Tough sledding
Tough sledding
2014-07-29 00:00:00

We rank the 12 non-conference schedules from toughest to easiest

 By Jordan Ottaway
 DCTF Contributor 
   

The summer drawing to a close can only mean one thing — the beginning of college football season is just around the corner. Beforehand, coaches and fans alike analyze each opponent to see how successful the season will be because like every other sport, winning games is the ultimate goal.

Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumiln have traded comments about the difficulty of A&M’s non-conference schedule for the upcoming season. We suggest checking out their little spat. But the bottom line is the strength of non-conference play varies from school to school and can either help or hurt the overall record and now playoff selections. 

Some of the FBS teams in Texas have its work cut out while others will use the first few weeks to continue to prepare for conference play.

Here is my ranking of all 12 FBS schools’ non-conference schedules. 

1. SMU

Non-conference opponents: Baylor, North Texas, Texas A&M, TCU

Coming off a 5-7 season in 2013, head coach June Jones will have the tough challenge of bouncing back with one of the most rigorous opening schedules in all of college football. With two players battling for the starting QB gig for 2014, Jones will have to choose the best fit to lead SMU’s offense against four teams that had successful seasons a year ago. SImply put, whoever takes over under center will have to grow up quickly. 

2. UTSA

Non-conference opponents: Houston, Arizona, Oklahoma State, New Mexico

Now done with the transition to FBS football, UTSA is looking to contend for a C-USA title and postseason play. The biggest challenges the Roadrunners will face after an adequate season in 2013 — besides replacing quarterback Eric Soza — will be the high scoring capabilities of a powerful Oklahoma State team and Arizona's strong running game. Houston, a team that could finish the year undefeated, will also be a daunting task. Look for UTSA to contend, but there is still a lot of work to be done early on. 

3. Texas

Non-conference opponents: North Texas, BYU, UCLA

The 2014 season will be a big test as Texas’ offseason has been filled with distractions and big changes with the arrival of new head coach Charlie Strong. Texas will be facing three teams that had successful season with the toughest being UCLA at AT&T Stadium. You can bet that under Strong, who has earned the reputation of a respected disciplinarian, the Longhorns will be focused for the tough road ahead. 

4. Rice

Non-conference opponents: Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Hawaii, Army

With a C-USA championship coming out of the 2013 season, Rice will have to turn around and focus with a serious opening schedule. Notre Dame and Texas A&M are two powerhouse teams that will give Rice a lot of trouble. And Army and Hawaii could surprise, so it’s safe to say Rice will have one of the tougher schedules opening the new season.

5. UTEP

Non-conference opponents: New Mexico, Texas Tech, New Mexico State, Kansas State

With the only positive about the previous season being a top 50 spot in rushing yards, UTEP again will have its work cut out for it with two solid Big 12 teams showing up on the schedule. The Miners will need to tighten up its defense to prepare itself for the fast-paced offense of Texas Tech and Kansas State, which simply gets the job done. 

6. North Texas

Non-conference opponents: Texas, SMU, Nicholls State, Indiana

The Mean Green made the move from the Sun Belt to C-USA in 2013 and proved its worth as an upcoming football program. This year will be a true test for head coach Dan McCarney’s team, as he will deal with many holes. Key offensive and defensive players left after the January 1 bowl victory, leaving voids all over the field. Playing a Big 12 and Big 10 team, UNT could head into conference play at 2-2.

7. Houston

Non-conference opponents: UTSA, Grambling State, BYU, UNLV

Houston will get a rematch against BYU and UTSA again this season and will be exposed to what UNLV and Grambling State have to offer. UH has an opening schedule that will be a good showing of what Tony Levine has up his sleeve, especially with the high expectations we have here at DCTF. The biggest challenge will be BYU’s 10th ranked rushing offense.

8. Texas State

Non-conference opponents: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Navy, Illinois, Tulsa

With its debut season in the Sun Belt Conference ending with a 6-6 season, the Bobcats have an opening schedule that will give them the chance to help start this season on a positive note. Texas State might even achieve a winning season, something it has not done a lot in the past years. With quarterback Tyler Jones taking the snaps and Robert Lowe running the ball, the Bobcats have a chance to get rolling early.

9. TCU

Non-conference opponents: Stamford, Minnesota, SMU

Gary Patterson will seek to get TCU in a bowl game in 2014 after a disappointing 4-8 season. Patterson will tweak the offense in hopes that he can see another 13-0 Rose Bowl quality season — or at least something close to it. Minnesota isn't exactly a world beater in the Big 10, but the Horned Frogs won't want to underestimate the Gophers. And the 'Battle of the Iron Skillet' is always entertaining. 

10. Texas A&M

Non-Conference opponents: Lamar, Rice, SMU, Louisiana-Monroe

After two successful seasons in the SEC, Texas A&M will have to go forward without superstar Johnny Manziel in 2014. A&M is another Texas team that has an easy non-conference schedule and has received heat from Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops on the matter. Even with an easier schedule, the Aggies will have to strengthen its secondary which proved a weakness when Rice started to come back at Kyle Field last year before ultimately falling.

11. Texas Tech

Non-conference opponents: Central Arkansas, UTEP, Arkansas

Kingsbury and Texas Tech will look to build off of last year’s momentum with three manageable non-conference games. Tech will likely put up big numbers against these foes since, as we all know, the Red Raiders never have trouble putting points on the board. If Tech avoids a defensive downfall, it can be undefeated after the first three weeks. 

12. Baylor

Non-conference opponents: SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo

Art Briles and the Bears will have one of the easier beginnings to the 2014 season. The Bears’ explosive offense that aided them in achieving the Big 12 title, a BCS bowl appearance and one of the best seasons in team history is looking to carry over with Bryce Petty returning as the Bears' quarterback. Baylor can easily be 3-0 heading into conference play. 

 

Jordan Ottaway is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com.


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