I intend to demonstrate in this article three important facets to consider when evaluating the schedule strength of Football Bowl Subdivision college football teams. In this case, the schedules for the schools in the Big 12 Conference will be examined, particularly the two new members, TCU and West Virginia.
Why is schedule strength important? Two reasons, (a) the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) computers’ algorithms are set up to emphasize strength of schedule in determining that computer’s rankings, and (b) it’s a matter of pride and aesthetics. If you finish the season 12-0, you want to have earned it. You don’t want to have a perfect season record on the backs of Cruller State and Éclair Tech.
The three facets I considered are:
1) The difficulty of the school’s out-of-conference schedule.
2) The difficulty of the school’s conference road schedule.
3) The difficulty of the structure of the school’s overall schedule.
Difficulty of the Out-Of-Conference (OOC) Schedule
The Big 12 member institutions have only three games from which the school’s athletic director can set up games from other conferences.
Generally, an AD could find an opponent from one of the six BCS conferences, an opponent from a mid-major like Conference USA or the Mountain West and an opponent from the Football Championship Division (FCS).
In some cases, it could be more complicated than that. The AD could be from a school for which the opponent for one of the OOC games is by decree cast in concrete through a natural inter-conference rivalry.
Consider games such as Iowa State versus Iowa from the Big Ten or West Virginia versus Marshall from Conference USA (C-USA) or both TCU and Baylor playing SMU, also from C-USA.
The athletic directors from those schools effectively have only two opportunities from which they can build their idea of a worthy OOC slate, making it more challenging to use those games to bolster, or ease, the overall schedule.
In my qualitative analysis of the out-of-conference schedules for each of the ten teams from the Big 12 Conference, I rank the ten from top—the most difficult—to bottom—the easiest.
In order of importance, I look at:
1) Road games with BCS teams.
2) Road games with teams from other conferences such as Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American, Western Athletic and Sun Belt.
3) Home games with BCS teams, and
4) Home games with teams from the other conferences listed above.
5) Road games with FCS schools
6) Home games with FCS schools
The rankings of the Big 12 schools with regard to the most difficult out-of-conference schedules are:
1) Oklahoma – Texas-El Paso of C-USA on the road and Notre Dame in Norman on October 27, interrupting focus on Big 12 schedule
2) Iowa State – at Iowa and Tulsa of C-USA in Ames
3) Texas – at Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference and two Mountain West teams in Austin, Wyoming and New Mexico
4) Oklahoma State – at Arizona of the Pac-12 Conference
(Note: I’m ranking the OOCs before Week One. At that time, Arizona and its nascent offense utilizing Rich Rodriguez’s hard-to-understand spread was a decided underdog to the Cowboys)
5) TCU – at SMU of C-USA and Virginia of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in Fort Worth
6) Kansas State – Miami, Fla, of the ACC in Manhattan
7) West Virginia – FCS James Madison at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Maryland, and Maryland of the ACC in Morgantown
8) Texas Tech – road game with Texas State of the Western Athletic Conference and New Mexico of the Mountain West in Lubbock
9) Baylor – SMU in Waco
10) Kansas – Rice of C-USA in Lawrence
Difficulty of the Big 12 Conference Road Schedule
The importance of road games with a team’s fellow Big 12 Conference members is obvious. It’s easier for Kansas to play Oklahoma in Lawrence.
I looked at:
1) The number of conference road games.
2) The quality of the conference road opponents
The rankings of the Big 12 schools with regard to the most difficult conference road schedules are:
1) TCU – five Big 12 road games, at Texas, at Oklahoma State, and at West Virginia
2) Kansas State – five Big 12 road games, at Oklahoma, at West Virginia and at TCU
3) Kansas – five Big 12 road games, at Oklahoma and at West Virginia
4) Baylor – four road games, at Oklahoma, at Texas and at West Virginia, and one neutral site game in Arlington with Texas Tech
5) Oklahoma State – four road games, finales at Oklahoma and at Baylor
6) West Virginia – four road games, at Texas and at Oklahoma State
7) Texas Tech – four road games, at Oklahoma, at TCU and at Kansas State, and one neutral site game at Arlington with Baylor
8) Iowa State – four road games, at Texas, at Oklahoma State and at TCU
9) Texas – four road games, at Oklahoma State and one neutral site game in Dallas with Oklahoma
10) Oklahoma – four road games, at West Virginia and one neutral site game Dallas with Texas
Also obvious is the fact that the better team’s conference road schedule will be ranked lower than the conference road schedule of the worse team.
Difficulty of the Structure of the Overall Schedule
Evaluating the structure of a college’s football schedule is a nebulous undertaking.
Foremost, defining what’s involved in determining the quality of the schedule’s structure could yield different meanings to different grades of what the evaluator calls “difficult structure.”
In order to keep it simple while maintaining an effective analysis, here are the three factors I considered important in defining structure:
1) Number of consecutive conference games
2) Placement of open dates
3) Locations of games scheduled when the weather turns cold
The rankings of the Big 12 schools with regard to difficult schedule structure are:
1) TCU – open date during Week One, then seven straight Big 12 games after Virginia, then an open date, then the final two at Texas and in Fort Worth with Oklahoma
2) Iowa State – open date after the OOC schedule, then nine straight conference games
3) Oklahoma – nine out of ten consecutive games over eleven Saturdays with Big 12 opponents and hosting Notre Dame in the middle of the conference season
4) Texas Tech – nine straight Big 12 games, including the season finale in Arlington with Baylor
5) Oklahoma State – eight consecutive Big 12 games with final two on the road against Oklahoma and Baylor
6) Baylor – eight straight conference games including Texas Tech in Arlington and an open date after road game with West Virginia
7) Texas – seven consecutive conference games with the final game at Kansas State
8) Kansas State – open date after Oklahoma, then seven straight league games
9) Kansas – open date before road game at Kansas State, open date before season finale at West Virginia
10) West Virginia – four Big 12 games, an open date, then five Big 12 games with the finale against Kansas in Morgantown
Final Overall Difficulty of Schedule
It’s tempting to add the scores of the ten schools of the Big 12 Conference and rank them accordingly. I’m not going to do it. It was Mark Twain who said, and I paraphrase, there are three kinds of people: liars, danged liars and statisticians.
I’ll leave it to you to decide what is what.