastern Michigan before closing the year against lower-tier UT Martin and struggling rival Louisville.
Anything worse than 3-1 would be a disaster for Kentucky. And barring a massive surge from Louisville in a rebuilding season, it's fair to say 4-0 is a proper expectation.
Nonconference games: vs. Ball State (neutral), vs. Eastern Illinois, vs. UConn
Since reaching a bowl would make the year a positive for Indiana, taking advantage of this portion of the schedule is imperative.
Indiana begins the season at Lucas Oil Stadium against Ball State, a nifty neutral-site matchup for in-state programs yet one that shouldn't be close. Week 2 is a similar story with FCS school Eastern Illinois hopping the border to Bloomington.
Following a clash with Ohio State, Indiana ends its nonconference slate opposite UConn. Yes, the UConn that had a historically bad defense and allowed 50.4 points per game in 2018.
The Hoosiers desperately need all three of these wins. The odds are pretty good they'll get them, too.
Nonconference games: at Liberty, at Maryland, vs. Western Michigan, vs. Holy Cross
Sandwiched between these four outings is Syracuse's most important game of the season: Clemson. If the Orange can spring that upset, they could shift the ACC's balance of power dramatically.
Even if they settle for a 10-win chase, the opening month should get Dino Babers' club off to a promising start.
Syracuse opens with consecutive road games at Liberty and Maryland, but both programs have first-year coaches who need to revamp poor defenses. Western Michigan's defense is similarly rough, and Holy Cross isn't a threat to the Orange.
At the very worst, Syracuse should be two victories from securing bowl eligibility before September ends.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Nonconference games: vs. Duke (neutral), vs. New Mexico State, vs. Southern Miss, vs. Western Carolina
As if Alabama needs any help winning games.
Duke is the only power-conference opponent on the docket, and the Blue Devils generally flop against top competition. They're banking on dual-threat quarterback Quentin Harris and a veteran defense to hang around, but it's unlikely to happen.
From there, this section of the schedule only gets easier.
New Mexico State has two winning seasons this millennium. Southern Miss' offense is unreliable. Western Carolina is, well, Western Carolina. The athletic departments will collect the necessary paycheck for sending their teams to lose in Tuscaloosa.
Nonconference games: vs. Portland State, vs. Colorado State, vs. San Jose State, vs. Western Kentucky
Arkansas plays a pair of SEC opponents at a neutral site but will be nice and comfortable in Fayetteville for nonconference games.
Up first is Portland State, which fell to Nevada and Oregon by a combined 101 points last season. Colorado State toppled the Razorbacks in 2018 but lost a bunch of key players on both sides of the ball, and San Jose State has a 3-22 record over the last two years.
Western Kentucky had a terrible 2018, but the Hilltoppers are notable because the game isn't until the second week of November. They relied on a plethora of non-seniors last season anyway, and the program is only three years removed from being a power-conference thorn. Experience won't be an issue for WKU, so a quick rebound is plausible and could change the team's perception by November.
Nevertheless, the Razorbacks are in an excellent position to earn four much-needed wins.
Nonconference games: at USF, vs. Central Michigan, vs. Kent State
Usually, the only time Wisconsin plays in the Sunshine State is during bowl season. Instead, the program opens with South Florida.
And running back Jonathan Taylor must be eager.
Last year, USF ranked 114th nationally in rushing yards allowed per carry and 123rd in yards per game. Taylor, a top Heisman Trophy contender, piled up more than 4,000 yards with 29 rushing scores during his first two seasons in Madison.
Taylor will probably run all over Central Michigan and Kent State—both allowed 200-plus per game last year—to help the Badgers record three painless nonconference wins.
Nonconference games: vs. Stephen F. Austin, vs. UTSA, at Rice
As you've seen, plenty of teams have cupcake-filled schedules. Nevertheless, Baylor takes the cake in this category. The Bears' trio of non-Big 12 foes combined for seven wins in 2018.
FCS program Stephen F. Austin has suffered a loss of 39-plus points to an FBS school for nine years running. Only Central Michigan had a less efficient offense than UTSA last season, and Rice ended with 10 losses of at least 14 points.
If Baylor doesn't begin the campaign 3-0...uh, yikes.