The list: softest schedules

July, 7, 2008

This week's top-10 list topic is teams with the softest nonconference schedules. As with last week's list, I made this top 10 based on a points system, assigning a value to each opponent on a scale of one to nine with a bonus point if that team plays the game at home. Then, I totaled up all of the nonconference points and divided by the number of games.

1. Indiana: The Hoosiers and Texas Tech were close, but IU gets the top spot since all four games are at home. IU opens with games against Western Kentucky and Murray State before getting a week off for a visit from a Ball State program they beat 38-20 in 2007. The toughest of the four games is Nov. 1 against high-scoring Central Michigan.

2. Texas Tech: On the bright side, the Red Raiders face two of the toughest teams in their division. Then again, Eastern Washington and UMass both are at the FCS level and Tech has outscored its last four non-Division I-A opponents by an average of 61 points. Tech has beaten SMU by a combined score of 84-12 the last two seasons. The toughest of the four out-of-league games figures to be at Nevada, which is coming off a 6-7 season.

3. Northwestern: The Cats take on two opponents from other BCS conferences, but they happen to be the two arguably worst (Syracuse and at Duke) of the entire lot. Southern Illinois is a solid FCS team and might be more of a test than an Ohio squad some are touting to finish in the bottom of its division in the MAC.

4. Kansas State: If Ron Prince is indeed on the hot seat, this slate should help. K-State opens against a North Texas team that lost 145-17 in two games against BCS conference teams in 2007. Then, middling Montana State comes to town. The Wildcats get an open week before visiting a rebuilding Louisville on a Wednesday night. K-State then hosts a Louisiana-Lafayette program that is 1-20 against Big 12 foes.

5. Arizona: Opening against an Idaho program that went 1-11 last year sounds like a nice start. Next up is Toledo, which bodes well since Zona has beaten all three current MAC members it has faced by an average of 35 points. Visiting New Mexico will be a challenge. The retooling Wildcats lost to the Lobos 29-27 in 2007 and are 1-5 against current MWC schools.

6. Kentucky: UK lost not only star QB Andre' Woodson, but also a lot of other quality players, so this lineup will help the replacements get settled before SEC play. The toughest of the non-league play is the opener at archrival Louisville, a program that has backslid a lot lately. After that, the Wildcats should be solid favorites the rest of the way, facing Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky.

7. Minnesota: The young Gophers open against Northern Illinois, which has played 33 games against Big Ten schools and has won only once. Then Minnesota heads to Bowling Green, which has been a lot tougher against Big Ten schools (5-13) and has won seven consecutive home openers. Montana State should be easier than the Falcons. Probably the toughest will be taking on underrated FAU, which beat the Gophers last season and won eight games in 2007.

8. Louisville: With all of the turmoil the Cards' program has battled through the past 20 months, it will be a challenge for U of L to remain among the Big East powers. However, the schedule shapes up nicely. Louisville opens at home against a rebuilding Kentucky team before facing 4-7 Tennessee Tech. Louisville then gets an off week before K-State comes for a Wednesday night game. U of L's lone road game of its five nonconference contests comes after another off week when they visit Memphis on a Friday night. That also means the Cards get an extra day off before Middle Tennessee comes to Louisville.

9. Washington State: The Cougars should have the crowd on their side when they face Oklahoma State in the opener in Seattle. WSU is 4-1 in its last five games in "neutral" Seattle. Going to Baylor might be the most manageable of any road trip in the Big 12, though the 3-9 Bears should be improved. The final of the three-game, out-of-league schedule is against Jerry Glanville's Portland State team, which is coming off a 3-8 season.

10. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz gets to open the season against his former school, Maine, which went 4-7 and was shut out 38-0 in its lone game against an FBS school (UConn). The next week, the Hawkeyes host young FIU, the worst team in I-A in 2007. Week 3 means the annual rivalry game against Iowa State, which has now lost 11 consecutive road games. By far, the toughest of the bunch will be visiting an improving Pitt team.

Random Stuff
• Interesting story by my colleague Paul Kuharsky about how upcoming NFL negotiations could lead to some revision to rookie salaries starting in 2010 and whether that could spark a lot of underclassmen to jump to the pros.

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach thought those players who let that kind of scuttlebutt prompt any rash move to the NFL are "idiots." I spoke to Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt -- a guy who knows the NFL world about as well as any college coach -- who admitted he thought some players would end up making such a move, but doesn't think they'll be any of his players. In fact, Wannstedt said he believes his ability to not only develop players but also get them a realistic picture of their NFL stock was part of the reason the Panthers have been recruiting so well of late.

"I would like to see every player we recruit to Pittsburgh become a top round pick in the NFL draft someday, and I would like to think our players trust me to be knowledgeable and have enough contacts in the NFL to give them a true factual opinion, so they know now just so they go on agent talk or media talk," Wannstedt said. "And, as I did with Darrelle Revis and Greg Lee, two underclassmen who ended up going into the draft, I will take the lead and find out if it truly is in their best interest to pursue the NFL at that time.

"It is important for these guys to know that a first-round pick will still be a first-round pick and a free agent or a late-round pick will still be free agents and late-round picks. And I do think there will be some kids out there who will make mistakes and lose those opportunities to better themselves because they listen to their friends or some agent or the talk out on the street. You don't want to have it where somebody gets the wrong information and leaves early and becomes a fourth-round pick and gets 50 grand for signing and then gets cut."

• Though gauging the worth of linemen is by far the hardest thing for the media to get a handle on, there are many reasons to think Oklahoma has the best crew of O-linemen in the country. Dave Matter gives his list of the Big 12's linemen and you'll see many Sooners high up the rankings.

• This will probably add some fuel to the ongoing debate about which leagues are best. Mike Detillier analyzes which conferences produce the most NFL starters.

The SEC comes in first, but the No. 2 league might surprise you. Then again, it might not when you consider how good Miami and FSU were in the late 90s.

• Washington is going to be a young team again. Just how young? Bob Condotta breaks it down.

"The vast majority of the roster is made up of the last two recruiting classes -- 52 scholarship players in all. (of 53 who originally signed: The lone signee from the past two years no longer on the roster is lineman Emeka Iweka). There are 26 each from the classes of 2007 and 2008. Most of the players from the Class of 2008 will be arriving this week to enroll in the summer bridge program."

• Mississippi State is putting APR clauses in the contracts of their coaches, reports Kyle Veazey:

"It's something that, to be honest, not everybody's been real sure how to handle, even though it's a reality that we're all facing," athletic director Greg Byrne said. "You're going to start to see schools take initial steps."

Byrne wouldn't say exactly what the contract language entails, but it would likely protect the school in case of a doomsday APR scenario: A program incurs significant scholarship losses or, worse, the dreaded death penalty.

• Former Marshall player Donte Newsome was killed in a shooting over the weekend, reports John Warren.

• July is camping season for college football programs. It is also primetime for top college basketball prospects to show their skills. Twelve years ago, I covered the ABCD basketball camp in Teaneck, N.J., for Usually such camps are great places to gather sources and check out many of the top young players. Something amazing happened on the last day I was out at that camp. During the camp's all-star game, there was the most spectacular dunk I've ever seen in any game. The crowd's reaction literally halted the game because dozens of people watching from the bleachers began running on the court. The moment became the stuff of legend in basketball circles. For the guy who made the dunk, it was the climax of an incredible week. For James Felton, the guy who got dunked on … well, I had always wondered what kind of impact that moment had on him.

A few years later, I sought Felton out. We met, as fate would have it, on the same campus as where the dunk occurred. Since then the story of James Felton had always been in the back of my mind. Last week, the Felton story finally made it into ESPN the Magazine.



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