Grading schedules, what there is of non-conference slates

by | Special to

The past week saw some awful news hit college football. No, not another NCAA investigation or another player suspended for a 2 a.m. brawl at an off-campus bar, not even another pimp agent ruining another program.

This time, we got word that Kansas State has pulled out of its 2011 and 2012 games against Oregon in order to, as tomato can connoisseur Bill Snyder said, "rework the non-conference schedule."

Kellen Moore and Boise State will face Virginia Tech in the biggest game of the first weekend. (Getty Images)  
Kellen Moore and Boise State will face Virginia Tech in the biggest game of the first weekend. (Getty Images)  
Another fallen soldier in our thirst for high-quality non-conference matchups. Will Septembers ever get good again in our beloved sport? Looks about as likely as Reggie Bush joining Billy Sims in the yell section behind the Heisman podium this year.

What happened to out-of-conference games? When did the schedule-makers become a whimpering huddled mass of V-neck sweater-wearin', plush-doll collectin', Justin Beiber-lovin' squeal queens? Nobody rolls up their sleeves and gets in a three-point stance with blood trickling down their arms to the delight of gridiron fans everywhere anymore. Hell, we should start feeling sorry for the scalpers out there. You try looking a stranger in the face and telling him this ticket to the South Dakota State-Nebraska game costs $70 with a straight face.

When teams wimp out, everyone loses. You. Me. Our entertainment value. Our pocketbooks. Our pride. The power rankings. The polls. The BCS. And of course, the pursuit of who the real best team in the country is.

With that casting a pall over our schedule-hating landscape, it's time to get out the red pen again and rate the non-conference schedules of the Top 25 teams of the recently released coaches poll.

And in case you didn't suspect it, yes, this is going to get ugly.

1. Alabama
Sept. 4: vs. San Jose State, F
Sept. 11: vs. Penn State, B+
Sept. 18: at Duke, C-
Nov. 18: vs. Georgia State, F-

Overall grade: D-
What in the name of Ears Whitworth is goin' on here? Is this any way for a national champion to challenge itself? OK, actually, the Penn State game is pretty cool, but the Tide get the Lions when they're rather toothless, having to break in a new QB and numerous holes to fill on defense. In the other three scrimmages, expect RBs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to pretty much name their rushing totals. And Georgia State? Really? That program is starting from ground zero having never played a game before. Tide administrators should be wearing grocery bags on their heads.

2. Ohio State
Sept. 2: vs. Marshall, D
Sept. 11: vs. Miami (Fla.), A-
Sept. 18: Ohio, F+
Sept. 25: Eastern Michigan, F

Overall grade: D
Granted, we likey-likey the Hurricanes game. A lot. Even if the U isn't quite all the way back yet. But not even an epic rematch of their 2002 national championship game can save this dog of a non-conference schedule. However, we need to big-picture this thing. ... We may hate it, but OSU has THE penultimate scenario for a national title run. A high preseason ranking doubled with cupcake non-conference games and an open date before games with Penn State and Iowa. And even their biggest test, at Wisconsin on Oct. 16, is early enough to take a loss and rebound for a chance at the BCS title game.

3. Florida
Sept. 4: vs. Miami (Ohio), F
Sept. 11: vs. South Florida, C
Nov. 20: vs. Appalachian State, F-
Nov. 27: at Florida State, B+

Overall grade: D+
In the words of Gators fans everywhere, WWTTD? Because surely Tim Tebow would prefer his ex-teammates take on more of a challenge. This marshmallow slate is enough to make you wanna shave your head in protest. ... like a friar. First they play the wrong Miami -- the weak sister from Ohio -- and then the wrong green wearing team from southern Florida -- it should be the 'Canes. And scheduling Appy State? Pffft, that's soooo three years ago. At least FSU could be making a comeback this year, if not for their mind-numbing slate.

4. Texas
Sept. 4: vs. Rice, F
Sept. 11: vs. Wyoming, D
Sept. 25: vs. UCLA, B
Nov. 20: vs. Florida Atlantic, F

Overall grade: D-
Could this be the most red-carpet schedule you've seen for a national contender trying to break in a first-time starting quarterback? The laughingstock Owls and then the second-rate Pokes? Perfect. By game three at defense-bereft Texas Tech, Garrett Gilbert will be a seasoned/confident vet. When the Bruins come to town the following week, the 'Horns will have had enough time to find a running game, build up some D-line confidence and should be ready to go into the Red River Rivalry a week later with another unbeaten record.

5. Boise State
Sept. 6: vs. Virginia Tech (Landover, Md.), A+
Sept. 18: at Wyoming, D
Sept. 25: vs. Oregon State, B+
Oct. 9: vs. Toledo, D-

Overall grade: B-
Ho hum, still only a few teams willing to take these guys on. And sure, I suppose a grade of B- is slightly on the generous side for the Broncs, but considering Boise is willing to play two quality programs like VaTech and OSU in the same season, they deserve a little gloss. Then again, I'm sure most BCS snobs would say that the Broncos should play a tough non-WAC slate, because, well, it's the WAC. At least they got their wish this year.

6. Virginia Tech
Sept. 6: vs. Boise State (Landover, Md.), A+
Sept. 11: vs. James Madison, F-
Sept. 18: vs. East Carolina, D+
Oct. 9: vs. Central Michigan, C-

Overall grade: C
Just call the 2010 Hokies the non-BCS home for wayward teams, taking on three pretty darn good mid-majors (OK, I mean one really, really good non-BCS and two other traditional big conference pests). Yet they'll catch ECU on a down cycle and CMU having to play without Dan LeFevour for the first time since 2005. So both aren't quite up to snuff as they normally might be. But that lidlifter vs. the Broncos is one of the biggest yardstick games with huge BCS ramifications, so give it to the Hokies for scheduling it.

7. TCU
Sept. 4: vs. Oregon State (Arlington, Texas), B+
Sept. 11: vs. Tennessee Tech, F-
Sept. 18: vs. Baylor, C
Sept. 24: at SMU, D+

Overall grade: C
After taking two trips to ACC country last season, the Frogs will take it easier this year. Too bad. With a senior-dominated lineup, TCU needs to take on all comers and boost that BCS-busting profile ... then again, there probably weren't too many willing souls. Just like Boise, if they make it past opening weekend, they could sail to another unbeaten regular season. In case you're wondering, they have BYU and Air Force at home and will travel to Utah. No need to worry about any other games.

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8. Oklahoma
Sept. 4: vs. Utah State, F
Sept. 11: vs. Florida State, B+
Sept. 18: vs. Air Force, C
Sept. 25: at Cincinnati, A

Overall grade: B
Coming on the heels of a season where they played BYU and Miami, you would have to give the Sooners another A for effort here. They tried to schedule up, as you can see. But look, if FSU and Air Force were up to their usual standards, this slate would be murderous, without a doubt. And a trip to Nippert Stadium? Who else would be so brave to venture to play a team with back-to-back BCS appearances at their joint? Bravo, Sooners. ... or make that Brave-o.

9. Nebraska
Sept. 4: vs. Western Kentucky, F
Sept. 11: vs. Idaho, D-
Sept. 18: at Washington, B+
Sept. 25: vs. South Dakota State, F-

Overall Grade: D
Bob Devaney just rolled over in his grave, wobbling grain elevators all over the state. Although the Blackshirts vs. Jake Locker is pretty intriguing, the rest of the schedule is pretty deplorable. WKU could be the worst team in the entire upper division and the last time NU played the Jackrabbits? Try 1963. (And boy, are they hacked over that 59-7 beatdown in Devaney's second season!) If the Bugeaters really are the No. 9 team in the country, then their 2010 schedule comes down to a one-game season: vs. Texas on Oct. 16. And truthfully, wouldn't the Big Red Nation rather their charges go 1-11, as long as that one win is vs. the 'Horns?

10. Iowa
Sept. 4: vs. Eastern Illinois, F-
Sept. 11: vs. Iowa State, C+
Sept. 18: at Arizona, B
Sept. 25: vs. Ball State, F

Overall grade: C
While the bad games are pretty bad, you have to admit, the good games are pretty good. The C+ rating for the Cy-Hawk Trophy is mainly because it's a bitter, hateful rivalry game that should be an intensity rush. Any trip to the desert in September to face Nick Foles and the Wildcats attack is enough to take anyone out of their comfort zone. (But to be honest, college football fans everywhere will be salivating over that Adrian Clayborn-led defense going up against the high-powered 'Cats.) We should know a lot about this team by the time the Big Ten portion of their slate has them lining up against Penn State in October.

11. Oregon
Sept. 4: vs. New Mexico, F
Sept. 11: at Tennessee, B
Sept. 18: vs. Portland State, F-

Overall grade: C-
Somehow the Ducks seem to find themselves in some of the more interesting road games of every season, especially last year's Earth-tilting opener at Boise and this year's trip to Neyland Stadium. Derek Dooley will be dying for a signature win to put an "Arrived!" stamp on his tenure on Rocky Top. So it's Duck Season again in another early-season marquee matchup, this time Pac-10 vs. SEC style. Awesome. The others? Not worth duck snorts.

12. Wisconsin
Sept. 4: at UNLV, D
Sept. 11: vs. San Jose State, F
Sept. 18: vs. Arizona State, C
Sept. 25: vs. Austin Peay, F-

Overall grade: D-
At most, there will be little more than a speed bump vs. the Sun Devils, but nothing to get in a twist over. Because this is basically a brisk workout and a three-pack of glorified scrimmages. Considering the Badgers will also get Ohio State at home and will avoid Penn State in the Big Ten rotation, Wiscy has a schedule made for a national title run -- even if the weak schedule disguises the quality of the team one way or another.

13. Miami (Fla.)
Sept. 2: vs. Florida A&M, F-
Sept. 11: at Ohio State, A+
Sept. 23: at Pittsburgh, A+
Nov. 27: vs. South Florida, C

Overall grade: A-
This is wicked good. Almost too good. I mean, we as college football fans wholeheartedly support and applaud a non-conference schedule like this, but the truth is that it's probably going to be too much for the 'Canes to handle. The first three games above are followed by a roadie at Clemson and a home date with Florida State. Ouch. But a bye after the OSU game is followed by no breaks in the schedule from Sept. 23 until Nov. 27, when they host South Florida. That's a ballbreaker.

14. Penn State
Sept. 4: vs. Youngstown State, F-
Sept. 11: at Alabama, A+++
Sept. 18: vs. Kent State, F
Sept. 25: vs. Temple, C-

Overall grade: B-
This is one of those all-is-forgiven type of things. JoePa heads back down to the Heart of Dixie to take on the defending national champs? That is sooooo 1982. And that is so old-school cool, too. The rest of the schedule is highly forgettable. Even the improvement of the Owls can't really save the rest of it, but we applaud Temple's newfound success anyway. The Lions will need another gut-check after the 'Bama butt-kickin' they'll take and before the Big Ten gets cranked up.

15. Pittsburgh
Sept. 2: at Utah, A-
Sept. 11: vs. New Hampshire, F-
Sept. 23: vs. Miami (Fla.), A
Oct. 2: vs. Florida International, F
Oct. 9: at Notre Dame, B-

Overall Grade: B
Man, when it's good, it's great. When it's bad, well OK, it's like, Ampipe-bad. But what high points this thing has. Big props for the 'stache here, as he'll have his troops well-tested by Big East time. The Panthers would have earned three A grades if the Irish were up to snuff recently (off-shoot question: Do you think the younger generation even remembers when the Irish were a top-flight program?) Don't hassle the Panthers too much, with that schedule, they'll need breaks like UNH and FIU. In the meantime, us college football freaks still give a big thumbs up.

Fan Poll

Which school has the best nonconference schedule?

Boise State
Florida State
Oregon State
Penn State

Total Votes: 1,945

16. LSU
Sept. 4: vs. North Carolina (Atlanta), A
Sept. 25: vs. West Virginia, A
Oct. 16: vs. McNeese State, F-
Nov. 13: vs. UL-Monroe, F

Overall grade: C+
Now THERE you go guys! Much, much better, Tigers. The past two seasons have been pretty poor, but the Bayou Boys make up for that with this year's awesome non-conference matchups against UNC and WVU. The Purple and Gold offense will have a hell of a time against both as the Heels have All-American candidates at each level of the D and the 'Neers return 10 starters on that side of the ball. Damn. Makes the two breathers against the in-state schools near necessities.

17. Georgia Tech
Sept. 4: vs. South Carolina State, F-
Sept. 11: at Kansas, C+
Oct. 16: vs. Middle Tennessee State, D+
Nov. 27: at Georgia, A

Overall grade: C
It's a Ramblin' Wreck alright. This slate is not much for the college football community to revel in, but it's perfect for the Jackets. They'll face some pretty weak defenses in SCSU, KU and MidTenn. That's a perfect recipe for fine-tuning what should be a meat-grinder of an offense. Look for Josh Nesbitt to go crazy on these poor boys. By the time they get to Clemson in the last week of October, they could be unstoppable. A run to the BCS isn't out of the question.

18. North Carolina
Sept. 4: vs. LSU (Atlanta), A
Sept. 25: at Rutgers, B
Oct. 2: vs. East Carolina, D+
Oct. 30: vs. William & Mary, F-

Overall grade: C+
Perhaps only Boise State will have a more telling first game than the Heels. If their defense isn't plucked thin by NCAA investigations, they have a legit shot at beating the Tigers and maybe even making a run at the national title (Did I just type that for UNC? Wow.). Either way, none of their other three games outside ACC play should be much of a sweat-breaker, not with their senior-dominated lineup.

19. Arkansas
Sept. 4: vs. Tennessee Tech, F-
Sept. 11: vs. UL-Monroe, F
Oct. 9: at Texas A&M, B+
Nov. 13: vs. UTEP, D

Overall grade: D
For the second year in a row the Razorbacks will trudge through a pretty horrid non-conference slate as none of the three FBS teams had winning records in 2009 and Tennessee Tech is, well, Tennessee Tech. But watch out for that A&M game, considering the Hogs administered a 47-19 whipping on the Aggies last season. Revenge is the only thing that makes this slate interesting.

20. Florida State
Sept. 4: vs. Samford, F-
Sept. 11: at Oklahoma, A+
Sept. 18: vs. BYU, B
Nov. 27: vs. Florida, A+

Overall grade: A-
Now THIS is a non-conference sked us college football fans love. Thank you, Coach Bowden, wherever you are. Unfortunately, with all the turnover and recent down cycle, we're not exactly getting a vintage Seminoles team to take it on. Could you imagine how fun this would be with one of those Charlie Ward-led or Danny McManus-led teams going up against this? Well, suffice to say, if FSU finds some defense this year, it all gets much more intriguing.

21. Georgia
Sept. 4: vs. La.-Lafayette, F
Oct. 2: at Colorado, C+
Nov. 6: vs. Idaho State, F-
Nov. 27: vs. Georgia Tech, A

Overall grade: C
A: It's great to see an SEC team make a road trip. B: It's even better to see one have the cojones to travel to a wholly different climate/environment and take on a good opponent. The trip to mile-high Boulder will test the new defense and its stamina, that's for sure. The season ender vs. the hated Jackets is always a treat, especially with last year's upset win in Atlanta. And don't you think rivalry games with a tinge of revenge are extra sweet?

22. Oregon State
Sept. 4: vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas), A+
Sept. 18: vs. Louisville, D
Sept. 25: at Boise State, A

Overall grade: A-
OK, OK. First off, the entire BCS community may be Beavers fans this year, at least for the first weekend. If the Beavs don't take out TCU, the BCS-busters could run the table again and get the rest of the bowl system all up in a tizzy. Damn! Same goes for their showdown against BSU. Should the Broncos escape Landover with a win over Virginia Tech on opening weekend, OSU may be their only other hurdle.

23. Auburn
Sept. 4: vs. Arkansas State, F
Sept. 18: vs. Clemson, B
Oct. 2: UL-Monroe, F
Nov. 6: vs. Chattanooga, F-

Overall grade: D-
In the words of John Winger in Stripes, this sucks. Two Sun Belt teams and an FCS team? And a rather ordinary FCS team at that. Yick! The only saving grace to this three-legged dog is that Clemson starting QB Kyle Parker chose to return for another season and should be improved. So that might (emphasis on might) pose a viable challenge to the Plainsmen.

24. Utah
Sept. 2: vs. Pittsburgh, A
Sept. 11: vs. UNLV, D
Sept. 25: vs. San Jose State, F
Oct. 9: at Iowa State, C+

Overall grade: C
The opener is one of the more intriguing games of the non-conference season, with the scant few defensive returnees saddled with the job of trying to stop Pitt's Dion Lewis. Meanwhile, the trip to Iowa State could be a real shootout and is the only game in a seven-game stretch before the TCU contest where they face any sort of challenge.

25. West Virginia
Sept. 4: vs. Coastal Carolina, F-
Sept. 10: at Marshall, D
Sept. 18: vs. Maryland, D+
Sept. 25: at LSU, A+
Oct. 9: vs. UNLV, D

Overall grade: C-
One thing's for sure, the Mountaineers will have plenty of time to work the kinks out of a new offense against weak sisters CCU, Marshall and Maryland to start things off. Then comes the trip to LSU, the game we're all waiting for. Too bad that game in Tiger Stadium couldn't have taken place in 2007 when both teams hovered in the top five and had their shots at making the BCS title game.


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