College football non-conference scheduling is in stark contrast from men’s college basketball.
The NCAA basketball tournament selection committee uses strength of schedule as a major element in choosing teams and seeding them. Playing a strong non-conference schedule is not as much of a concern for college football powers. It is far more important to compile victories — however easy they might be — and try to get through the conference season unscathed.
If Kentucky’s basketball team played a non-conference schedule comparable to what the Alabama football team plays in 2013, the Wildcats would have a strength-of-schedule rating worthy of a No. 9 seed heading into March Madness.
The Crimson Tide’s non-conference slate: Virginia Tech (in the season-opener at the Georgia Dome), Colorado State, Georgia State and Chattanooga. Alabama hosts the last three of these games.
The Hokies are the most formidable, but they finished a disappointing 7-6 in 2012.
Starting in 2014 with college football’s four-team championship format, strength of schedule will become a factor. High-profile programs may start scheduling at least one marquee game a season. For now, they will mostly get fat on the cupcakes.
Focusing most on the non-conference, here are five nice-and-easy schedules in 2013:
1. Alabama — The Crimson Tide have a schedule tailor-made for a third consecutive national title. They not only play a weak non-conference schedule — including FCS Chattanooga and new-to-FCS Georgia State — they also miss Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in cross-division SEC games.
2. Florida State — The Seminoles play three non-conference opponents at home — with the stiffest test probably coming from Nevada, which will be in its first season without longtime coach Chris Ault– but must travel to Florida to take on the Gators at season’s end. Florida State plays FCS team Bethune-Cookman in October and Idaho (a one-win team in 2012) in November, and opens with at a rebuilding Pitt team in the season opener.
3. Louisville — The Cardinals’ season-opener is against a decent Ohio team but the Bobcats must travel to Cardinal Stadium. The other non-conference games are against Eastern Kentucky and Florida International at home and a game at Kentucky. The Cardinals play in the state of Kentucky in six of their first seven games.
4. Arizona — If the Wildcats do not start 3-0, they will be in for a long season in Rich Rodriguez’s second year in Tucson. They host FCS team Northern Arizona, play against a struggling UNLV program (in a game most likely to move to Glendale, Ariz.), and host Texas-San Antonio (which is in its third year of existence). After these three games, the Wildcats have a bye week before starting their Pac-12 schedule. It’s a perfect start to acclimate a new quarterback to the system, with Matt Scott exhausting his eligibility. The bad news for RichRod: Four of Arizona’s first five conference games are on the road.
5. Nebraska — The Cornhuskers play all of their non-conference games at home, their first four games of the season. The lineup includes UCLA in the third week. That will be a payback game for Nebraska, which lost on the road to the Bruins last season. The Cornhuskers’ other non-conference foes: Wyoming, Southern Miss and South Dakota State.