Strength of Schedule: What's The Formula?

David HedlindAnalyst IIApril 7, 2009

On every message board and every website, you hear arguments about strength of schedule (SOS).

But I have to ask, "What components should make up SOS?"

Some people argue things like wins and losses.

The problem there is the quality of the teams. What I mean is, in a pure wins-and-losses setup, a nine-win Western Michigan means more than a seven-win Clemson.

Even a 10-2 Weber State gives a team more win-loss points than an 8-5 Kansas.

But ask yourself this: If you were in an argument about SOS, which one would you take more seriously?

There is the argument of playing x number of bowl teams as well. I don’t like this one either.

If you made a non-conference schedule of Fresno State, FAU, Navy, and North Carolina State, and then had one that consisted of Illinois, Stanford, Tennessee and Kansas State, which one looks harder?

The first is a bunch of teams that were all in bowls, while the second are teams that missed eligibility by one game.

Rankings makes sense...or at least in theory they do.

Do you go by the ranking of the team when the game was played, or do you go by where your opponents are ranked at the end of the season?

The problem with ranking at the time of the game is, does it still count as a game against a ranked team if they bomb later in the season?

LSU was No. 7 to start the season, but they did not finish ranked. On the other hand, Utah was not ranked to start and finished No. 2.

So, does that mean that teams that played LSU to start the season say they played a ranked LSU team, while the teams that played Utah to start have to say they played Utah who finished No. 2?

And what counts more to SOS?

The perception of good and bad teams also puts a damper on this theory. Some people can’t get it out of their head the bad years of some teams like Stanford.

Stanford went 5-7 in 2008. Are they then, any worse than other teams that went 5-7 that have a traditionally higher profile.

Say like...Tennessee? Many people would believe that a 5-7 Tennessee is better than a 5-7 Stanford.

Maybe they are, but there is really no way to prove it. The only mutual opponent was UCLA, and both Stanford and Tennessee lost by three to the Bruins. Neither team beat a ranked team at the time they played, but Stanford did beat Oregon State who finished in the top 25.

So, was Tennessee or Stanford the harder opponent in 2008?

I honestly don’t know if there is any one good way to determine strength of schedule, and there may never be one. For every argument that can be made, a counter argument can also be made.

If anyone else has some insight in to how to gauge SOS, let me know.