Ranking 2016 college football nonconference schedule strength

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee considers strength of schedule to be a significant factor iin the creation of its rankings, which determine the participants in the playoffs. Sometimes the difference between teams is how they scheduled outside their leagues. For example, Baylor was left out of the first College Football Playoff in 2014 mostly because of a terrible nonconference schedule.

With that in mind, here is a conference-by-conference breakdown of this season's nonconference schedules of the teams in the Power Five conferences. An overall ranking of the top 10 nonconference schedules can be found at the end.

Big Ten

The Big Ten has not been able to dethrone the SEC on the field, but there is one area of SEC dominance that now belongs to the Big Ten - scheduling home nonconference games. No league schedules more home nonconference games year in and year out than the SEC, and it's rarely close, but this season, the Big Ten will play a whopping 81 percent of its 42 nonconference games at home. And that doesn't count the LSU-Wisconsin game in Green Bay, which is considered neutral. Beginning with this season, Big Ten teams are playing one fewer nonconference game, and it appears that most teams cut road games.

You really can't blame teams like Purdue and Illinois for scheduling only home games. They need any advantage they can get. But what's your excuse, Michigan? You too, Iowa. Not only are the Hawkeyes playing only home games, but their toughest foe may be five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State. In fact, the Bison are arguably better than any of the nonconference opponents of Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue.

That doesn't mean there are no marquee games. Ohio State will play at Oklahoma in a game that figures to have major playoff implications, and Michigan State will travel to Notre Dame. Also, while it's not necessarily a big game on the national landscape, Penn State and Pittsburgh are renewing their rivalry, which hasn't been played since 2000.

Rank Team Nonconference opponents
1 Ohio State Bowling Green, Tulsa, AT Oklahoma
2 Michigan State Furman, AT Notre Dame, BYU
3 Wisconsin LSU, Akron, Georgia State
4 Penn State Kent State, AT Pittsburgh, Temple
5 Nebraska Fresno State, Wyoming, Oregon
6 Rutgers AT Washington, Howard, New Mexico
7 Illinois Murray State, North Carolnia, Western Michigan
8 Northwestern Western Michigan, Illinois State, Duke
9 Maryland Howard, AT FIU, AT UCF
10 Indiana AT FIU, Ball State, Wake Forest
11 Iowa Miami (OH), Iowa State, North Dakota State
12 Michigan Hawaii, UCF, Colorado
13 Minnesota Oregon State, Indiana State, Colorado State
14 Purdue Eastern Kentucky, Cincinnati, Nevada

SEC

The league has been temporarily dethroned as the home game scheduling champion, but part of the reason for that is circumstantial. There are four teams that play in-state rivalry games with ACC opponents every season, and this season, three of those are on the road. Outside of those four games, the SEC is only playing six road games.

Another annual characteristic of SEC nonconference schedules is that when teams do play away from home, even in neutral site games, they rarely leave the South. Four of those six road games are being played by the two teams picked at or near the bottom of the division standings, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs will travel out of the South not just once, but twice! Mississippi State will play at both UMass and BYU. The Bulldogs haven't left the South for a regular season game since 2002 (Oregon).

There are a few big games on the slate, including Alabama-USC in Arlington, Texas, and the aforementioned LSU-Wisconsin game.

Rank Team Nonconference opponents
1 South Carolina East Carolina, UMass, Western Carolina, AT Clemson
2 Arkansas Louisiana Tech, AT TCU, Texas State, Alcorn State
3 Florida UMass, North Texas, Presbyterian, AT Florida State
4 Alabama USC, Western Kentucky, Kent State, Chattanooga
5 Mississippi Florida State, Wofford, Memphis, Georgia Southern
6 Georgia North Carolina, Nicholls State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Tech
7 LSU Wisconsin, Jacksonville State, Southern Miss, South Alabama
8 Kentucky Southern Miss, New Mexico State, Austin Peay, AT Louisville
9 Vanderbilt Middle Tennessee State, AT Georgia Tech, AT Western Kentucky, Tennessee State
10 Auburn Clemson, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama A&M
11 Missouri AT West Virginia, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State, Middle Tennessee State
12 Texas A&M UCLA, Prairie View A&M, New Mexico State, UTSA
13 Tennessee Appalachian State, Virginia Tech, Ohio, Tennessee Tech
14 Mississippi State South Alabama, AT UMass, AT BYU, Samford

Big 12

The Big 12 is still jumping through hoops in an effort to solve the problem of the first year of the CFP, which is that the league was left out. The actual problem that year was Baylor's putrid nonconference schedule, but the league is looking for answers in other places. Meanwhile, Baylor's nonconference schedule is still an anchor on the Bears' chances of getting to a playoff if they have a good enough season to get considered.

Oklahoma is making up for that, though. The Sooners will open the season against Houston in Houston, which is easily the biggest game in the recent history of the Cougars program, if not its entire history. Oklahoma will also host Ohio State in Week 3 before entering conference play. That is much more difficult nonconference schedule than most major conference teams will play.

The other teams that are seen as challengers to the Sooners for the Big 12 title have the worst nonconference schedules in the league, so the best chance for the Big 12 to reach the playoff this year rests with Oklahoma.

In fact, it's hard to find another compelling nonconference matchup in the Big 12 this year outside of Oklahoma's schedule. The next best is probably Texas hosting Notre Dame.

Rank Team Nonconference opponent
1 Oklahoma AT Houston, Louisiana-Monroe, Ohio State
2 Kansas State AT Stanford, FAU, Missouri State
3 Texas Notre Dame, UTEP, AT California
4 Iowa State Northern Iowa, AT Iowa, San Jose State
5 Texas Tech Stephen F. Austin, AT Arizona State, Louisana Tech
6 West Virginia Missouri, Youngstown State, BYU
7 Kansas Rhode Island, Ohio, AT Memphis
8 TCU South Dakota State, Arkansas, AT SMU
9 Baylor Northwestern State, SMU, AT Rice
10 Oklahoma State SE Louisiana, Central Michigan, Pittsburgh

Pac-12

As tough as Oklahoma's schedule is, USC's is probably tougher. The Trojans will start the season playing defending champion Alabama in Texas, and finish it by hosting Notre Dame. Those are two of my projected playoff participants.

As a league, the Pac-12 spends a lot of time on the road compared to most major conferences. They will play 10 road games out of a total of just 36. Among the league's road opponents are Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Nebraska and San Diego State, the favorite in the Mountain West.

In fact, Notre Dame's playoff hopes will largely depend on how it does at USC and against Stanford at home. Either of those games could turn out to be CFP elimination games.

The only Pac-12 school that totally wimped out in nonconference play is Washington, the trendy pick to surprise in conference play. We won't find out anything significant about the Huskies when they play Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State at home. Well, nothing good anyway.

Rank Team Nonconference opponents
1 USC Alabama, Utah State, Notre Dame
2 Stanford Kansas State, AT Notre Dame, Rice
3 UCLA AT Texas A&M, UNLV, AT BYU
4 California Hawaii, AT San Diego State, Texas
5 Colorado Colorado State, Idaho State, AT Michigan
6 Oregon UC Davis, Virginia, AT Nebraska
7 Oregon State AT Minnesota, Idaho State, Boise State
8 Washington State Eastern Washington, AT Boise State, Idaho
9 Utah Southern Utah, BYU, AT San Jose State
10 Arizona State Northern Arizona, Texas Tech, AT UTSA
11 Arizona BYU, Grambling, Hawaii
12 Washington Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State

ACC

Nonconference schedules in the ACC go to both extremes. The league will play the lowest percentage of home nonconference games at 60 percent. However, the ACC ties the SEC with the most games against FCS opposition at 14. The ACC also has the only Power Five team playing two FCS foes in North Carolina.

Clemson is considered the favorite to repeat in the league and projected to make the playoff, but unless Auburn and South Carolina have bounce back seasons, the nonconference schedule won't help the Tigers much. They also play Troy and South Carolina State.

While Notre Dame doesn't benefit much, from a strength of schedule perspective, by playing five ACC opponents each season, the ACC strength of schedule is better. This season, Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech will play at Notre Dame, while the Irish will visit NC State and play Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

One nonconference game that is flying under the radar of a busy opening weekend is Ole Miss playing Florida State in Orlando.

Rank Team Nonconference Opponents
1 Florida State Ole Miss, Charleston Southern, AT South Florida, Florida
2 Virginia Tech Liberty, Tennessee, East Carolina, AT Notre Dame
3 Duke NCCU, AT Northwestern, AT Notre Dame, Army
4 Pittsburgh Villanova, Penn State, AT Oklahoma State, Marshall
5 Louisville Charlotte, AT Marshall, AT Houston, Kentucky
6 Georgia Tech Mercer, Vanderbilt, Georgia Southern, AT Georgia
7 Syracuse Colgate, South Florida AT UConn, Notre Dame
8 Virginia Richmond, AT Oregon, AT UConn, Central Michigan
9 Clemson AT Auburn, Troy, South Carolina State, South Carolina
10 North Carolina Georgia, AT Illinois, James Madison, Citadel
11 Miami (FL) Florida A&M, FAU, AT Appalachian State, AT Notre Dame
12 NC State William & Mary, AT East Carolina, Old Dominion, Notre Dame
13 Wake Forest Tulane, Delaware, AT Indiana, Army
14 Boston College AT UMass, Wagner, Buffalo, UConn

Group of Five / Independents

The highest-rated conference champion in the CFP Selection Committee rankings gets the golden ticket -- a spot in one of the non-playoff games. That is, unless a team puts together the kind of season that impresses the committee so much that it makes the top four.

Usually, even an undefeated team from one of these conferences will not have a strong enough schedule to contend for a berth in the CFP. It would take an eye-catching win or two in nonconference play to overcome a relatively weak league. The only team that may have the talent and schedule to pull that off this season is Houston.

The Cougars open the season with Oklahoma at NRG Stadium in Houston. They also get Louisville at home later in the season. If Houston runs the table and the Sooners and Cardinals have the kind of season you'd expect other than losses to the Cougars, then the committee should see Houston as a contender for the playoff.

Among the other contenders for a CFP committee bowl spot is Conference USA favorite Southern Miss, which will play at LSU and Kentucky. San Diego State will likely battle Boise State for Mountain West supremacy, but their toughest non-league foes are Northern Illinois and Washington State, respectively, so even an undefeated season wouldn't garner CFP consideration.

Among the independents, obviously Notre Dame is a CFP contender. The Irish have three preseason top 25 teams on the docket (plus Miami, which is 26th) and only USC is away from home.

BYU will be tested with a schedule that includes games against Arizona, Utah, UCLA, West Virginia and Michigan State. Only the game against the Bruins is at home.

Army's toughest opponent by far is Notre Dame, although the Black Knights' season will be measured by the games against Air Force and Navy. Army joins North Carolina as the only FBS teams with two FCS opponents on their schedules.

UMass is new to the independent ranks after leaving the MAC. The Minutemen will play games at Florida, South Carolina and BYU.

Rank Group of Five Team Nonconference opponents
1 Georgia Southern Savannah State, AT Western Michigan, AT Georgia Tech, AT Ole Miss
2 South Alabama AT Mississippi State, Nicholls State, San Diego State, AT LSU
3 Louisiana-Monroe Southern, AT Oklahoma, AT Auburn, AT New Mexico
4 Rice AT Army, Baylor, Prairie View, AT Stanford
5 SMU AT North Texas, AT Baylor, Liberty, TCU
6 Houston Oklahoma, Lamar, AT Texas State, Louisville
7 Troy Austin Peay, AT Clemson, AT Southern Miss, UMass
8 Appalachain State AT Tennessee, Old Dominion, Miami (FL), AT Akron
9 UTSA Alabama State, AT Colorado State, Arizona State, AT Texas A&M
10 Hawaii California, AT Michigan, UT Martin, AT Arizona, UMass

Top 10 (Power Five)

Rank Team Nonconference opponents
1 USC Alabama, Utah State, Notre Dame
2 Oklahoma AT Houston, Louisiana-Monroe, Ohio State
3 Florida State Ole Miss, Charleston Southern, AT South Florida, Florida
4 Stanford Kansas State, AT Notre Dame, Rice
5 Virginia Tech Liberty, Tennessee, East Carolina, AT Notre Dame
6 UCLA AT Texas A&M, UNLV, AT BYU
7 Ohio State Bowling Green, Tulsa, AT Oklahoma
8 Duke NCCU, AT Northwestern, AT Notre Dame, Army
9 Michigan State Furman, AT Notre Dame, BYU
10 Kansas State AT Stanford, FAU, Missouri State
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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