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Ranking CFB's easiest nonconference schedules


    Now that we’ve ranked the toughest Power 5 nonconference schedules for the 2018 season (and, yes, everybody agreed with our rankings), let’s take a stab at those teams that play the easiest nonconference schedules.

    Granted, what appears to be a challenging or soft nonconference schedule in June can change dramatically come November or December. Case in point: Alabama played Florida State to kick off last season in a No. 1 vs. No. 3 matchup that at the time was hailed as one of the greatest season openers in history.

    Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending injury late in that game, and the Seminoles wound up struggling to even make a bowl game.

    We were especially hard on those teams not playing any Power 5 opponents in their nonconference slate as well as those teams padding their schedule with FCS foes and/or not playing any true road games.

    Of note, there are three Big Ten teams and three SEC teams on this list, including the two teams — Alabama and Georgia — that played in the national championship game a year ago.

    So let’s look closer at our ranking of the cushiest nonconference schedules for the 2018 season.

    Sept. 1 vs. Bowling Green, Sept. 8 vs. Portland State, Sept. 15 vs. San Jose State

    Just as Pittsburgh was an easy choice for having the toughest Power 5 nonconference schedule, Oregon is the runaway winner for having the softest nonconference schedule.

    Not only do the Ducks have three home games, none of which are against Power 5 opponents, but one of those is against FCS foe Portland State.

    And among them, Bowling Green, San Jose State and Portland State won four games last season. So not exactly a murderers’ row out of conference for Mario Cristobal in his first season as the Ducks’ coach.

    Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky, Sept. 8 vs. New Mexico, Sept. 15 vs. BYU

    For the second straight year, Wisconsin doesn’t face a nonconference team from a Power 5 conference. The only other two Big Ten teams not playing a Power 5 team out of conference this season are Illinois and Minnesota.

    All three of the Badgers’ games are also in the comfy confines of Camp Randall Stadium, where they are unbeaten in nonconference games under Paul Chryst. They do take on BYU, but the Cougars are coming off a four-win season and have seen better days.

    Sept. 1 vs. Nicholls State, Sept. 8 at Central Michigan, Sept. 15 vs. Rutgers

    Given that Kansas has won a total of three games in the past three seasons, it’s probably a little much to be picking on whom the Jayhawks play out of conference. After all, they’ve managed only three conference wins in the past seven seasons.

    Still, the triumvirate of Nicholls State, Central Michigan and Rutgers to open the season isn’t exactly a grind by any standard, although playing on the road at Central Michigan could prove tricky.

    Sept. 1 vs. Texas State, Sept. 15 at Kansas, Sept. 22 vs. Buffalo

    After facing Washington to open the season a year ago, Rutgers replaces the Huskies on its nonconference schedule in 2018 with a trip to Kansas, which ranks exactly one spot ahead of the Scarlet Knights on our list of the easiest Power 5 nonconference schedules.

    In part, the Jayhawks and Scarlet Knights have each other to thank for that distinction. It’s also worth noting that Rutgers lost to Eastern Michigan last season at home, so MAC foe Buffalo is no gimme.

    Sept. 1 vs. Eastern Illinois, Sept. 8 at Colorado State, Sept. 15 vs. North Texas, Oct. 20 vs. Tulsa

    The Razorbacks were originally scheduled to face Michigan the next two seasons, but the Wolverines bought their way out of that series to resume their rivalry with Notre Dame. So Arkansas had to scramble to fill that slot and wound up replacing Michigan with a trip to Colorado State.

    This could be a rebuilding season for Mike Bobo and the Rams after some key personnel losses on offense. The Hogs take the SEC medal because they’re the only team in the league that won’t play a Power 5 nonconference opponent (or Notre Dame) in 2018.

    Sept. 1 vs. Richmond, Sept. 8 at Indiana, Sept. 15 vs. Ohio, Nov. 10 vs. Liberty

    The ACC’s easiest nonconference schedule belongs to a Virginia program entering its third season with Bronco Mendenhall in charge. Had it not been for Liberty reclassifying to the FBS level, the Cavaliers would have two FCS schools on their schedule. They’re already playing Richmond, and Liberty will be playing its first season as a provisional FBS member.

    The only road trip is to Indiana, which won by 17 points last season in Charlottesville.

    Sept. 1 at Wyoming, Sept. 8 vs. San Jose State, Sept. 15 vs. Eastern Washington

    For the third straight season, the Cougars don’t face a Power 5 team outside the conference in the regular season. Then again, they lost to both Eastern Washington and Boise State in 2016.

    Wyoming takes the place of Boise State on the 2018 schedule, and Washington State has to travel to Laramie. Even without Josh Allen, the Cowboys won’t be an easy out. Nonetheless, it’s a nonconference schedule a lot of teams would take in a heartbeat.

    Sept. 1 at FIU, Sept. 8 vs. Virginia, Sept. 15 vs. Ball State

    The Hoosiers are looking to break through and get to a bowl game in Tom Allen’s second season as head coach. They have the kind of nonconference schedule that should help thanks to a September stretch to open the season that’s not all that daunting.

    Indiana’s only road game outside the Big Ten is at FIU to kick off the season, and Butch Davis has to replace a ton of experience from last year’s team. There will be a lot of disappointed Hoosiers if they’re not 3-0 going into that Michigan State game at home on Sept. 22.

    Sept. 1 vs. Austin Peay, Sept. 15 vs. Middle Tennessee, Nov. 17 vs. UMass, Nov. 24 vs. Georgia Tech

    On its way to an SEC championship and appearance in the national title game last season, Georgia played two nonconference games against Power 5 opponents, both on the road. But Notre Dame comes off the schedule this season, and Kirby Smart’s club won’t have to leave Sanford Stadium for any of its four games out of conference.

    Georgia Tech is a rivalry game, and the Yellow Jackets have won each of their past two trips to Athens. Even so, this is a nonconference slate tailor-made for the Dawgs to be 4-0.

    Sept. 1 vs. Louisville in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 8 vs. Arkansas State, Sept. 29 vs. Louisiana, Nov. 17 vs. The Citadel

    The headliner for Alabama is Louisville in Orlando, but the Cardinals lose one of the most dangerous players in the college game in quarterback Lamar Jackson and return only two starters on defense.

    Nick Saban hasn’t lost a nonconference game in the regular season since his first year at Alabama in 2007 when the Tide lost to Louisiana Monroe. Hard to see that changing with this schedule.



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