Strength of Schedule: Are BCS Conferences Overrated?

Eddie DzurillaCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2009

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 14:  Thaddeus Lewis #9 of the Duke Blue Devils passes the football against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Wallace Wade Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We keep hearing about strength of schedule, the vaunted power of the BCS conferences. How tough, tough, tough they are. But the strength of schedule ratings are, by definition, skewed toward to BCS conferences.

A 3-9 Colorado team and 5-7 Kansas team rate higher than a 3-9 Colorado State and a 5-7 UNLV, even though Colorado State beat Colorado, and Kansas was in such a complete meltdown due to internal team problems that they were pretty much incapable of beating anyone by year end. 

Ratings within 10 teams are essentially the same, due to statistical variance (hence a TCU schedule rated as 60th toughest is within a standard deviation of a Texas schedule rated 52nd toughest) and should, from a statistical standpoint, be viewed as the same. 

(Although the postings of various BCS conference fans indicate that this point is kind of lost on them. Must be liberal arts majors, who opted out of those stats electives.)

Let’s face it. All of the BCS conferences have a fair amount of patsies. Teams that really don’t have much of a history of success. Some teams, like UConn, that don’t even have much of a history within the Football Bowl Subdivision.

So, with all due respect to the “little guys” from conferences like the Mountain West that the big “toughies” from the power conferences like to chastise for weak schedules, let’s take a look at some of the bottom tier teams of the BCS conferences this year.

BIG 12: Texas had a great year.  But a lot of the Big 12 didn’t.  Baylor had another losing season. That’s 15 in a row now. Kansas, as stated earlier, melted down, and it’s not like they are a traditional powerhouse. Colorado, at 3-9, is a shadow of the program that once competed for national championships. Iowa State, which has always played second fiddle to the Big Ten's Iowa Hawkeyes in the state's football prowess, did manage to get to 6-6, no great shakes. 

And even traditional powers Oklahoma and Texas A&M finished just 7-5 and 6-6, respectively. I do, however, have to give props to the Okies because they at least played a real out-of-conference schedule rather than cupcakes.

ACC: Maryland sucks. Virginia sucks. Duke sucks. Wake Forest had their day in the sun, and are now back to their familiar losing ways. N.C. State is no great shakes.  But, hey, they are a good basketball conference. But they had to steal the three best teams from the Big East to prop themselves up.

Big East: Syracuse is a sad shell of a formerly proud program. Louisville and Cincy were just imported from Conference USA, and Cincy ran the table (what does that say about the so called power of the BCS players).  UConn's scrappy, but another program that just recently stepped up. They were playing Yankee Conference ball in an 18,000 seat stadium until less than a decade ago. Rutgers is an up and comer, but no great shakes, they just qualified for their fourth bowl in school history.

BIG 10: Indiana has never been good. Illinois has a good season about once a decade. Purdue, Minnesota, and Michigan State are middlin’ at best, with MSU in particular fattening up their mediocre 6-6 record with some real cupcakes on their schedule. Rich Rodriguez continues to work miracles in Ann Arbor, turning the Michigan football team around, right into the ground.

PAC-10 : Probably the best conference top-to-bottom if they could just get rid of the State of Washington. Both Washington and Washington State continue to stink it up. Washington State, in particular, has a long tradition of losing; years and years of losing punctuated by an occasional flash of decent performance followed by years and years of lousy play. Wake Forest and Maryland in the ACC utilize the same modus operandi.

SEC: The Big Kahuna. The Holy Grail, with the most fervent fans who claim that their league is just as rough and tough as it gets, top-to-bottom. Well, except for Vanderbilt, Kentucky (whose idea of a successful season is 7-5), Mississippi State (another perennial bottom-dweller), and South Carolina (another team happy to go 7-5 or so with no real tradition of major success).

But mediocre is pretty much where most of the league was this year, with six of the 12 teams finishing at 7-5. I guess mediocre defines tough in the SEC, but 7-5 is well, 7-5.

Until we get a real playoff, we’ll continue to have arguments on who’s the best, which league is tougher, who is scheduling more cupcakes, so on and so forth. 

Because, until we have a genuine play-off and settle it on the field, it’s all just conjecture anyways, isn’t it?