ESPN has been naming its weakest and toughest non-conference schedules now that we are in full offseason mode. The team with the weakest out of conference schedule is Washington, but the team with the toughest out-of-conference schedule is a team that almost completely derailed the College Football Playoff last season.
ESPN named Pittsburgh as the team with the toughest non-conference schedule and while the Panthers start off with FCS opponent Youngstown State, they have two incredibly tough opponents sandwiched in there before a game against Rice to end the month of September.
Here’s what the schedule looks like:
Sept. 2: Youngstown State
Sept. 9: at Penn State
Sept. 16: Oklahoma State
Sept. 30: Rice
Pittsburgh will definitely two wins out of that stretch, but if they manage to upset one of those teams, especially with a game at No. 5 Penn State — according to the way-too-early rankings — and then have to come back home the next week to play No. 10 Oklahoma State. However, if the Panthers can get any sort of upset in there they can very well spoil someone’s Playoff hopes in the first month of the season.
Here’s what ESPN’s Chris Low said about the schedule:
The Panthers get the nod for the No. 1 spot because they’re the only Power 5 school that has to play two top-10 teams in Mark Schlabach’s updated Way-Too-Early Top 25. Not only that, but good luck in finding a more challenging nonconference swing in back-to-back weeks than on the road at No. 5 Penn State and then coming back home and tangling with No. 10 Oklahoma State. Each team has one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football — Trace McSorley at Penn State and Mason Rudolph at Oklahoma State — and the Nittany Lions will be especially motivated after losing to the Panthers a year ago.
Pitt got the better of Penn State in a 42-39 game and also beat Clemson 45-42 in 2016. Both of those teams were CFP contenders and that almost kept Clemson from going on to win the National Championship while the Nittany Lions were likely kept out because of that loss (and perhaps the Michigan loss). So don’t count Pitt out despite a ridiculous early schedule in the first month of the season.