Mountaineers Venturing In To Uncharted Football Scheduling Territory
West Virginia’s football team is about to attempt something no one else in college football is doing – annually playing 11 of its 12 regular season games against Power 5 opponents.
The Mountaineers are one of 13 college football programs this year who will play two non-conference games against Power 5 foes. Five of those teams are from the ACC (Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Louisville and Pitt), but programs in that league play just eight league games, so that means they face a total of only 10 P5s in the regular season. For instance, besides its eight ACC opponents, Pitt also has non-conference games against Penn State and Notre Dame, but that still leaves the Panthers room to schedule both Albany and UCF this year. Every ACC team that plays two non-conference games against Power 5 teams, also has an FCS opponent on its schedule. Clemson (at Texas A&M, South Carolina, Georgia Southern, Furman), Duke (at Northwestern, at Baylor, Army, North Carolina Central), Florida State (at Notre Dame, Florida, Samford, Northern Illinois) and Louisville (Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana State and Western Kentucky), as well as Pitt, will face 10 Power 5 opponents this year, and all five will continue to do that on a fairly regular basis in the future. Other ACC schools will do the same on occasion in years ahead, though only Virginia in 2021 (Notre Dame, at BYU, Illinois and William & Mary) will face a total of 11 Power 5 schools in a single regular season.
None of the 14 SEC teams, which also each play eight league games, face two Power 5 non-conference foes this year, meaning all the SEC squads play just nine games against P5 teams in 2018. That will basically remain the case in the future, as well, though Florida (2019) and Georgia (2019, 2020, 2025 and 2026) do have future schedules that feature two non-conference games in a season against Power 5 programs. The rest never play more than one, though.
Like the Big 12, teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 play nine league games every year. Thus any that face two Power 5 non-conference opponents would have a total of 11 P5 games in a season. Northwestern (Duke, Notre Dame and Akron), Ohio State (Oregon State, at TCU and Tulane) and Purdue (Missouri, Boston College and Eastern Michigan) will go to that 11-game extreme from the Big Ten this year. And after 2018, out of the 14 Big Ten schools, only Purdue will try the feat again, as the Boilermakers have six seasons in the next 11 years in which they face double non-conference Power 5s. Some, like Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, have seasons in which they don’t meet a single P5 non-conference foe.
Out of the Pac-12, Cal (North Carolina, at BYU and Idaho State), USC (at Texas, Notre Dame and UNLV) and Washington (Auburn, BYU and North Dakota) each face a total of 11 Power 5 opponents in the 2018 regular season. But from that trio, only USC will continue to schedule 11 Power 5s in the future, as the Trojans will do so five times over the next six years. But Colorado and Stanford will get more adventurous in years ahead. The Buffalos will play 11 P5 opponents every year from 2020-23, while Stanford will start a six-year run in 2019 with such a schedule.
All that leaves West Virginia as the only FBS school in the country slated to face 11 Power 5 opponents every season from 2018 through 2024. And WVU’s streak could continue further, as its football schedule for 2025 and beyond still is incomplete. The Mountaineers’ seven-year gauntlet features Tennessee (in Charlotte), Youngstown State and at N.C. State in 2018; James Madison, at Missouri and N.C. State in 2019; Florida State (in Atlanta), Eastern Kentucky and Maryland in 2020; at Maryland, Indiana State and Virginia Tech in 2021; at Pitt and at Virginia Tech, plus TBA in 2022; at Penn State, Pitt and TBA in 2023; and Penn State, at Pitt and TBA in 2024.
Texas is the only other Big 12 school playing two non-conference games against Power 5 opponents this year, as the Longhorns face Maryland (in Landover), Tulsa and USC. But UT doesn’t currently have any other season under contract where it will again meet a total of 11 P5s in the future. And none of the other eight Big 12 teams has such a slate on any future dockets either. Some do have openings on their schedules in a few years that could allow for such a change, but none have given any indication they want to take on such a challenge.
So, while WVU has some company in scheduling 11 regular season football games against Power 5 opponents this year, only a few will maintain that difficult pace in the future, and none will make it an annual event from 2018-24 like the Mountaineers.
Of course, whether that is brave or foolhardy is up for debate.