The College Football Playoff committee has delivered one message loud and clear through the first three weeks of its rankings: strength of schedule matters. Teams like Baylor are not being rewarded for racking up big wins against a weak nonconference slate. Will that affect how SEC teams schedule in the future? With that in mind, let's take a look at how the 2015 nonconference schedules are looking for teams that figure to be contenders for a playoff spot next year:
2015 nonconference opponents: Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, Charleston Southern
Alabama follows its traditional nonconference scheduling pattern in 2015: a big-name Power 5 opener at a neutral site -- this time Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas -- and three gimmes against small-school teams that will not mount much of a challenge. It's not the most challenging schedule, but combined with what should be another difficult SEC West slate, it's hard to envision the selection committee penalizing Alabama for its schedule.
2015 nonconference opponents: Louisville, Jacksonville State, San Jose State, Idaho
Much like cross-state rival Alabama, the Tigers will challenge themselves right out of the gate with a Power 5 opener at a neutral site (Louisville in Atlanta). The rest of the nonconference schedule seems extremely winnable. As with Alabama, the Tigers will face an FCS opponent (Jacksonville State). One game that might help Auburn's strength of schedule is San Jose State, which has been mediocre this season, but occasionally ranks among the better Group of 5 programs. There's no road trip similar to this year's Kansas State game on the 2015 schedule to ramp up Auburn's schedule strength, but this is not bad.
2015 nonconference opponents: New Mexico State, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Florida State
Any nonconference schedule that includes Florida State can't be criticized too heavily. Considering how FSU hasn't lost since losing to the Gators in November 2012, that game will certainly buoy Florida's 2015 schedule. Beware of East Carolina, however. The Pirates are on the verge of playing in their fourth consecutive bowl game and will be capable of giving the Gators a challenging game. Their presence on the schedule could help with the selection committee should Florida take care of business in the SEC East -- particularly since the Gators also host Ole Miss and visit LSU next season.
2015 nonconference opponents: Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern, at Georgia Tech
The first three games -- Louisiana-Monroe, FCS Southern and FBS newcomer Georgia Southern -- are nothing special. Georgia Southern has given some FBS teams fits through the years with its option running game and even defeated a downtrodden Florida team last season, but the Eagles' presence on the schedule will not sway the selection committee much. We never know what to expect from Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are 8-2 this season but have typically hovered around .500 by the time the UGA game arrived in recent years. Georgia's nonconference schedule won't help much, but non-division games against Auburn and Alabama should.
2015 nonconference opponents: McNeese State, at Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky
This isn't the weakest nonconference slate among the SEC's likely playoff contenders, but it's not going to help the Tigers' playoff chances much. Facing FCS McNeese State, a relatively new FBS program in Western Kentucky and MAC cellar dweller Eastern Michigan won't impress anyone on the selection committee. A trip to Syracuse is somewhat ambitious, although the Orange will need to be better than the .500 club they usually are for that game to compel committee members. In addition to its SEC West slate, LSU will visit South Carolina and host Florida, which could help its cause.
2015 nonconference opponents: at Southern Miss, Northwestern State, Troy, Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs will have to hope they clean up in the SEC West again next season because this nonconference schedule is not going to help their cause. Then again, their nonconference schedule this season (USM, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin) is a joke and the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1. It’s hard to argue against a team that is undefeated in the SEC West, so they get the benefit of the doubt for now. But if State is on the bubble for a No. 4 spot in this season or next, its nonconference schedule will hurt its case.
2015 nonconference opponents: Southeast Missouri State, at Arkansas State, UConn, BYU
On Thursday, Missouri announced it would play BYU at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium next season, which beefs up the Tigers' otherwise unimpressive slate. Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Tigers have played only one team that could be described as a big-name nonconference opponent (Arizona State in 2012). Otherwise, they tend to stick to mediocre Power 5 programs (such as Indiana, which beat Missouri this season) and home-and-home series with Group of 5 teams such as Toledo, UConn and Arkansas State. Although that philosophy won't wow the selection committee, it's producing lots of wins for Missouri.
2015 nonconference opponents: Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State, New Mexico State, at Memphis
In-state rivals seem to share scheduling philosophies, don't they? As with Auburn and Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are playing highly similar nonconference slates in 2015. There is a road game against a regional rival (Ole Miss at Memphis, Mississippi State at Southern Miss), an FCS opponent (UT-Martin for Ole Miss, Northwestern State for MSU) and then a couple of middling Group of 5 programs. Fresno State might help Ole Miss' cause a bit. The Bulldogs have been a better-than-average program in the recent past, although they have not been particularly good this season.
Texas A&M Aggies
2015 nonconference opponents: Arizona State, Ball State, Nevada, Western Carolina
It will be interesting to see how the selection committee views Texas A&M's schedule should the Aggies be in contention for a playoff spot. They open with a neutral-site game against Arizona State in Houston, and that game should boost A&M's strength of schedule. However, the Aggies play outside the state of Texas only once between the opener and their Nov. 21 trip to Vanderbilt, when they visit Ole Miss on Oct. 24. Will they face criticism for not challenging themselves more away from Texas? Possibly, but there are still some difficult games on the schedule.