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WSU Football: Cougars have easiest non-conference schedules in Pac-12

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Is this the way you want it?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

According to research and analysis by ESPN Stats and Info, WSU football will have the easiest non-conference schedules over the next five years among Pac-12 schools.

In the next four seasons, the Cougars have just one non-conference game scheduled against a Power 5 school (Rutgers, next season), and four are scheduled against FCS opponents -- one each season, the maximum allowed. The other opponents come from so-called "Group of 5" conferences; in this case, it's the Mountain West (Wyoming, Boise State, Nevada) and the Sun Belt (Idaho).

WSU has not released any information for the fifth season in the analysis (2019) beyond the rescheduled BYU game from two years ago (which I presume goes down as a Group of 5 opponent), so ESPN went ahead and analyzed the other four seasons to predict the likely strength of the fifth season.

There are a couple of interesting things going on here. One is that the Power 5 games and FCS games are tied for least and most in the conference, respectively. The other is that with the notable exception of a home-and-home with Boise State, WSU's Group of 5 opponents aren't particularly strong.

It all adds up to a schedule where ESPN predicts an average team should win about 70 percent of the matchups:

ESPN schedule strength

ESPN.com research -- ESPN.com Illustration

Non-conference scheduling has always been a bit of an odd thing for WSU football over the years, an undertaking in which the Cougars' goals haven't generally been the same as the rest of their peers. Given its small budget relative to the rest of the Pac-8/10/12, WSU had often scheduled at least one game a year on the road against a strong, Power 5 opponent -- a so-called "bodybag" game designed to fill the coffers with some cash.

WSU still is departing from most of their peers, just in a completely different way. Now that cash flow isn't quite the concern it once was, the Cougars have adopted the same method of scheduling Mike Leach used at Texas Tech to pile up bowl appearances despite posting a conference record of between 3-5 and 5-3 in eight of his 10 seasons. The guess here is that the thinking is the same now at WSU.

Would I like to see WSU occasionally take on a decent Power 5 foe? Sure, if that team is going to agree to a home-and-home, as Wisconsin has in 2022 an 2023. That'll be a big draw to Martin Stadium, and should help sell some season tickets.

But if we trust Bill Moos that it's next to impossible to convince an attractive Power 5 team to come to Pullman, then I think ditching the tough Power 5 road game to schedule in such a way that WSU has the highest chance of getting to a bowl game is the next best thing. The Pac-12 is tough enough that the only way this could really impact WSU is if they end up in the running for a playoff spot. And ... well, yeah. Let's worry about that when that time comes.

Do you agree?