Why, then, should teams play legitimate opponents outside of conference play? In the 1990s, Kansas State would play a ridiculous collection of non-conference cupcakes yet often was in the thick of the national championship picture in November. That philosophy raises the criticism that the national champion isn’t necessarily the strongest team but the strongest team with the easiest schedule.
Thankfully, some high-profile programs still play at least one legitimate foe each season. Alabama played Virginia Tech en route to the national title last season. This season, the Tide faces Penn State. USC typically has played a challenging non-conference schedule that annually includes Notre Dame. Oklahoma usually plays at least one tough opponent outside the Big 12; this season, the Sooners face Cincinnati and Florida State. LSU plays North Carolina.