It is understood that piecing together a quality scheduling is often just as difficult as navigating it.
And that barometer is often first realized how teams fare against opponents outside their native leagues
Over the years, FCS HBCUs have tried to balance getting off to a good start while attempting to play a competitive nonconference slate.
Some have loaded up on Power 5 schools to provide early season tests that are supposed — but not likely — springboard to a promising outcome down the road.
Others have chosen to use fillers from the Division II and below ranks as a way of grabbing quick confidence boosters ahead of conference play.
While there is no concrete formula to scheduling, the upcoming 2018 slate has presented some interesting matchups … and some duds, too.
Who is playing the toughest competition?
Which schools made it easy on themselves?
Here is how we ranked them.
1. Norfolk State: Virginia State, James Madison, Liberty. After finishing the 2017 season at 4-7, the Spartans didn’t take the easy way out in scheduling, loading up on opponents that combined for a 30-7 record last year.
2. Alabama State: Tuskegee, Auburn, Kennesaw State, South Alabama. The Hornets will be playing a Division II power and one SEC power before finishing up with a less than impressive Sun Belt outfit.
3. Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Morehouse, FIU, San Diego State, Cumberland. While Morehouse and Cumberland don’t seem like worthy opponents, those teams went 11-10 a season ago. Throw in 8-win Florida International and 11-win San Diego State, the Golden Lions have crafted a tough slate.
4. Savannah State: UAB, Miami (Fla.), Charleston Southern. Savannah State won just three games last season. With this lineup of nonconference opponents ahead of them, it doesn’t appear that number will increase.
5. South Carolina State: Georgia Southern, UCF. Despite playing a 10-loss Georgia Southern team, the Bulldogs make up for that (which isn’t necessarily a good thing) by taking on the self-proclaimed national champion UCF Knights.
6. Mississippi Valley State: North Dakota, Jacksonville State, Bethune Cookman, Hampton. The Delta Devils will be under first-year head coach Vincent Dancy. He inherits a team that showed a little bit of promise in 2017. Though it will difficult to win the SWAC, the nonconference schedule will present an opportunity to what direction Dancy will lead the group.
7. Florida A&M: Fort Valley State, Troy, Jackson State: The Rattlers have winnable games against HBCU rivals, but reality will strike during on a date with a team that walked out of LSU with a win last year.
8. Prairie View: Rice, Sam Houston State, North Carolina Central, UNLV: The Panthers almost pulled off the upset against Sam Houston State last season. Can they finish the job this time around?
9. Morgan State: Towson, Akron, Albany: The Bears only face one opponent that was above .500 last season. But nothing will come easy for a team that finished at the bottom of the MEAC.
10. Southern: TCU, Langston, La. Tech. The Jaguars did just enough to get by here.
11. Jackson State: Southern Mississippi, Tennessee State, Florida A&M, North Alabama: The Tigers will renew a rivalry with Florida A&M, continue one with Tennessee State before face planting against average opponents in North Alabama and USM.
12. Howard: Ohio, Kent State, Bryant: The Bison had a resurgent 2017 season under first-year head coach Mike London and freshman starting QB Caylin Newton. Sampling a couple of MAC schools early on is good. Bryant, though, is questionable.
13. Alabama A&M: Cincinnati, Miles, North Alabama: Only one team on the Bulldogs schedule won more than five games.
14. Tennessee State: Bethune Cookman, Jackson State, Hampton, Vanderbilt: The Ohio Valley Conference HBCU is heavy on black college opponents, but not on quality.
15. Alcorn State: Georgia Tech, Louisiana College, New Mexico. Alcorn will likely win the SWAC East against. And it won’t be on the strength of this schedule.
16. Bethune Cookman: Tennessee State, Virginia Lynchburg, FAU, Mississippi Valley State. So this is how you stay in the mix for a MEAC championship.
17. Hampton: Shaw, Tennessee State, Virginia Lynchburg, Mississippi Valley State, Northern Iowa, Monmonth. The Pirates scheduled like they were still in the MEAC.
18: North Carolina Central: Prairie View, St. Augustine, Duke, Edward Waters. It’s telling that the best football team on the schedule is a basketball school.
19. Delaware State: Buffalo, St. Francis (Pa.), Western Michigan, Virginia Lynchburg. DSU will at least get to share in the joy of beating Virginia Lychburg, too.
20. North Carolina A&T: Jacksonville State, East Carolina, Garner Webb. The defending champs know what they’re doing, right?
21. Grambling State: University of Louisiana Lafayette, Northwestern State, Oklahoma Panhandle. The best team in the SWAC really went out on a limb with this lineup.
22. Texas Southern: UT Permian Basin, Texas State, Houston. Let’s all Google where UT Whatever U. is.