With the first weekend of NCAA FBS football in the bag and so many teams taking the cupcake route, it seemed a good time to cut through the bull and highlight the teams that have taken the road less traveled.
It is time to answer some basic questions, like which schools have played the most regular season games against good teams, which schools have the most regular season wins against good teams, and which teams have avoided losses to bad and average teams.
Good wins are very hard to come by these days, as schedules have steadily declined in difficulty. Many articles have been written over the rise of the FCS scheduling and the decline of games between top 25 teams.
Now, some teams have avoided serious competition, others having merely lacked the opportunity due to few good teams in their conference.
Many have claimed that the college football regular season is the greatest in sports. While this is still largely true, the quality of games in the regular season has steadily declined.
Now, I have been writing about the issue of the regular season recently. The first article focused on laying out a new way to look at strength of schedule, focusing on games versus teams winning seven games in the regular season against FBS competition.
Simply put, good and great teams rarely lose to average and poor teams. Games against average and poor teams really do not help us to find out who the best teams are each season.
My next article focused on the BCS from 2001 to 2004, arguing that the BCS system does not promote the best teams being rewarded for a great season, but merely that perception of a team was much more important than the reality.
My most recent article examined which individual seasons over the last eight years featured the toughest schedules. I also argued that schedules have gotten considerably weaker over the last eight years, with 2002 and 2003 being the years with the most difficult schedules, in large part due to the BCS formula used at the time.
I also noted that many times when a team has had a down year, it is due to an incredibly difficult schedule more so than having a poor team.
"A" Teams Versus "B" Teams
Now, good teams are those that beat the above average teams as well as the great teams. For example, Ohio State is always a really good team, an A-team.
Navy on the other hand has had some decent success over the last few years, but rarely plays three good teams a year during the regular season and only has four regular season wins over good teams over the last eight years.
So, as Navy showed on Saturday, it is a "B" team, winning seven or games versus FBS schools each regular season, due in large part to an extremely soft schedule.
Now, if Navy had managed to tie the game at the Horseshoe and pull off the win, it would have been an upset, but that of a B team over an A team. Unexpected, but within the realm of possibility.
Now, I have looked at every regular season game played by FBS teams over the last eight years, with no bowl games or conference championship games included in the survey.
Which teams are the true warriors; the ones that take on the best and beat the best?
Oh, and what teams have played the most games versus good teams?
Now, no team in FBS has played even an average of six good teams in a season, with Stanford playing a total of 47 (just under six a season) over the last eight years. Most top teams play no more than four or five good games during the regular season.
Only 32 teams average five or more good teams a season, of which 28 come from AQ conferences.
In contrast, Alabama and Florida both only played two good teams out of 12 in a very down year for the SEC. This is especially telling for Florida in that it has played the second most number of good teams over the last eight years (46), but over half those games took place between 2001 and 2003.
Now, on average, teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences (non-AQ) tend to play fewer games versus good teams, averaging around three or four good games each year. Only four non-AQ schools (Colorado State, SMU, Temple, and Louisiana Tech) have played five good teams a season or better.
Now, only thirty-eight teams have managed 10 or more wins versus good teams in the regular season over the last eight seasons. Of these 38, only seven are non-AQ schools.
So, of the 66 AQ schools (I included Notre Dame in that number), 35 have failed to manage even 10 regular season wins over eight seasons against good teams, demonstrating that more than half of the AQ schools are mere pretenders to their elite status.
Most Good Wins 2001-2008
|Schools||Wins vs. good teams|
|North Carolina State||16|
While I expected the top teams to lead the way, I was surprised by teams like NC State (16 wins) and Hawaii (15 wins).
NC State has only a couple of good seasons over the last eight years, but also has the most bad losses (21) of any team with 15 or more good wins. The Wolfpack have seriously underperformed when facing weaker competition.
Of those in the top 10, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, Georgia, Boise State, and Oregon all had less than five good regular season games a season.
So, which schools play the most tough games?
|Schools||Games vs good teams|
|North Carolina State||40|
What, surprised to see Notre Dame as No. 3? For all of the complaints about the Domers' supposedly soft scheduling, they come out near the top.
Of course, looking at these two charts, Notre Dame has lost 28 games versus good teams over the last eight years during the regular season, although 44 other teams can claim equal or worse examples in futility.
How about fewest losses to average and bad teams?
This is the true sign of an elite school, avoiding bad losses. You know, the crazy loss of USC to Stanford. Which teams have the fewest of those types of regular season losses over the last eight years?
|Schools||Losses average and bad teams|
What, surprised to see Purdue on this list? Purdue rarely loses to bad or average teams. When the Boilermakers lose, it is to a good or great team, making Purdue a very good B-team.
Of course, two of USC's three bad losses were in 2001. The oft-cited Stanford loss is USC's only bad loss in seven years.
Alabama, for having a bad time of it during several years during the last eight years, rarely loses to bad teams (well, except for that loss to UL-Monroe a couple years ago).
It is not surprising that eight of 12 SEC teams appear on this list, as most of the conference's regular season losses come from beating up each other, not from tough OOC games. Even so, SEC teams rarely lose to teams at the bottom of the conference.
Top teams rarely fail in games against average opponents. That is one of the reasons they are top teams. Year in and year out teams like LSU, Oklahoma, and Florida have beaten the cupcakes and also-rans on their schedules.
You can almost guarantee that when one of these team's loses, they lost to a good team.
Ultimately, while the numbers only tell us so much, a strong pattern has developed the further I have gone into this investigation.
Good teams usually defeat bad and average teams.
Great teams win against bad, average, and merely good teams.
By decreasing the number of games against good and great teams, the elite of college football has become a beauty contest judged by fewer and fewer big games.
And judging by the opening weekend's four biggest games (OU-BYU, Oklahoma State-Georgia, Alabama-Virginia Tech, and Boise State-Oregon), the incentive to schedule such games is rapidly declining for elite programs.