Rating the 2019 Non-Conference Slate

Once again, my brother and I have assigned ratings to every single Power 5 conference team (and a select few Group of 5 teams, more on that in a second). You can view our methodology here.

This year we rated 71 teams, including 23 teams we rated as 0. Group of 5 teams that were rated higher than 0 were Central Florida (0.75), Cincinnati (0.25), Houston (0.5), Brigham Young (0.25), and Boise State (0.5). 11 teams rated as 0.25, 11 also rated as 0.5, 5 rated as 0.75, and 21 rated as 1.

The 21 teams earning a 1 were: Alabama, Auburn, California-Los Angeles, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Louisiana State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Pennsylvania State, Southern California, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The average ratings for each Power 5 conference were

  1. Pac-12 (0.521)
  2. Big 12 (0.5)
  3. SEC (0.482)
  4. Big Ten (0.446)
  5. ACC (0.392)

The general rule is that since this is an average, the smaller conferences have an advantage since their 1’s count more, in essence. The SEC and Big Ten have five 1’s each, which outranks anyone else, but they’re dragged down by the Vanderbilts and Rutgers of the world.

First, a quick key: “legit” is the sum of all ratings of all the out-of-conference games a team plays; “FCS” is the number of FCS teams scheduled, and each FCS team is indicated in italics; “N-” indicates that the game will be played at a neutral site; “@” indicates the game is an away game, all other games not otherwise indicated are home games.

ACC

  1. Duke (2 legit, 1 FCS): N-Alabama, North Carolina A&T, @Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame. Even though I don’t usually give ACC teams credit for playing Notre Dame (due to the Irish being quasi-ACC members), this is still a pretty onerous schedule, especially with a potentially feisty trip to Murfreesboro.
  2. Pittsburgh (1.75, 1): Ohio, @Pennsylvania State, Central Florida, Delaware. It’s always nice to see old rivalries dusted off, so bonus points are earned here. Oh, and yeah they play UCF. Have fun with that!
  3. Florida State (1.5, 1): N-Boise State, Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama State, @Florida. Florida State-Boise State is one of the more intriguing Week 1 contests. That’ll be a good milepost for both teams. For FSU, it will indicate whether or not they can field an offensive line this season. For Boise, it’s their only shot at a power conference team all year, and they’ll need the win to make an argument over UCF or Houston for that coveted Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s Day bowls.
  4. Georgia Tech (1, 1): South Florida, Citadel, @Temple, Georgia. This could be very much a Year 0 for my beloved Jackets. The USF game sets up right there in Week 2 after what will surely be a… rough start after Week 1’s ACC Network ritual sacrifice at Clemson. The Citadel looks to be one of the only sure wins on the schedule. Somehow we managed to hire a coach from a school that we would play in his first season, and there’s a fair chance they may beat us. And then there’s UGA. I’m still mildly amazed that not only did Paul Johnson manage to beat them three times, but that all three wins were in Athens. While we did miss seeing the students rush the field and tear down the goalposts, we did get plenty of overwrought press about hedge damage, so I guess it evens out.
  5. Miami (1, 1): N-Florida, Bethune-Cookman, Central Michigan, N-Florida International. I know it really wreaks havoc with their out-of-conference scheduling, but Miami should play Florida every year. Now, whether or not they should play in Week 0 in Orlando is an open question.
  6. Louisville (1, 1): Notre Dame, Eastern Kentucky, N-Western Kentucky, @Kentucky. Props to directional Kentucky schools for consistently being Eastern and Western, unlike certain other states that we’ll get to in a minute. Oh, and Louisville is going to be a tire first this year. But hey, you guys were the only football team in the universe that wanted to hire a Bobby Petrino a second time, so you should’ve known what you were getting into.
  7. Boston College (1, 1): Richmond, Kansas, @Rutgers, @Notre Dame. They’re rated seventh because they managed to schedule the arguably two worst teams in the Power 5 conferences, but somehow that still gets them above Virginia. Look, I don’t make the rules… oh, wait, yes I do, nevermind.
  8. Virginia (1, 1): William & Mary, Old Dominion, @Notre Dame, Liberty. Would UVA fans take a deal wherein they lose to ODU like Virginia Tech did last year in exchange for UVA beating Virginia Tech this year? Seriously Hoos, think about it.
  9. Virginia Tech (1, 2): Old Dominion, Furman, Rhode Island, @Notre Dame. VPI gets to exact revenge on those devious Monarchs, except that, well, the Hokies may be worse this year. Oh, and they get to go to South Bend, that should be fun. Also remember that only one of the FCS teams counts for bowl eligibility. They currently hold the nation’s longest consecutive bowl streak with Florida State bowing out this year, but it could real tough for the Hokies this year.
  10. Clemson (0.75, 1): Texas A&M, Charlotte, Wofford, @South Carolina. Unfortunately for Clemson, South Carolina is just, kinda, well, South Carolina. Otherwise the Texas A&M game would allow them to be rated here, but that’s just the way it goes.
  11. North Carolina State (0.5, 1): East Carolina, Western Carolina, @West Virginia, Ball State. East Carolina and Western Carolina are both in North Carolina. The question is: why is one East and the other Western? The world may never know.
  12. Wake Forest (0.25, 1): Utah State, @Rice, North Carolina, Elon. Wake could well lose two of these games. Oof. Well, then again, UNC may be a trash fire in Mack’s first year, and Utah state is certainly winnable, even if the Aggies are one of the best G5 teams. Rice, though? Yeah, that’s a win.
  13. North Carolina (0, 1): N-South Carolina, Wake Forest, Appalachian State, Mercer. And since I forgot to mention it in the Wake blurb up there: yes, Wake Forest and North Carolina are playing a non-conference game against each other. It’s dumb, yes, but it’s also a good indication of how broken the ACC’s division structure is. The last time the two in-state rivals played was in 2015, and the next time they’ll play is in-conference is 2022. So dumb.
  14. Syracuse (0, 1): @Liberty, @Maryland, Western Michigan, Holy Cross. I’m still more than willing to give some side-eye to scheduling two non-conference road games in the same season. Especially if one of them is frickin’ Liberty.

Big Ten

  1. Michigan (1, 0): Middle Tennessee State, Army, Notre Dame. The Big Ten could be admired for its scheduling ethos of discouraging FCS opponents and matchups against other FBS teams, especially from the Power 5 conferences. However, the actual implementation, at least for 2019, seems to have created a situation where no Big Ten team plays a really, truly exciting non-conference game. Like, the most talked about Big Ten out-of-conference game that I’ve heard about all offseason is Army going to Ann Arbor. Look, I know they took Oklahoma to overtime last year, but I don’t think Michigan will be fooled. 
  2. Purdue (0.75, 0): @Nevada, Vanderbilt, Texas Christian. This schedule, with its three distinct tiers of teams, should provide the Boilermakers with a good indication of where they’re at entering conference play.
  3. Northwestern (0.75, 0): @Stanford, Nevada-Las Vegas, Massachusetts. Northwestern-Stanford is a good series, but I’m not sure the games themselves will be all that exciting. 
  4. Nebraska (0.25, 0): South Alabama, @Colorado, Northern Illinois. One thing that does pop up a couple of times in this Big Ten slate is the rekindling of a couple of old rivalries. Here, we’ve got the Cornhuskers making their first trip to Boulder since 2010. The two teams played every season from 1949 until then, and picked up a home-and-home last year that the Buffs won 33-28. Nebraska has dominated the all-time series, 49-19-2. 
  5. Michigan State (0.25, 0): Tulsa, Western Michigan, Arizona State. Sparty gets a visit from the Sun Devils after losing a 16-13 contest last year. I doubt the return leg will be much more pointsy than the first, but like I said with this Big Ten slate, we’ll take what we can get.
  6. Ohio State (0.25, 0): Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Miami. Cincinnati and Ohio State basically never play, and when they do it hasn’t been competitive. The Buckeyes are 14-2 all time, and those two losses came in the 19th century. So, yeah, it’d be tough to call that a rivalry.
  7. Iowa (0.25, 0): Miami, @Iowa State, Middle Tennessee State. MTSU plays Michigan, Duke, and Iowa non-conference. Get money get paid, I suppose.
  8. Rutgers (0, 0): Massachusetts, Boston College, Liberty. Rutgers is basically at the top of the heap here because BC is a Power 5 team and they don’t play any FBS teams, though UMass and Liberty are probably some of the weakest FBS opponents you could possibly schedule.
  9. Maryland (0, 1): Howard, Syracuse, @Temple. I made the executive decision here to rate teams that play other Power 5 teams ahead of the ones that don’t, even if they play a FBS team. Also, the game at Temple could be kinda spicy.
  10. Pennsylvania State (0, 1): Idaho, Buffalo, Pittsburgh. Penn State played Pitt basically every year before they joined the Big Ten, so always good to see that sort of thing. Of course, right now the two teams are… far apart, with the last two meetings in 2017 and 2018 having a combined score of Penn State 84, Pittsburgh 20.
  11. Wisconsin (0, 0): @South Florida, Central Michigan, Kent State. Wisconsin goes down to Orlando for Week 1. Bring sunscreen, some shorts, and try to stay hydrated, Wisconsinites.
  12. Minnesota (0, 1): South Dakota State, @Fresno State, Georgia Southern. I think it’s way more like the Gophers go 3-0 against this slate than 0-3, but boy howdy this is about as hard as a schedule you could come up with without any Power 5 teams. You have a FCS national title contender, a road trip to Fresno, and you have an option. Have fun!
  13. Illinois (0, 0): Akron, @Connecticut, Eastern Michigan. Even Illinois can probably go 3-0 against this bunch. Oof.
  14. Indiana (0, 1): N-Ball State, Eastern Illinois, Connecticut. And finally, we’ve got the Hoosiers. It’s difficult for me to think of anything to really say about this schedule, it sort of just is. The “neutral site” game is in Idianapolis, for what it’s worth.

Big 12

  1. Oklahoma (1.5, 1): Houston, South Dakota, @California-Los Angeles. I’m sure Sooner fans would like to contrast them playing Houston while Texas plays Rice, but it’s not like Oklahoma plays Houston all the time. USD is probably the least successful of the Dakota schools, and UCLA, well, they’re still rebuilding.
  2. Texas (1, 0): Louisiana Tech, Louisiana State, N-Rice. This past summer was the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the surface of the moon, so I’ll use that as a weak excuse to re-link my preview from 9 years ago. Still applicable and they’re playing once again in Houston’s NFL stadium. In other news, the Longhorns will also play two teams from Louisiana, once of which they should be vastly more worried about than the other.
  3. West Virginia (0.5, 1): James Madison, @Missouri, North Carolina State. I still have to remind myself that WVU-Mizzou is not a repeat of the Wake Forest-UNC situation, as it’s actually a non-conference game. The weirdest part to me, though, is that I can always instantaneously recall that West Virginia is in the Big 12 now, but it always takes me a second to remember that Mizzou joined the SEC. Maybe it’s because WVU’s former home, the Big East, isn’t a football conference anymore? Who knows, brains are weird.
  4. Iowa State (0.5, 1): Northern Iowa, Iowa, Louisiana-Monroe. As per usual, Iowa State’s schedule is filled with as many Iowa teams as they can get credit for playing. Of course, this occasionally backfires, by which I mean Iowa State has lost 3 of their last 5 games against UNI. Even funnier, of course, are the occasions where they lose to UNI and then beat Iowa, which last happened in 2014. El Assico is truly the most underrated rivalry in sports.
  5. Kansas State (0.25, 1): Nicholls State, Bowling Green, @Mississippi State. The post-Synder era gets a relatively soft landing to start off, assuming of course they don’t start 0-3 and immediately bring him back.
  6. Texas Christian (0.25, 1): Arkansas-Pine Bluff, @Purdue, Southern Methodist. I had to look this up: apparently TCU and SMU play every year, even though TCU is now in the Big 12, though apparently the contract runs out after this season. Let’s hope the Battle for the Iron Skillet gets picked back up soon.
  7. Oklahoma State (0, 1): @Oregon State, McNeese State, @Tulsa. I guess maybe there is something to scheduling “winnable” road games, unless of course this is actually THE YEAR OF THE BEAVER and OSU is merely west coast OSU’s first victim.
  8. Texas Tech (0, 1): Montana State, Texas-El Paso, @Arizona. Who knows how good Arizona will e this year, and it’s also entirely possible UTEP may be worse than Montana State this year. Overall a manageable slate for first-year head coach Matt Wells. 
  9. Kansas (0, 1): Indiana State, Coastal Carolina, @Boston College. Still astonished that Les Miles is the new head coach at KU. Hopefully their new-found chestiness will get them at least two wins out of this slate, because, well, they’re Kansas.
  10. Baylor (0, 1): Stephen F. Austin, Texas-San Antonio, @Rice. See Texas, if Baylor can be bothered to play at the Rice Bowl, why can’t you?

Pac-12

  1. Stanford (1.75, 0): Northwestern, @Central Florida, Notre Dame. I’m sure the road game at UCF seemed like a good idea the time, but… yeah, instead Stanford has what may be the most difficult out-of-conference slate for a Power 5 team. Good luck!
  2. California-Los Angeles (1.25, 0): @Cincinnati, San Diego State, Oklahoma. 1-2 or 0-3 is not out of the question for UCLA against this slate. Oof.
  3. Southern California (1.25, 0): Fresno State, @Brigham Young, @Notre Dame. Speaking of 1-2 or 0-3, look at this banger for USC. Yes, they should beat Fresno and BYU, but will they? Or will it finally be enough to get rid of Clay Helton, whose name I have just finally been able to consistently remember?
  4. Colorado (1, 0): N-Colorado State, Nebraska, Air Force. Two in-state schools and an old Big 8 rival. Checks out.
  5. Oregon (1, 1): N-Auburn, Nevada, Montana. I felt bad about rating Oregon’s schedule this low, especially given they have a feisty FCS team on the schedule. But rules are rules, and it’s my job to (arbitrarily) enforce them. 
  6. Oregon State (1, 1): Oklahoma State, @Hawaii, California Polytechnic State. Trying to figure out what to put there for Cal Poly was perhaps the hardest part of this whole preview. As you may have noticed, I prefer using the “full name” of the schools when possible. The Wikipedia article for Cal Poly does say “California Polytechnic State University”, so that’s what I went with.
  7. Arizona State (0.5, 1): Kent State, Sacramento State, @Michigan State.  Well, I already talked about ASU going to East Lansing, so… um, well, Have You Considered Arizona State?
  8. Washington State (0.5, 1): New Mexico State, Northern Colorado, N-Houston. So yeah, Houston plays both Oregon and Wazzu this season. If they want to go for it under Year 1 with Dana Holgorsen, well, they certainly have the schedule to do so.
  9. California (0.25, 1): California-Davis, North Texas, @Mississippi. Well, I don’t know how many Ole Miss fans made it out to Berkeley last year, but boy howdy I hope some of the native California types I know decide to make the trip to Oxford. I’m chuckling quietly to myself just thinking about the culture shock. (Well, imagined culture shock, because being from Alabama it’s a point of pride that I’ve only ever crossed the Mississippi state line for transportation purposes, and also one Boy Scout trip to Vicksburg. After all, when you’re the 49th ranked state in most metrics, you gotta keep up appearances when dealing with the 50th ranked state.)
  10. Utah (0.25, 1): @Brigham Young, Northern Illinois, Idaho State. The Holy War is back once again, thankfully.
  11. Washington (0.25, 1): Eastern Washington, Hawaii, @Brigham Young. One of these days, we gotta figure out how to get a FBS team to visit Eastern Washington’s blood red field, but until then, we’ll just have to settle for them to visit Seattle.
  12. Arizona (0, 1): @Hawaii, Northern Arizona, Texas Tech. 2019: Hawaii tries to beat the entire Pac-12! Well, at least it feels that way. The Bearcats also will try to avoid losing to NAU for the first time since 1932.

SEC

  1. Florida (2, 2): N-Miami, Tennessee-Martin, Towson, Florida State. I felt conflicted on this one. I usually don’t give credit for rivalry games, but Florida-Miami isn’t a regularly scheduled game. On the other hand, the Gators also play two FCS teams. Regardless, playing Miami is enough to vault them to the top.
  2. Georgia (1.5, 1): Murray State, Arkansas State, Notre Dame, @Georgia Tech. The Irish head down to Athens this year, which, well, have fun with that y’all. 
  3. South Carolina (1.25, 1): N-North Carolina, Charleston Southern, Appalachian State, Clemson. Well, the UNC-USC game has a Wiki page, so I guess it’s a real rivalry? Also I would be delighted if they managed to lose to App State.
  4. Texas A&M (1, 1): Texas State, @Clemson, Lamar, Texas-San Antonio. A&M-Clemson is definitely one of the headlining out-of-conference games of the season, but the lack of any other meat on this schedule results in a 4th place ranking.
  5. Louisiana State (1, 1): Georgia Southern, @Texas, Northwestern State, Utah State. LSU gets a bump above Auburn thanks to Georgia Southern, since I consider Texas and Oregon to be a wash. Utah State doesn’t hurt either.
  6. Auburn (1, 1): N-Oregon, Tulane, Kent State, Samford. See above. Like I said about TAMU, there’s not much else here other than Oregon. 
  7. Missouri (0.5, 1): @Wyoming, West Virginia, Southeast Missouri State, Troy. Mizzou goes to Wyoming in Week 0, don’t sleep on that y’all. Also, they somehow guaranteed they would get Neal Brown, thanks to him leaving Troy for… West Virginia.
  8. Mississippi State (0.5, 1): N-Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Mississippi, Kansas State, Abilene Christian. They’re playing the Ragin’ Cajuns in New Orleans which seems like a… poor idea. I mean, the Bulldogs should win easily, but most of the time when these types of games are scheduled you don’t schedule a Group of 5 team that could actually sell their 50% allotment of the seats. This schedule continues to be pretty feisty with visits from Southern Miss and K-State.
  9. Vanderbilt (0.25, 1): @Purdue, Northern Illinois, Nevada-Las Vegas, East Tennessee State. I’m having a hard time thinking of any particular thoughts or feelings about this schedule.
  10. Alabama (0.25, 1): N-Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi, Western Carolina. Well, unlike in years past, I probably won’t have to worry about the Labor Day game. Also, you’ll hear a lot about Southern Miss beating Alabama, which is fun and all, but the last time happened was in 2000. Want to feel old? The freshmen on these teams weren’t alive when that happened. You’re welcome.
  11. Tennessee (0.25, 1): Georgia State, Brigham Young, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Alabama-Birmingham. Believer or not, Tennessee beating BYU would probably be a good indicator of how good the Vols will be under new management. Also, watch out for UAB.
  12. Mississippi (0, 1): @Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana, California, New Mexico State. It’s time for your annual reminder that Memphis is in fact in Tennessee, not Mississippi, and that Ole Miss could well lose that game. Also, I already talked about Berkeley-ites going to Oxford, MS, so go read that again and pretend that I also wrote it here.
  13. Kentucky (0, 1): Toledo, Eastern Michigan, Tennessee-Martin, Louisville. This is definitely a list of teams that Kentucky will play this season, no doubt about it. Well, unless there’s some sort of natural disaster, I guess.
  14. Arkansas (0, 1): Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State, Western Kentucky. For being at the bottom of the list, this is actually a delightfully odd schedule. Oh, for sure the Razorbacks will be well and truly favored in all these games, but look at the geography: outside of the Hilltoppers, you’ve got two teams from the Mountain West Conference and a FCS team from Oregon. Wonder if Arkansas has to pay more than usual for a Group of 5/FCS team if they’re that far away.

And now, the requisite epilogue section. First up is the List of Shame, for teams that play more than one FCS opponent. This year, I’ve got two entries, and no good excuses, as far as I know: Virginia Tech and Florida. That’s it! Good job, everyone else.

Next up, the list of teams that play more than one Power Five team:

  • Duke (Alabama, Notre Dame)
  • Louisville (Notre Dame, Kentucky)
  • Boston College (Kansas, Rutgers, Notre Dame)
  • Clemson (Texas A&M, South Carolina)
  • North Carolina (South Carolina, Wake Forest)
  • Stanford (Northwestern, Notre Dame)
  • Florida (Miami, Florida State)
  • Georgia (Notre Dame, Georgia Tech)
  • South Carolina (North Carolina, Clemson)
  • West Virginia (Missouri, North Carolina State)
  • Purdue (Vanderbilt, Texas Christian)

Yeah, maybe Notre Dame shouldn’t count for ACC teams. I’m debating that for next year. 

And finally, here are the conference’s average “legit” ratings:

  1. Pac-12 (0.25)
  2. ACC (0.188)
  3. SEC (0.17)
  4. Big 12 (0.133)
  5. Big Ten (0.083)

For the fourth year in a row, the Big Ten is dead last. As I said last year, and again this year, it seems that the Big Ten’s scheduling guidelines don’t really do a lot to help create interesting matchups. The Pac-12 and Big 12 also have only three out-of-conference games and their teams seem to do a consistently better job scheduling these games. Hopefully this changes soon.