College Football Strength of Schedule: LSU, Notre Dame, Baylor Most Challenging

Tim McGheeCorrespondent IIISeptember 6, 2011

Louisiana State, Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Baylor and Notre Dame.

The athletic directors from the schools named above score an A for possessing the vision it takes to build tough, challenging, killer 2011 schedules.

Those Top 19 and On Deck ADs earning a grade of B for signing up interesting opponents from good football programs are: Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas A & M, Ohio State, Arkansas, Florida and Texas.

The grade of C is given to 10 teams playing a tough opponent, but prefer lining up against Remke Polytechnic and Research Institute. They are: Boise State, Florida State, Stanford, Nebraska, West Virginia, South Carolina, South Florida, Michigan State, Georgia and Oregon.

Grades of D are delivered to those schools scheduling East Éclair State College and Cruller Tech: Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Texas Christian.

Since strength of schedule is a moving target, I will update schedule grades after the week’s games, posting no later than Tuesday afternoon. 

The schools with improving grades on Week 2 compared to Week 1’s preseason grades are:


Alabama – B to B+ (LSU’s big victory over Oregon)

Arkansas – B+ to A- (LSU)

West Virginia – D to C+ (South Florida’s upset at Notre Dame, Maryland’s defeat of Miami Fla. and LSU)

Mississippi State – A- to A (LSU)

Texas Christian – D to D+ (Boise State’s win over Georgia)


The schools suffering a drop in their grades of Week 2 over Week 1 are:

Boise State – C to C- (Texas Christian’s loss to Baylor)

Stanford – C+ to C- (losses in the Pac-12 Conference North, especially Oregon’s loss to LSU  and Oregon State’s overtime defeat by FCS Sacramento State)

Wisconsin – D+ to D (Oregon State)

Virginia Tech - D to D- (Miami Fla loss to Maryland; Hurricanes are Hokies' big divisional game)

Ohio State – B to B- (Miami Fla.)

Oregon – C+ to C- (Pac-12’s shake-up, especially Oregon State)



Putting together a 12 game schedule in the Football Bowl Subdivision is an art.  Scheduling games five years in advance, balancing past competitiveness with future value, is arguably the most potentially skewed and misunderstood aspect of college football. 

The athletic directors must juggle opponents, matching dollars with the schools’ philosophy of scheduling, such as: a) sell tickets by making the schedule tough, challenging and brutal, b) sell tickets by making the schedule kind of tough and sort of interesting, but not so challenging or c) sell tickets by pouring more sugar on the donuts.

A schedule of strong opponents is a major determinant of a team’s worth as the school looks to playing in the Bowl Championship Series title game or even garnering a berth in a BCS bowl.  For my Top 19 rankings as well as the selection of those teams to the On Deck section, I consider strength of schedule of the defeated opponent right up there with wins and losses and margin of victory.

So I can compare the tough schedules to those covered with butter crème icing, thereby quantifying such a nebulous aspect of the college game, I chose to:

a)      use three services–Phil Steele, Athlon and Sporting News—for each expert’s preseason team difficulty of schedule ranking data

b)      crank the numbers, looking at out-of-conference schedules, rankings of the teams in other polls, Vegas odds and conference predictions

c)      subjectively rank each team’s schedule, top to bottom

d)      assign a number to each team’s schedule, with weakness of schedule descending as the number increases (10 is great, 70 is not)

e)      plot the numbers on a graph, with the school’s name beside the number

f)       find the natural breaks on the graph between “clusters” of numbers/school

g)      assign a letter to each “cluster.”

In sum, I like the results.  It worked.

Four distinct clusters of teams appeared, as the clusters interestingly formed a close rendition of a statistical bell curve with the mean around a C +.

There’s nothing more credible than a population of data on a bell curve.

Look for each week’s revision of schedule strength, posted no later than Tuesday afternoon.




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