Top 10 softest nonconference schedules 

June, 15, 2009
This week's top 10 list: the softest nonconference schedules in the country. I'm using a formula in which I've assigned a value to each opponent based on a 10-point scale, with a 10 going for a team that I expect to be an elite, top-five caliber team this year and with that game being in the powerhouse's home stadium. (It'd be a 9 if that powerhouse is the road team, meaning home-field is worth one point.) I'm also averaging the points out since some teams have three nonleague opponents and some have five.

1. Northwestern (Towson; EMU; at Syracuse; Miami [Ohio]) Quality point average: 2: Wow. The Wildcats face three FBS opponents and all three are projected to finish in the cellar of their respective conferences or at least conference divisions. Plus, that FCS team they've got, Towson, is coming off a 3-9 season. This is about as close to four sure wins as anyone is going to get.

2. Penn State (Akron; Syracuse; Temple; Eastern Illinois) Quality point average: 2.5: Yes, this is the same exact rating as Ole Miss. PSU wins (or is it loses?) the tiebreaker because the Nittany Lions didn't even schedule a road game and because Ole Miss at least faces someone who went to a bowl game in the past three seasons. PSU has six of its first seven games at home, and the closest thing to a formidable nonleague opponent is Temple, which is 3-34-1 against the Lions and hasn't knocked off Penn State since 1941. Akron also is an OK opponent, but is still coming off a 5-7 season. It's worth noting that this is only the third time in 16 years since PSU arrived in the Big Ten that the Nittany Lions have scheduled an FCS opponent.

3. Ole Miss (At Memphis; Southeastern Louisiana; UAB; Northern Arizona) Quality point average 2.5: The Rebels' schedule can't get any easier than this season. The in-conference slate breaks incredibly well, but we're focusing just on the out-of-league schedule, and let's be honest: No one should be scheduling two FCS opponents, but that's what the Rebels have got with home games against Southeastern Louisiana and Northern Arizona. (The Rebels have beaten their past 10 opponents from what is now the FCS level by an average of 29 ppg.) Hosting a UAB team has won six games in the past two seasons doesn't figure to be that much tougher. The Rebels do begin the season on the road against a decent Memphis team, although it's still just a little more than an hour drive and these are the same Tigers whom Ole Miss has beaten five straight times.

T4. Kansas State (UMass; at Louisiana; at UCLA; Tennessee Tech) Quality point average: 2.75: Bill Snyder's back, so get ready for the pastries to start rolling. On the positive side, UMass is a pretty good FCS team, but they're still FCS. Also, a road trip to an improving UCLA team will not be easy. The rest is just too soft.

T4. NC State (South Carolina; Murray State; Gardner-Webb; Pitt) Quality point average: 2.75: The Pack have eight home games, with all four of their out-of-league games in Raleigh. Opening against a solid South Carolina team won't be easy and Pitt also figures to be a challenge. The other two are FCS opponents. It's hardly brutal, although last season the Gamecocks did thump State, 34-0.

6. Rutgers (Howard; FIU; at Maryland; Texas Southern; at Army) Quality point average: 2.8: Like Ole Miss, NCSU and KSU, the Scarlet Knights have two FCS opponents. They also have a short road trip to Army and get a visit from an improving FIU program coached by Mario Cristobal, one of Greg Schiano's former top assistants. The main reason they're not up there with Northwestern and Ole Miss is because of a road trip to face a solid Maryland team, which is 24-2 against nonleague foes at home.

T7. Kentucky (Miami [Ohio] in Cincy; Louisville; ULM; EKU) Quality point average: 2.88: This is pretty dismal for an SEC squad. Not one of the Wildcats' opponents went to a bowl game last season, although at least they are playing someone from a BCS conference. Playing Miami (Ohio) in Cincinnati got them a half-point credit for a road game. Eastern Kentucky is an FCS team, but at least the Colonels won their league title. Still, because they're an FCS opponent, they warrant only one point.

T7. Arkansas (Missouri State; Texas A&M in Arlington; EMU; Troy) Quality point average: 2.88: There are two respectable games here: facing an Aggies program still trying to find its way in the state of Texas and against a Troy team that usually goes bowling. Neither of these games should scare an elite program, but they're still more than cakewalks.

To see the final two teams on Bruce's list -- one regular Big Ten power among them -- and read the rest of his blog, including the role of media at college sports camps, how Washington can keep getting better at recruiting and why you should know the name Andrew Datko, you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider