The best way to measure one conference up against another is to look at non-conference. The 2022 Conference-USA non-conference schedules are fairly eclectic but most teams have at least one Power 5 team on the schedule.
In this series, we will look at each team’s out-of-conference slate and rank them based on difficulty. There are some teams who have serious gauntlets. Other teams have a cakewalk.
The Easiest Conference-USA Non-Conference Schedules
After losing Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss to the Sun Belt, 2022 will look very different. Plus, in 2023, C-USA loses Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA to the American Athletic Conference, and gains Liberty and New Mexico State which are currently Independent, and Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, which are both currently at the FCS level.
Florida International: vs Bryant (FCS), @ Texas State, @ New Mexico State, vs UCONN
Last year, FIU’s lone win was in Week 1 against Long Island (FCS). From top to bottom, the Panthers are the worst team in Conference-USA and very well could repeat as such in 2022. Sure, their slate of non-conference foes is the “easiest,” but that’s because the teams they are playing are not very good regardless of whether or not FIU is good.
If FIU is going to improve, they’ll need to win these games. Texas State went (4-8) last year and only have one pre-season Athlon All-Conference player. New Mexico State and UCONN will provide FIU with a quality pillow fight that will be a preview of what is to come in 2023.
Middle Tennessee State: @ James Madison, @Colorado State, vs Tennessee State (FCS), @ Miami (FL)
The first of the Conference-USA non-conference schedules with a Power 5 opponent is Middle Tennessee State. Last year, MTSU split its non-conference slate and finished with a close victory over Toledo in the Bahamas Bowl. They had four different quarterbacks appear in games and there were two who finished with over 1,000 yards each.
The game at Miami is going to be the most difficult of this bunch. Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has gathered quite a bit of dark horse Heisman hype and they added transfer running back Henry Parrish, Jr. from Ole Miss.
The rest of the slate isn’t as strong. James Madison, while a formidable program at the FCS level, will take a few years to up to speed in the Sun Belt. There are already a few really good programs in the Sun Belt to keep them at bay. Colorado State went (3-9) last year in the MWC and will likely finish 2022 in a similar fashion.
Florida Atlantic: @ Ohio, vs Southeast Louisiana (FCS), vs UCF, @ Purdue
The name N’Kosi Perry will forever be on the Shula Bowl trophy.
🏆 2021 MVP 🏆 pic.twitter.com/hMLXeHp8kq
— FAU Football (@FAUFootball) October 3, 2021
Willie Taggart’s squad has yet to replicate Lane Kiffin’s explosive three years in Boca Raton. Last year, the Owls went a meager (5-7) and split its non-conference schedule. Miami (FL) transfer quarterback, N’Kosi Perry, led the Owls last year and he will again this fall. Taggart’s junior is his backup, so there’s something to watch.
The most challenging bout on FAU’s slate will be UCF and their high-flying offense out of the AAC. The Knights lost quarterback Dillon Gabriel but gained Ole Miss transfer, John Rhys Plumlee. They could have five new pieces starting on offense via the Transfer Portal.
Purdue is a bottom dweller in the Big Ten despite fielding handfuls of future NFL players. Aidan O’Connell has shown that he has a high upside, so the Owls will have to contend with him. Finally, Ohio will battle for the bottom of the MAC East.
Western Kentucky: vs Austin Peay (FCS), at Hawai’i, at Indiana, @Auburn
The C-USA East division champs get to run it back with one of the easiest Conference-USA non-conference schedules. The Hilltoppers dropped three of their four non-conference matches, two of which to B1G foes (by just two against Indiana and 17 against Michigan State). Now, they graduated College Football’s most prolific single-season passer. Former Bowling Green-turned West Virginia-turned Western Kentucky quarterback, Jarrett Doege, will have to step into those shoes.
WKU shares two opponents with Alabama: Austin Peay (FCS) and Auburn. Hawai’i should be a win for the Hilltoppers, despite having to travel halfway around the globe. The Rainbow Warriors lost a lot of talent. Indiana will be a tough out, as they were in 2021.
Finally, as is SEC custom, although WKU is better than others in this spot, Auburn scheduled a weak opponent in the second-to-last week of the year. Just in time to get rested before its rivalry game. WKU should be good enough that could take advantage of an Auburn team that’s overlooking them.
North Texas: vs SMU, vs Texas Southern (FCS), @ UNLV, @ Memphis
The Mean Green had a tale of two seasons in 2021. After beating Northwestern State (FCS), North Texas dropped six games in a row, two of which were by one score. In order to become bowl-eligible, the Mean Green won five in a row, just to be beaten by the Miami (OH) Redhawks.
Texas Southern (FCS) and UNLV should be wins. Or, at the very least, solid games. The issue lies with North Texas’ two AAC foes. Both SMU and Memphis have high-powered offenses, finishing first and third in the AAC, respectively. North Texas was middle-of-the-road in team defense last year, so they’ll need to improve to be able to stop SMU and Memphis.
It’s America’s Conference
With how crazy conference realignment will be in 2023, Conference-USA is going to look seriously different. Let’s enjoy the last(ish) season of normalcy for the most widespread college football conference.
Next up, we will look at the six most difficult Conference-USA non-conference schedules!
Mid-American: Easiest; Hardest
Conference-USA: Easiest; Hardest
Mountain West: Easiest; Hardest
Sun Belt: Easiest; Hardest
American Athletic: Easiest; Hardest
Pac-12: Easiest; Hardest
Big 12: Easiest; Hardest
ACC: Easiest; Hardest
SEC: Easiest; Hardest
Big Ten: Easiest; Hardest
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