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ESPN Names The Toughest Non-Conference Schedule In College Football

A Stanford cheerleader waving a flag.

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 02: Stanford Cardinal color guard wave giant Stanford flags on the field against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 2012 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Conference play is the backbone of the college football season, but non-conference matchups play an important role. At best, they are resume boosters and allow teams to test themselves against quality, unfamiliar opponents. At worst, they are 'cupcakes' designed to secure an easy win.

Not all non-conference slates are created equal. ESPN's Chris Low provided his ranking of the top 10 non-conference schedules in the nation this week.

Stanford takes home the top spot, one of several Pac-12 teams on the list. The Cardinal only play three games outside of their league, but they sure get their money's worth.

Northwestern, UCF and Notre Dame all pose major tests in different ways.

Stanford was seventh in this ranking a year ago, and the Cardinal's 2019 nonconference schedule is even more daunting, with three legitimate tests against teams that went a combined 33-7 last season. The opener is at home against Northwestern, which played in the Big Ten championship game in 2018 and has now added Clemson transfer quarterback Hunter Johnson. Two weeks later, Stanford treks across the country to take on UCF and closes the regular season at home against Notre Dame. Both teams are ranked in the top 15 in the latest ESPN preseason rankings.

You can read Low's full rankings here, though the entire list is behind a paywall.

For some other looks at scheduling, here is The Spun's compilation of the non-conference matchups for every SEC team in 2019, as well as a breakdown of Alabama's "easy" schedule.

The 2019 season will be here before you know it.