They had one of the softest non-conference schedules in NCAA football last season — and with UNLV, Nevada and Texas-San Antonio on their 2014 schedule, the Arizona Wildcats’ less-than-imposing non-Pac-12 slate has drawn some scrutiny.
In fact, the Wildcats aren’t scheduled to play another non-conference opponent from a Power 5 school – those that play in the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC – until 2022 when they’ll face Mississippi State, where current UA athletic director Greg Byrne served as AD before coming to Tucson.
On Friday’s Bickley and Marotta show on ArizonaSports 98.7 FM, Byrne said the Wildcats’ soft non-conference scheduling was done in order to ease head coach Rich Rodriguez into the job when he took over the program in 2012. But Byrne said UA will set its sights on tougher non-conference foes in the long term.
“I think to schedule one of the other big-five schools with one of your three (non-conference) openings is a good thing,” he said. “Our approach is going to be that going forward.”
In upcoming seasons, Byrne said the plan is to schedule a “Mountain West-type program” with UA’s second non-conference game, and an FCS oppponent like Northern Arizona with the third.
Byrne had mixed feelings on the possibility that Power 5 conference teams could eventually break off into a separate collegiate division following Thursday’s vote by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors that gave those conferences an enhanced ability to create their own rules.
“My experience is obviously at this level with the Pac-12 and the SEC, so I’m not sure exactly what they’re thinking, but yeah, maybe it is a debate at some point… But at the end of the day, I do want to see us stay together because I do think there’s value in schools having an opportunity to compete at the level we’re at.”