At the heart of the controversy over using a polling system to choose a champion is the fact that strength of schedule considerations often trump outright W-L records. Since most games are played in conference, each year's endless debates about relative conference strength are justifiably contentious.
As passionate as those discussions are, opinions become especially inflamed over out of conference schedules. This is because in college football, teams have the freedom to select their own OOC opponents.
It is a particular sore point that many elite programs regularly choose to dodge quality opponents and instead play one or two "cupcake" games with 1-AA division teams.
Remember, this isn't the NFL, where six losses still gets you in the playoffs. A single loss in college usually means the end of a team's national championship dreams. It's a big deal to replace a competitive team on your schedule with a patsy.
Who are the biggest offenders in this regard? Or to ask it another way, which teams intentionally schedule the weakest opponents?
I decided to set up a point system that provides an objective measurement. The system awards points for scheduling strong teams and subtracts points for scheduling weak teams. The team with the most net points has the toughest out of conference schedule.
Here are the results. (Individual team calculations are detailed later in the post. Teams that tied are listed in alphabetical order.):
1. USC +4
2. Georgia +3
2. Georgia Tech +3
4. Virginia Tech +0.5
5. Cal 0
6. Ohio State -0.5
7. Oklahoma -2.5
8. LSU -4
9. Alabama -4.5
10. Florida -5
10. Oklahoma St. -5
12. Boise State -6
12. Penn State -6
14. Texas -7
15. Ole Miss -9
A reminder. This does not evaluate a team's overall strength of schedule. That must take into account the strength of their conference rivals. This system is meant to indicate which teams have scheduled more or less difficult opponents in the part of their schedule that they control.
Another note: I have only included the top 15 teams as ranked preseason by Rivals.com.
How the Points Are Awarded
If you have scheduled A:
1-AA school subtract three points
1-A non BCS conference school subtract two points
1-A "premier" non-BCS conference school subtract one point
1-A BCS conference school add one point
1-A "premier" BCS conference school add two points
Note: A "premier" school is defined as a team that has played in a BCS bowl within the last five years. Also, an extra point is awarded for any scheduled OOC road game.
I would appreciate it if readers double check my numbers for accuracy. This was a little tedious and my research assistant is on vacation this week (ha, ha).
Comments on Results
I would normally expect teams from the supposedly weaker conferences—Big 10, ACC, non-BCS'ers, Pac 10, and Big East—to be at the top of this list i.e. trying to increase their SOS by playing quality teams outside their conference.
I would expect the opposite from teams belonging to the two supposedly stronger conferences, the SEC and the Big 12.
The results mostly confirm this view. The sole positive exception is Georgia, which alone among Big 12 and SEC teams put together a more challenging OOC schedule. Props to the Bulldogs for manning up.
On the negative side, I was surprised to find Boise State and Penn State at the bottom of the pack. One would expect both of these teams to schedule higher quality OOC opponents.
Penn State's numbers are worse than they appear, because they received undeserved credit for scheduling Syracuse. On paper, Syracuse is a BCS 1-A school, for which Penn State earned a full point.
In terms of real competition, however, the Orange are more equivalent to a 1-AA school. If I were to allow the use of reasonable discretion to adjust point totals, Penn State would be last at -10, not -6.
I don't see how Nittany Lion fans can (expletive) and moan at the end of the year that no one respects their undefeated record. Couldn't they choose a more worthy opponent than Syracuse? Don't they already have enough patsies in the Big 10 to beat up on?
Ohio State had a respectable number, mostly because they scheduled no 1-AA's this season. Nice to see. Still, with Michigan's program in remission, the Buckeyes must achieve more out of conference than just beating USC.
If I was OSU, I would schedule two premier BCS conference teams every year until the Wolverines start to show some signs of life again.
I know Ole Miss is in a tough conference, but please. The Rebels are the only top 15 team playing against two 1-AA teams this season.
at Oklahoma State +3 (includes road game point)
Ariz. State +1
Tennessee Tech -3
at Georgia Tech +2 (includes road game point)
Georgia Tech +3
Jacksonville State -3
at Miss State +2 (includes road game point)
at Vanderbilt +2 (includes road game point)
San Jose State -2
at Ohio State +3 (includes road game point)
at Notre Dame +3 (includes road game point)
Alabama +2.5 (half point added for scheduling at a neutral site)
at East Carolina -1 (point added for road game)
Eastern Washington -3
Minnesota +2 (includes point for road game)
Ohio State 0
at Toledo -1.5 (included half point for game at neutral site)
New Mexico State -2
Oklahoma -2.5 points
BYU -0.5 (includes half a point for game at neutral site)
Idaho State -3
Miami (Fl) +3 (includes road game point)
Washington +2 (includes point for road game)
Louisiana Tech -2
VTech +2.5 (includes half a point for game at neutral site)
North Texas -2
Florida -5 points
Charleston Southern -3
Florida International -2
Florida State +2
Oklahoma State -5
Grambling St. -3
Boise State -6
Miami (Oh) -2
Bowling Green -1 (includes point for road game)
UC Davis -3
Tulsa -1 (includes point for road game)
Penn State -6
Eastern Illinois -3
Louisiana Monroe -2
Wyoming -1 (point added for road game)
Ole Miss -9
Memphis -1 (includes point for road game)
SE Louisiana -3
Northern Ariz. -3