USF and Fresno State both won ten games last season, the Bulls finished No. 21 in the final AP while the Bulldogs ended the year unranked.
What made the difference? Did USF earn the recognition by playing a tougher set of opponents?
The Bulls played Illinois, San Jose State, and Stony Brook out of conference. They only faced one ranked opponent all season, (13) UCF, who they fell to 49-42. Fresno State, on the other hand, visited (1) Alabama, (6) Washington, and hosted Incarnate Word in non-conference play. Additionally, it played (25) Boise State in back-to-back games, beating the Broncos in the regular-season finale and losing to them the next week in the MWC title game.
It’s yet another case of seemingly equal outcomes, in this case 10-win seasons, not really being the same thing.
The following teams will, like Fresno State did in 2017, have a considerably more difficult path to whatever they manage to achieve in 2018. Though this caveat won’t be noted in the final standings, each deserves extra credit.
Non-conference opponents: at Nebraska (Sept. 1), Morgan State (Sept. 8), at Northwestern (Sept. 15), and at Iowa State (Sept. 22)
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2014 at Pitt (21-10)
Akron is one of only four non-Power members to play three Power schools on the road in 2018. The Zips are 1-29 all-time vs. the Big Ten, the only-ever win coming 124-years ago, in 1894, at Ohio State. They are 0-3 vs. the current Big 12.
Though Akron also played two Power opponents last season, they haven’t played three current Power members since 2010 when they hosted Syracuse and traveled to Kentucky and Indiana.
Non-conference opponents: at Oregon (Sept. 1), Maryland (Sept. 8), Eastern Kentucky (Sept. 15), at Georgia Tech (Sept. 29)
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2015 at Purdue (35-28)
The Falcons haven’t scheduled three Power foes since 2015 when they lost to (25) Tennessee in the season opener and then upset both Maryland and Purdue on the road. They finished the season 10-4 and won the MAC championship.
Bowling Green is 0-2 all-time against the current Pac-12, 8-20 vs. the Big Ten and 3-9 vs. the ACC.
Non-conference opponents: at Kentucky (Sept. 1), Kansas (Sept. 8), Maine (Sept. 22), and at Michigan State (Sept. 29)
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2017 at Kansas (45-27)
The Chippewa’s also scheduled three Power foes last season, winning at Kansas and losing at Syracuse and at Boston College. They are 0-8 all-time vs. the SEC and haven’t played a member since falling to Kentucky in 2011.
CMU is 2-3 vs. the current Big 12 and 6-25 vs. the Big Ten.
Non-conference opponents: Colorado (Aug. 31, at Denver, Col.), Arkansas (Sept. 8), at Florida (Sept. 15), and Illinois State (Sept. 22)
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2017 vs. Oregon State (58-27)
Colorado State has the added disadvantage of getting its three Power opponents consecutively, including drawing its two SEC foes back-to-back. No stranger to coming big in scheduling, the Rams also booked three Power schools last season adding Oregon State and Alabama to their annual rivalry game with Colorado. They’ve slated at least two Power foes consecutively since 2013 and have three Power opponents scheduled for 2020 (vs. Colorado, at Oregon State and at Vanderbilt).
CSU is 53-163-5 all-time vs. the current Pac-12 (22-65-2 vs. Colorado) and 2-13 vs. the SEC, beating LSU in 1992 and Mizzou in the 1997 Holiday Bowl.
Non-conference opponents: at Illinois (Sept. 1), Howard (Sept. 8), at Penn State (Sept. 15), and at Ole Miss (Sept. 22)
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2012 at (18) Rutgers (35-23)
Though Kent State traveled to both Clemson and Louisville last season and Penn State and Alabama the year before, it hasn’t played three Power opponents since 2009. The Golden Flashes visited Boston College and Baylor and then hosted Iowa State. They also have three big boys slated for 2020 (at Arkansas, at Kentucky, and at Alabama).
Kent State is 1-17 all-time vs. the current Big Ten, the only-ever win at Rutgers in 2012. It is 0-13 all-time vs. the SEC.
Non-conference opponents: at Vanderbilt (Sept. 1), UT Martin (Sept. 8), at Georgia (Sept. 15), and at Kentucky (Nov. 17)
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2017 at Syracuse (30-23)
Middle Tennessee is booked to play almost half of the SEC East on the road this season. The only upside is that its “road” game at Vanderbilt is only a 38-mile drive north on I-24. The Blue Raiders also played three Power schools in both 2017 (Vandy, Syracuse, and Minnesota) and 2015 (Vandy, Alabama, and Illinois). It makes the fact that they’ve been bowl eligible each of the last three years even more impressive. They’ll do it all again next season when they’ve got games at Michigan, vs. Duke and at Iowa.
MTSU is 4-37 all-time vs. the current SEC. Three of the four wins came against Vanderbilt (in 2001, 2002, and 2005), the fourth coming at Mizzou in 2016.
Non-conference opponents: at Iowa (Sept. 1), Utah (Sept. 8), at Florida State (Sept. 22), and at BYU (Oct. 27).
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2017 at Nebraska (21-17)
If you count BYU as a Power opponent, Northern Illinois is the only non-Power school to play four Power foes in 2018, and three of those games are on the road. The Huskies haven’t scheduled three such opponents since 2010 when they visited Iowa State, Illinois and Minnesota. They haven’t had four current Power members booked since 1996 when, as an independent, they visited Maryland, Penn State, Louisville (a C-USA member at the time) and Oregon State. They’ll also triple-up each of the next two seasons: at Utah, at Nebraska and at Vanderbilt in 2019 and at Maryland, at Iowa and vs. BYU in 2020.
Northern Illinois is 8-41-1 vs. the current Big Ten, 0-1 vs. the Pac-12 and 1-11 vs. the ACC (the only win coming in 2002 at Wake Forest). It has never played BYU.
Non-conference opponents: at Arizona State (Sept. 1), Baylor (Sept. 8), at Kansas State (Sept. 15) and Texas State (Sept. 22)
Last win vs. a Power opponent: 2017 at Baylor (17-10)
Like Colorado State, UTSA gets its three Power foes consecutively. The Roadrunners haven’t tripled-up since 2015 when they kicked off the season with losses at (22) Arizona State, vs. K-State and at (25) Oklahoma State. The combined score of the three games was 141-49.
UTSA didn’t field a football team until 2011. It is 1-4 vs. the Big 12 (the only win coming last season at Baylor) and 0-4 vs. the Pac-12.
Statistical data courtesy of Sports Reference-College Football.