Last season's toughest nonconference record belonged to the Long Beach State 49ers. Coach Dan Monson knew what he had in stars Casper Ware and Larry Anderson, and he was eager to ensure the 49ers build their RPI as much as possible before returning to play fellow Big West teams in the conference slate. So Monson took his team on a national nonconference barnstorming tour, playing at Pittsburgh, San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina, as well as against Xavier and Kansas State in the Diamond Head Classic.
The end result was exactly what you'd predict: Long Beach State didn't win many of those games (it won at Pittsburgh and beat a half-strength post-brawl Xavier team, and that's it) but it ended the regular season with the top nonconference schedule strength in the country, a key metric in the current NCAA tournament selection committee's considerations.
Monson lost Ware, Anderson and five other seniors this year, so it was fair to expect LBSU to tone down the insane scheduling practices. Why put a young, transfer-heavy team through the gauntlet so quickly?
Monson had different ideas. Earlier this week, he revealed Long Beach State's schedule, and it could be every bit as difficult as the one he took on in 2011-12. The 49ers will play at USC, Arizona, Fresno State, Loyola Marymount, Syracuse, Ohio State and UCLA. Yes, those are all away games. Long Beach State also gets a rare nonconference home visit from North Carolina, a return game from Fresno State, and a place in the mid-season ESPN BracketBusters event. With the exception of Fresno, Marymount and USC, those are all brutal road trips or very difficult home games. The first few months of LBSU's season will not be easy.
The 49ers coach could have lightened the program's load somewhat, given the huge attrition from last year's team, but that would be a short-term outlook. Monson is more interested in the long-term, hoping he can establish Long Beach State as a we'll-go-anywhere-and-play-anybody type of program in any given year, a strategy that might hurt in the near run but should continue to help LBSU gain exposure and help convince recruits and transfers they'll have the opportunity to play on some of the game's biggest stages.
Take that away, and Long Beach State is just another mid-major program. Instead, Monson is working on something much more ambitious. It may not be pretty in November and December, but over the next five years, it should pay off in more ways than one.