Boise State's Strength of Schedule: A Response to Critics

Fritz WardContributor IOctober 18, 2009

BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 3:  Willie Glasper #17 of the Oregon Ducks battles for position with Mitch Burroughs #20 of the Boise State as a pass is thrown in second quarter of the game on September 3, 2009 at Broncos Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won the game 19-8. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Almost from the day Boise soundly defeated Oregon at home, critics have complained loudly that Boise State does not belong because their schedule is too weak.  In 2006 of course, the complaint was that BSU itself should never be allowed to play in a BCS game, but as it has become apparent that Boise is the most consistent team of the decade, the focus has shifted to Boise State's schedule. 

There is something to this claim, but nowhere near as much as most critics seem to think.  Aside from the glaring errors of fact which accompany most such opinion pieces (see the recent article by Ken ND found here ) the reality is Boise's schedule is much stronger than most people realize. 

More than anything else, the complaints about Boise's schedule simply show the hypocrisy of self interested critics who support big name programs from AQ conferences.  To demonstrate this point, all one has to do is look at the Sagarin rankings which (after week six anyway) are based on results, not opinions.

Consider for example the widespread chorus of criticism when Boise scheduled UC Davis.  Certainly a number of Bronco fans, including myself, would have liked to see someone else.

But Davis is ranked 116 in Sagarin which as FCS schools go is not horrible.  Florida, on the other hand, opened their season against Charleston Southern, ranked 215, and absolutely no one complained that their weak schedule was not worthy of a team that was supposedly No. 1 (now No. 2) in the country. 

Of course, SEC fans will argue that Florida plays in "The SEC" and so they can afford to play absolute nobodies.  Fair enough, but it is worth noting that Florida will play only one (that's right, one) ranked team before the SEC playoff, and that team was a highly overrated LSU. 

Of course, it is likely Boise will also play only one ranked team all season, barring the possibility that Idaho should find itself briefly in the No. 25 slot before heading to the blue field.  However, a glance at this week's Sagarin rankings will immediately tell you which team has the better win.  Hint: It is not the team with the current No. 2 ranking.

Another glaring example of this bias against Boise State is the argument that they should blow out all their opponents based on how "weak" these teams are.  So, when Boise State defeats Tulsa, in Tulsa, by a score of 28-21 that is widely trumpeted as a defeat and Graham Watson of ESPN makes sure all her readers know that Boise will have to drop in the polls. 

Meanwhile Florida is playing Arkansas.  But they are playing in the Swamp, not away, and they win 23-20.  This on a field goal with nine seconds left and significant help from the officials.  Naturally, after this loss, Arkansas has gone up in the Sagarin rankings, and rightly so, but before the game how close were Arkansas and Tulsa?  Very.

CBS Sports had Tulsa No. 51 and Arkansas No. 48.  The fact remains: other top teams in the country are not expected to blow their opponents away when they are unranked.  This hypocritical reasoning applies only to Boise State. 

Several weeks ago, "Mr. College Football" offered us an opinion piece claiming that Boise State does not deserve a top 5 ranking because their opponents were 7-16.  As of the end of week seven, Boise's opponents are now 18-20.  Not great, but not bad.  It seems that these same opponents have done fairly well after Boise gave them a defeat. 

In order to make a fair comparison, of course, we have to ask how the opponents of schools ranked ahead of Boise have faired.  Now No. 1 Alabama's opponents are 22-22.  Texas's opponents reverse the record of Boise State:  they are 20-18.  Florida's opponents are 20-16. 

Meanwhile, Cincinnati just passed Boise in the polls.  The combined record of their opponents:  16-20. The bottom line is that by win loss records, the gold standard of Mr. College Football, none of these teams are truly playing the best competition.  And indeed, none of them have a strength of schedule that matches Virginia Tech, USC, or even Fresno State! 

Has "Mr. College Football" since revisited his opinion?  Of course not.  If he were to write an article today on why Boise does not deserve its ranking he would find a different reason to criticise Boise State. 

The fact of the matter is Boise has really played only one truly bad team this year:  Miami of OH.  Amazingly enough, that team was a top 25 team when Boise scheduled them.  I don't think anyone thought they would remain that high up in the rankings, but 0-7 is bad. 

Nobody could have forseen the collapse of a program like that.  Of course, Cincinnati also played Miami (OH) this year too, and nobody complained about the cupcake on their schedule.  Indeed, comments before the game made much of the fact that this is a rivalry game for the Bearcats. Such are the benefits of playing in a powerhouse like the "Big East." 

Last week Ken ND in the article referenced above complained that Boise's SOS was only 59 and was sure to go lower as the season progressed.  One week later, Sagarin lists Boise's SOS at 38, and as Oregon, Idaho, Tulsa, and Fresno continue to improve, it will only go up, not down.  Florida is 46.  Texas is 56.  Cincinnati is 71. 

Alabama, on the other hand, is 22 and USC is 11.  Based on SOS alone, Boise seems to be right in the middle of major programs.  But the fundamental flaw in all variations of the complaints about strength of schedule is that it misses the point.  Rankings are supposed to list the best teams, not the best schedules.

When you take out all the opinion pieces and all the AQ homerism, and look only at the numbers, Boise is the No. 4 team in the country.  And if the critics want to argue differently, they will have to get their AD's to schedule Boise with 1 on 1s or better.  These AD's won't do that of course. 

They, unlike the various self proclaimed experts, know the truth.  A visit to Boise is almost a certain loss for any program in the country.  No complaints about strength of schedule will change that.