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 Hardest 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.
Rice: @ USC, vs McNeese State (FCS), vs Louisiana, @ Houston
At (4-8) in 2021, the Rice Owls were not a good football team. They dropped each of their first three games, all non-conference. Given, they were Arkansas, Houston, and Texas. However, they were outscored 140-24 in those games. They finished their CUSA slate (3-5) but were a pair of overtimes away from flipping that to (5-3).
Rice has the most difficult of the Conference-USA non-conference schedules and it’s not entirely close. USC, with Lincoln Riley and most of the best Transfer Portal players and national recruits, is going to be good. They’re on their way out of the PAC-12 in a couple of years, so they will love to run through the old conference for the final two years.
Louisiana was an impressive (13-1) last year and is tied with Appalachian State for best odds to take the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt could be the best G5 conference. Even if they aren’t, they’ll have to run through the best teams of the two best G5 conferences. Houston looks like it is coming for Cincinnati in 2021 and will be a very, very good AAC squad.
UTSA: vs Houston, @ Army, @ Texas, Texas Southern (FCS)
● QB Spotlight ●
Frank Harris – UTSA
• Harris is one of my favorite QBs in CFB. He’s a Dual Threat who led UTSA to 12 wins last season. In his career he’s thrown for 5,293 yards 42 TDs completing 66% of his passes. He’s also rushed for 1,220 yards 15 TDs & has 1 receiving TD pic.twitter.com/BzIpMvnyjP
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) June 7, 2022
2021 was a whole lot of fun for the Roadrunners of UT San Antonio. They swept their non-conference foes and had a massive head of steam until they fell to North Texas in the final week of the regular season. They won the Conference-USA after a high-scoring affair with Western Kentucky and fell to a very good San Diego State team in the Frisco Bowl.
The best of the Conference-USA will have to earn their way back. They return their best receivers and quarterback but lost Sincere McCormick. Houston, as stated before, is going to challenge for the AAC. Army is always a difficult out with that triple-option attack.
Is Texas back? Probably not but they are looking better and better by the day. The winner of the Hudson Card/Quinn Ewers competition will have a good situation for success. Bijan Robinson could be RB1 in the 2023 NFL Draft and Isaiah Nayor transfers in after lighting it up with Wyoming.
UTEP: @ Oklahoma, vs New Mexico State, @ New Mexico, vs Boise State
The third-most difficult of the Conference-USA non-conference schedules features exactly zero FCS foes. The Miners tore out of the gate, winning six of their first seven games. That includes three of their four non-conference goes (three of whom they play again in 2022). They’ll look to avoid another second-half collapse this year.
Oklahoma, despite losing its coach, quarterbacks, and recruits, will still be a solid team. They are still among the favorites to win the Big 12 even with their eyes looking toward 2025 when they make their SEC move. The Miners battled New Mexico to a 20-13 win last year. That team was a (3-9) overall team. Not great.
UTEP opened 2021 with a 30-3 win over New Mexico State and it was never in doubt. NMSU won all of two games last year and its not looking like they’ll be too much better in 2022. Finally, the G5 blueblood, Boise State. The Broncos had a down 2021 but still won seven games, including the one over UTEP. They’ll continue to be a solid team who will be vying for a P5 admission with all of the uncertainty currently plaguing college football.
Louisiana Tech: @ Missouri, vs Stephen F. Austin (FCS), @ Clemson, @ South Alabama
The second-worst Conference-USA team in 2021 is going to have just as hard of a journey in 2022. Objectively, their non-conference slate last year was more difficult with Mississippi State, SMU, and NC State. The Bulldogs dropped each of those games en route to a three-win season.
Missouri is a middle-of-the-road SEC team. Compared to the C-USA, that could still be too much. They do have a lot of moving parts via the Portal, so Louisiana Tech would have to hope the chemistry isn’t there quite yet.
Clemson, despite not being a national threat in 2021, remains the top program in the ACC. If D.J. Uiagalelei struggles, don’t be surprised if Cade Klubnik pulls a Trevor Lawrence and steals the job. Finally, South Alabama is a bottom-third Sun Belt team. But, again, the Sun Belt is a stronger conference than the C-USA, so the Panthers could give the Bulldogs trouble.
Charlotte: vs William & Mary (FCS), vs Maryland, @ Georgia State, @South Carolina
Charlotte started off 2021 by beating Power 5 foe, Duke. After beating Gardner-Webb (FCS), they dropped their contests against Georgia State and Illinois to split their non-conference schedule in 2021. The 49ers faltered down the stretch and lost five of their final six games to finish (5-7).
This year, they get to play host to Maryland. The Terrapins reside in an extremely difficult division in the B1G East but still possess a number of playmakers. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa enters his third year in the program and had lofty expectations with one of the conference’s best receivers, Rakim Jarrett.
Georgia State was able to take down the 49ers last year, 20-9, and effectively shut down anything Charlotte wanted to do on offense. Finally, South Carolina looks significantly more exciting today than it did six months ago. Spencer Rattler transfers in with Austin Stogner and Antwane Wells, Jr. and will try to give Georgia at least a little challenge in the SEC East.
UAB: vs Alabama A&M (FCS), @ Liberty, vs Georgia Southern, @ LSU
Offensive Coordinator Bryant Vincent has been named Interim Head Coach for the 2022 season.
— UAB Football (@UAB_FB) June 27, 2022
The Blazers will go into 2022 without head coach Bill Clark for the first time since 2013. Clark led the team to 11 wins in 2018, by far the most since the program was revived. In 2021, UAB split their non-conference slate en route to a (9-4) season, capped by a 31-28 win over 13th-ranked BYU in the Independence Bowl.
They’ll have a chance to avenge their loss 36-12 to Liberty in Week 2. The Flames will have to replace Malik Henry, so UAB will have to force Charlie Brewer to make mistakes and hope the seven new transfers will have chemistry issues. UAB could get a reprieve since Georgia Southern was the second-worst team in the Sun Belt.
Finally, UAB gets to be the annual SEC second-to-last-week cupcake game. The Blazers have a chance to make LSU think twice about scheduling them instead of their usual FCS foe for the last-November clash.
Times Are A-Changin’
The Conference-USA non-conference schedules feature plenty of opportunities for upsets. 2021 was the last time we saw this conference seemingly whole. After 2022, the conference will look even crazier.
With all of the conference realignment uncertainty, time will tell if any more programs get poached in addition to the six it’ll lose in 2023.
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
Join the conversation! Follow @LWOSports on Twitter!