Tough, too easy FCS non-conference schedules

(STATS) - Delaware State is opening the season upstate against Delaware - a program that's beaten the Hornets seven times by an average of 28 points since they first met 10 years ago.

And that's Delaware State's easiest non-conference game this season.

The Hornets will pick up big paydays when they play at West Virginia and Florida State, but also lopsided defeats in one of the hardest non-conference schedules for an FCS team.

But after a winless 2016 season, the MEAC's Hornets aren't expected to be much better this year, so their difficult non-conference schedule is not going to make an impact on a national scale.

For teams that ranked in or received votes in the final STATS FCS Top 25 last season, it's a bigger deal. Plenty of non-conference schedules stand out - the difficult ones and those that are not tough enough.

Here's a breakdown:

---=

DIFFICULT=

Eastern Washington (No. 4 final ranking) - It's another year of a ridiculously tough non-conference schedule. This time, new coach Aaron Best gets to start his tenure at Texas Tech, against fellow 2016 FCS semifinalist North Dakota State and with a cross-country trip to Fordham and its equally strong offense.

Jacksonville State (No. 7) - The three-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champion opens the FCS season against Chattanooga in Montgomery, Alabama, visits Georgia Tech and then takes on a Liberty program that will be above the FCS scholarship limit at its transitions toward the FBS next year.

Chattanooga (No. 13) - After facing Jacksonville State, the Mocs and first-year coach Tom Arth take on two of the Gamecocks' 2016 opponents, LSU in Death Valley and then UT Martin, the OVC runner-up.

Cal Poly (No. 24) - Mustangs coach Tim Walsh has scheduled it even tougher before, but this is still pretty good with an early opener versus Colgate and trips to San Jose State and Northern Iowa.

Northern Iowa (No. 37) - The Panthers beat Iowa State to open last season and head back to Ames to open the new campaign. Then it's the home opener against Cal Poly and a tricky road game at Southern Utah.

Northern Arizona (No. 41) - Venturing into Pac-12 to face Arizona is tough enough, but the Lumberjacks also will host two Missouri Valley teams, Western Illinois and Illinois State.

Southern Utah (No. 43) - Before the Big Sky hopeful hosts Northern Iowa, they have games at Oregon and Stephen F. Austin.

---=

NOT TOUGH ENOUGH=

James Madison (No. 1) - The defending FCS national champion will likely be favored against their FBS opponent, East Carolina, which was 3-9 last season. Home games against East Tennessee State and Norfolk State? Well, coach Mike Houston vows to stop making the schedule so easy at Bridgeforth Stadium.

South Dakota State (No. 6) - Out-of-conference home games against Duquesne and Drake with a trip to Montana State in between isn't awful, but it's not worthy of one of the leading national title contenders this season.

Charleston Southern (No. 15) - Playing in the tiny Big South, the two-time defending champion has to find six games. After an opening visit to Mississippi State, trips to South Carolina State and Elon are followed by easy home games against Point University, Mississippi Valley State and Savannah State.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.