There are six schools that are serving as independent football programs this season, up from four last year. With the demise of the WAC as a football conference, New Mexico State and Idaho were left to fend for themselves in 2013 (both schools will rejoin the Sun Belt in 2014 as affiliate members). Old Dominion will serve as an FCS Independent, playing four games against FBS opponents before joining Conference USA for the 2014 season.
So while these six schools are not in a league, it is still worth looking at their schedules. Which independent program has the most difficult schedule, and who has the easiest? Keep reading to find out.
1) Notre Dame – As has been traditionally typical of the Fighting Irish, they have cobbled together an intriguing lineup of traditional rivals and new intersectional opponents. In addition to the typical standing dates with Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Navy, Southern Cal and Stanford, the Irish will face Temple, Oklahoma and BYU in South Bend, Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium, and will travel to Air Force and Pitt near the end of the season. Notre Dame will start the season with two of three on the road (at Michigan and at Purdue) and finish with two of three on the road (at Pitt and at Stanford).
2) BYU- The decision by the Cougars to leave the Mountain West and go independent was questioned by some at the time. Give the Cougars credit, though, for coming up with challenging schedules for themselves. BYU faces tough potential opponents week in and week out. Highlight games this coming season include home games against Texas, Georgia Tech and Boise State and road trips to Utah State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
3) Idaho – The Vandals have been a program mired in mediocrity for some time now. The schedule they will face during this year of independence will provide them with some challenges going forward. Idaho will play only five games at their unique home venue, the Kibbie Dome. Road tests include trips to face geographic rival Washington State (the third of three early season road games in the first four weeks), games at Arkansas State and Ole Miss and a trip to Tallahassee in late November to
serve as cannon fodder for face Florida State. Idaho did manage to score home games against Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Temple, but all three of those programs should win easily against the Vandals. The wins look like they will be few and far between.
4) New Mexico State – Orphaned when the WAC went boom after the 2012 season, the Aggies had to cobble together a schedule that, while not as daunting as the teams above them on this list, is not necessarily a walk in the park either. The Aggies did manage to score seven home games this season, thanks to a visit from an FCS squad (Abilene Christian) in late October. Road trips to Texas, UCLA and Louisiana-Lafayette, plus a visit to archrival New Mexico will not be easy sledding. Home games include visits from Minnesota, Rice and San Diego State. The Aggies will close the season playing fellow WAC refugee Idaho in Las Cruces, NM.
5) Army – The Black Knights will have an unusual schedule for college football, in that they will go nearly a month between games near the end of the season. They host Western Kentucky on November 9 and then do not play again until they visit Hawai’i on December 1. Then they do not play again until they face Navy in Philadelphia on December 14. The rhythm of the season will be broken up at that point, and if Army is near bowl eligibility, they will have to draw on their mental toughness to make it through. Besides the schedule difficulty, Army will also face on-field challenges from Stanford, Louisiana Tech (in a neutral site game to be played at the Cotton Bowl), Temple, Air Force and the aforementioned Western Kentucky.
6) Navy – The Midshipmen will have their hands full with some of their opponents. Like Army, Navy will face Western Kentucky, Hawai’i and Air Force. However, Navy gets two of those opponents in Annapolis whereas Army will travel to face two of them. Navy has to travel out west as well, although not as far as Army (San Jose, CA versus Honolulu, HI). Games against Delaware and South Alabama, though, should offer some schedule relief.