In Defense of Florida's Schedule
Outrage at Florida's No. 1 ranking is spreading among the uninformed and envious. Many fans of lower ranked teams feel that Florida should be penalized for starting their season against two relatively uncompetitive teams, 1-AA Charleston Southern and Troy.
This is in contrast to a handful of ranked teams who have gone out of conference early against BCS teams with a national reputation, including Alabama, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Oklahoma State, USC, and Ohio State.
Consternation mounts as opposing fans take a look at rest of Florida's schedule. Top 10 ranked Alabama fell out of Florida's SEC East/West rotation this year. The only other noteworthy opponents, Georgia, LSU, and Florida State, have all looked shaky against suspect competition.
I agree that Florida's schedule this year looks as easy as I have ever seen it. I also don't approve of the scheduling of 1-AA Charleston Southern.
But what about the big picture? Is Florida guilty of setting up a patsy schedule, cheating their way to the top of the BCS? Did they steal two national championships in three years from more noble programs who are not afraid to challenge those their own size?
The fact is that for the last three years, Florida's final average Sagarin Strength of Schedule ranking has been fifth out of 145 teams. That's a higher average ranking than Alabama (30th), Virginia Tech (40th), Georgia (19th), Oklahoma State (35th), and Ohio State (54th).
Even the vaunted Pac 10 round robin, go anywhere, play anybody USC Trojans have a lower SOS at 16th.
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Florida's regular SEC schedule is plenty difficult enough to establish a credible SOS ranking almost every season.
On top of that, they play Florida State every year in an intense season ending intra-state rivalry game.
They have also reintroduced a home and home with Miami most years. This is another bitter OOC intra-state rivalry game against another program with multiple national championships in recent history.
Moreover, if the Gators win their division, they must play the winner of the SEC West in the SEC Championship game.
That's how you end up with a top 10 SOS most years.
Also consider the real reason teams like Georgia and Ohio State fly across the country to play nationally known teams on Saturday night at the beginning of the season. It's not because they want to play fair and test themselves against the best no matter what the cost.
They have to schedule these high profile games because their states are recruiting poor and they are forced to recruit out of state.
The state of Florida is so talent rich that the Gators can afford to stay at home and play a couple of tune up games.
The only exception to this is USC, which dominates recruiting-rich California. They schedule top teams out of conference because they lack high quality in conference opponents. It was their inability to gain important wins in conference that hurt them in the BCS end of year beauty contest the last two years.
Florida got in the NC game in '06 and '08 by beating top 10 teams in the SEC Championship game at the end of the season when the wins count the most.
Finally, ask LSU what kind of pushover Troy is. Last year, they had to rally from 28 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Troy in Baton Rouge. I'm sure Oklahoma State thought Houston was going to be an easy win before the Cougars ruined their season.
And look at all the upsets by 1-AA teams over BCS conference teams this year already. A couple more and we'll have to call 2009 "The Revenge of the Cupcakes".
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