The college football season is governed by a number of basic tensions. How will freshmen and transfers play? How will new coaches and coordinators guide their players and change levels of production? How will certain player losses harm teams and take away from what they want to do? Those and more questions matter. Another one: how will a soft non-conference schedule affect a team’s College Football Playoff chances? Here are four very easy non-conference slates in major college football this September:
The Bears have regularly scheduled easy non-conference opponents, believing that it’s more important to win games than have a big strength of schedule rating. This strategy looks brilliant if a team can go 12-0, but if a team goes 11-1, strength of schedule invariably becomes more important as a determinant of College Football Playoff worthiness.
The Bears have scheduled Liberty, Texas-San Antonio, and Duke – an FCS team, a Group of Five team, and a middle-to-lower-level power conference team. This is about as easy as it gets.
Art Briles is no longer the head coach and Matt Rhule now is. Baylor is a program that is hurting right now and they just need to earn some wins – any kind. Obviously, the Briles news crushed the school’s reputation and then a terrible season under Jim Grobe further sunk reputation. It’s a new era now, though, and they have to get off on the right foot. The scheduling will help.
A change in scheduling philosophy could emerge in two or three years. For now, Baylor is still locked into its easy scheduling mindset for non-league games.
There was no better example from 2016 of easy scheduling being a positive than Washington. The Huskies played Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State to ease their way into the season. Head coach Chris Petersen believed that if the Huskies won the Pac-12 title, and lost only one game, they would still have enough to get to the College Football Playoff. Since Oklahoma, the Big 12 champion, lost twice, Washington’s soft non-conference slate was indeed enough to get the Huskies in. The College Football Playoff committee did not put Penn State, the Big Ten champion, in the playoff instead of Washington. This is because Ohio State represented the Big Ten in the playoff field, and it’s also because Penn State lost two games, whereas Ohio State lost just once.
Washington has scheduled easy non-conference games once again. Rutgers, Montana, and Fresno State should not offer any noticeable levels of resistance, enabling the Huskies to prepare for Pac-12 play and defend their title.
Ole Miss Rebels
When the Rebels play non-conference games this year, they will face South Alabama Tennessee-Martin, and Louisiana-Lafayette, meaning that Ole Miss will not play a single team from a power conference (Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12). This is very timid scheduling, but with the Rebels ineligible for the bowl games, it’s not as though this plan is going to matter a great deal. Nevertheless, the schedule is very uncomplicated.
The Rebels have plenty to work on this season in terms of re-establishing themselves as a top-notch team in the SEC. Things somewhat went off the rails in the second half of last season, so a few easy non-conference games should boost their morale.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
When the Bulldogs step into their season, they will play Charleston Southern, Louisiana Tech, Brigham Young, and Massachusetts. Brigham Young is a challenging game, but none of the other three are. Charleston Southern is an FCS team, a big cupcake, and Massachusetts is one of the worst teams in Division I. Mississippi State’s schedule in those two games could not be easier. Louisiana Tech might have put up a fight, but the Tech team loses most of its passing game, which was so brilliant in 2016. This is a relatively unchallenging schedule.
In some ways, that’s good news for the Bulldogs. Dan Mullen and company need to rebuild in 2018 and prove that they can once again be a contender in the SEC. They lost their confidence at times this past season, so starting with a few confidence-building wins should help them in 2018.
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