Photo credit Angela J. Cesere//AnnArbor.com
by Lisa Horne
We continue our five-part series of non-conference schedule power rankings with our third installment. The Big Ten has been roundly criticized for weak scheduling but Ohio State's championship season in 2014 may stifle the masses.
Unlike the Big 12 and the Pac-12, the Big Ten teams play four non-conference games instead of three. Many so-called experts believe that Big Ten teams pad their overall records with soft opponents. However, Ohio State went 3-0 against Top 10 teams while its College Football Playoff opponent Alabama went 2-2.
I have always believed that the best team in the country is still the best team in the country even if it has a cupcake schedule or plays in a mid-tiered conference. But why make it harder for pollsters to evaluate a team if it does not have similar criteria as other highly-ranked teams?
Here we go....
Kent State, Western Illinois, at North Carolina, Middle Tennessee State
KSU and MTSU went a combined 8-15 last year. This schedule is fooling no one and should serve as a prime example as to why four non-conference games are losing support.
Southern illinois, Florida International, Western Kentucky, at Wake Forest
Western Kentucky was the only team among the four who had a winning record in 2014. True, there is an ACC team in the schedule but ...it's Wake Forest (3-9).
Illinois State, at Iowa State, Pittsburgh, North Texas
Iowa State went 2-10 last year--its two wins were against Iowa and Toledo. So... just because a bad team beats Iowa twice in four years doesn't mean Iowa should get props for scheduling said team.
Richmond, Bowling Green, South Florida, at West Virginia
West Virginia is a hostile environment so the Mountaineers should prepare the Terps for conference play. But Maryland's first three games are not very enticing.
At Utah, Oregon State, UNLV, BYU
Gulp. Ambitious scheduling will get players up to speed faster but this schedule is probably a bit too difficult for a team with a new head coach.
At Western Michigan, Oregon, Air Force, Central Michigan
This is not too bad of a schedule although having Oregon sandwiched between some directional Michigan teams and Air Force is downright puzzling.
TCU, Colorado State (at Denver), Kent State, Ohio
The Golden Gophers get tested right out of the gate with a legitimate national title contender. Colorado State is also a very good team. Kent State and Ohio are average MAC teams.
BYU, South Alabama, at Miami (FL), Southern Miss
At first glance, this looks like an SEC team's schedule. It appears Nebraska is trying to build recruiting pipelines into the South (smart move) so props for that. Additional kudos for avoiding FCS teams.
Stanford, Eastern Illinois, at Duke, Ball State
The intent of the schedule is good. An elite team, an above average Power 5 team, an FCS team and a MAC team are about right. How much better would this schedule be if the FCS team was dropped? It would be an A+.
At Virginia Tech, Hawai'i, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan
Will season ticket holders be happy that three of their seven opponents at home are Hawai'i, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan? Last year a ticket to one of those games would have cost $79.
At Temple, Buffalo, San Diego State, Army
How does a team even get up for this slate?
At Marshall, Indiana State, Virginia Tech, Bowling Green
The road trip to Marshall may be a real challenge for the Boilermakers. Virginia Tech should also be a big test but overall, this schedule looks pretty bland.
Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas, at Army
Technically, Rutgers is playing two Power 5 teams but Kansas is undoubtedly the worst Power 5 team in the country. (Washington State was the worst a few years ago but has improved). The intent of this schedule is obvious.
Alabama (at Arlington), Miami (OH), Troy, Hawai'i
The Badgers play an elite SEC team at a neutral venue and do not play an FCS team. It's not a great schedule but compared to many of its brethren's, it's decent.
Non-conference Power Rankings
6- Michigan State
11- Ohio State
14- Penn State
Schedules courtesy of FBSchedules.com