The question: “Mr. Crawford, since you’re paying so much attention to U of L’s schedule, why don’t you do the same for other top 10 programs. Look at USC, everybody’s top pick. What do you have to say about their schedule? I think you’ll find it’s not as tough as it looks. What about the other top 10 teams?”
Fair enough. Let’s look at the AP Top 10’s out-of-conference schedules.
1. USC: Idaho, at No. 20 Nebraska, at Notre Dame. This is a legit non-conference slate. The obligatory yawner for a home opener, followed by a ranked team in a difficult environment on the road, followed by Notre Dame on the road, and even though the Irish are down, it’s still a tougher non-conference road test than most teams will take on.
2. LSU: No. 9 Virginia Tech, Middle Tennessee, at Tulane, Louisiana Tech. Three creampuffs, but a very difficult game against Virginia Tech in the second game of the season. Note, that one, major non-conference test will provide great perspective on LSU’s season.
3. West Virginia: Western Michigan, at Marshall, at Maryland, East Carolina. Soft, though the Mountaineers do get credit for the two road games, including a rivalry game on the road.
4. Texas: Arkansas State, No. 22 TCU, at Central Florida, Rice. One non-conference test against a ranked team, but otherwise weak, though the Longhorns did just finish a home-and-home with Ohio State, which shows they’re not averse to playing people in the non-conference.
5. Michigan: Appalachian State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan. Putrid. Where’s the outrage? Oregon is decent. Notre Dame is a traditional foe. But if Michigan goes unbeaten, where is the scrutiny going to be? They’ll have beaten Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State (average preseason rank: 11.7). All the more reason for U of L to have one ranked team in the non-conference schedule.
6. Florida: Western Kentucky, Troy, Florida Atlantic, No. 19 Florida State. Bad, bad, bad. But the Gators do face five ranked teams overall, so they’re in for plenty of tests.
7. Wisconsin: Washington State, at UNLV, Citadel, Northern Illinois. Wisconsin should only get a BCS bid if it is unbeaten.
8. Oklahoma: North Texas, Miami (Fla.), Utah State, at Tulsa. Sooners not breaking any non-conference sweat.
9. Virginia Tech: East Carolina, at No. 2 LSU, Ohio, William & Mary. The LSU trip salvages an otherwise flat slate.
10. Louisville: Murray State, Middle Tennessee, at Kentucky, Utah, at N.C. State. The two road games make this one palatable.
Thoughts: Half the teams have no (preseason) ranked teams on their non-conference schedules: WVU, U of L, Wisconsin, Michigan and Oklahoma.
Number of preseason ranked teams overall on each schedule (average rank in parentheses): USC 3 (15.3), LSU 4 (13.5), West Virginia 2 (13), Texas 4 (18.8), Michigan 3 (11.7), Florida 5 (13.4), Wisconsin 3 (10.3), Oklahoma 2 (14.5), Virginia Tech 2 (10.5), Louisville 2 (9.5).
Interesting note: Though U of L faces only two ranked teams, it faces two higher-ranked (preseason) teams than Oklahoma, Virginia Tech or West Virginia (the others to face only two).
Looking at this, I’d say U of L has about the sixth-best schedule of the top 10 teams, and isn’t far off a couple of others.
Actually better than I thought the schedule would fare.