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Predicting Who Plays the Toughest Schedule

The question arises each year, “Who plays the toughest schedule?” At the beginning of the season, the NCAA usually releases a rating of each team’s schedule based on their opponents’ win/loss record from the previous season. This is a good method but it does have its obvious flaws.

The first flaw is basing the ratings on opponents’ records from the previous season. Let’s look at a couple of examples. At the start of 2007 I had Illinois rated as one of the top teams in the Big Ten and they went on to knock off #1 Ohio St and play in the ROSE BOWL. My ratings had them as an above avg opponent at the start of the year and they finished the regular season #13 (AP). Using 2006’s record as the criteria for determining the strength of an opps’ schedule, however you would count them as a 2-10 team!

The second flaw is basing it on pure overall records. If a team plays a FCS (IAA) school that was 11-1 in 2007, that would have counted as a MUCH tougher game in the NCAA ratings than facing a team like Alabama who was 7-6 in ‘07 but #1 at the end of ‘08 regular season! My ratings had Bama ranked as a much tougher team than an FCS foe.

Let’s first look at the NCAA rankings. Below is a chart of all 120 teams and the combined 2008 opponents’ records from last year. It is ranked in order of highest % of opponent wins (or toughest schedule) to lowest % of opponent wins (or easiest schedule). This is the same chart that was printed on page 317 in last year’s college preview magazine.

2009′s Opponent Winning % Preseason NCAA Method

(Based on 2008 Records)

 

rk name foe wins foe loss foe win %
1 Florida St 101 55 64.70%
2 Oklahoma St 97 55 63.80%
3 Syracuse 98 57 63.20%
4 S Carolina 98 58 62.80%
5 Auburn 96 58 62.30%
6 Baylor 95 58 62.10%
6 Miss St 95 58 62.10%
8 Wyoming 94 59 61.40%
9 Texas Tech 91 59 60.70%
10 Miami, Fl 93 61 60.40%
11 Minnesota 91 61 59.90%
12 Oklahoma 91 62 59.50%
13 Maryland 92 63 59.40%
14 New Mexico 89 63 58.60%
15 Clemson 90 64 58.40%
15 Virginia 90 64 58.40%
17 Louisville 89 65 57.80%
17 NC State 89 65 57.80%
19 Virginia Tech 90 66 57.70%
20 San Jose St 87 64 57.60%
21 UNLV 88 65 57.50%
21 Vanderbilt 88 65 57.50%
23 Arkansas 87 65 57.20%
23 Georgia Tech 87 65 57.20%
23 USF 87 65 57.20%
26 Iowa 87 66 56.90%
27 Indiana 85 65 56.70%
28 Illinois 86 66 56.60%
28 Michigan St 86 66 56.60%
30 Duke 87 67 56.50%
31 Nebraska 85 67 55.90%
31 West Virginia 85 67 55.90%
33 N Carolina 86 68 55.80%
33 Tennessee 86 68 55.80%
35 Oregon 83 68 55.00%
35 Utah St 83 68 55.00%
37 Miami, Oh 84 69 54.90%
37 Wake Forest 84 69 54.90%
39 East Carolina 85 70 54.80%
39 Pittsburgh 85 70 54.80%
41 Kansas 82 68 54.70%
41 Michigan 82 68 54.70%
43 Georgia 83 69 54.60%
44 Florida 82 69 54.30%
44 Kentucky 82 69 54.30%
46 UCF 83 70 54.20%
46 Wisconsin 83 70 54.20%
48 Colorado 81 70 53.60%
48 Colorado St 81 70 53.60%
50 Kansas St 80 70 53.30%
51 LSU 81 71 53.30%
51 Washington 81 71 53.30%
53 Boston College 82 72 53.20%
54 Missouri 79 70 53.00%
55 BYU 80 71 53.00%
55 Tulsa 80 71 53.00%
57 Arizona 79 71 52.70%
57 Texas 79 71 52.70%
59 Stanford 80 72 52.60%
60 Air Force 77 70 52.40%
61 Memphis 79 72 52.30%
62 Tulane 78 72 52.00%
63 Bowling Green 79 73 52.00%
63 Connecticut 79 73 52.00%
63 Purdue 79 73 52.00%
66 C Michigan 80 74 51.90%
67 Rice 79 74 51.60%
68 Texas A&M 76 73 51.00%
69 Cincinnati 77 74 51.00%
69 Houston 77 74 51.00%
71 SMU 78 75 51.00%
72 New Mexico St 82 79 50.90%
73 Rutgers 70 68 50.70%
74 Iowa St 75 73 50.70%
74 San Diego St 75 73 50.70%
76 California 76 74 50.70%
77 Washington St 77 75 50.70%
78 Utah 75 74 50.30%
79 UTEP 77 76 50.30%
80 Fresno St 76 76 50.00%
80 Nevada 76 76 50.00%
80 Ohio St 75 75 50.00%
80 Oregon St 75 75 50.00%
80 Toledo 75 75 50.00%
85 Navy 82 83 49.70%
86 Notre Dame 76 77 49.70%
87 FIU 75 76 49.70%
87 USC 75 76 49.70%
89 North Texas 74 76 49.30%
89 TCU 74 76 49.30%
91 WKU 73 75 49.30%
92 Mississippi 68 70 49.30%
93 Hawaii 80 83 49.10%
94 Arizona St 74 77 49.00%
95 Penn St 73 76 49.00%
96 UAB 74 78 48.70%
97 Temple 73 78 48.30%
98 E Michigan 72 78 48.00%
98 UCLA 72 78 48.00%
100 Louisiana Tech 71 77 48.00%
101 Marshall 72 79 47.70%
102 Ohio 70 79 47.00%
103 Boise St 77 87 47.00%
104 ULM 68 80 45.90%
105 Buffalo 66 80 45.20%
106 Southern Miss 68 83 45.00%
107 Akron 67 82 45.00%
108 Louisiana 66 81 44.90%
109 Idaho 68 84 44.70%
110 Alabama 67 83 44.70%
111 Northwestern 66 83 44.30%
112 N Illinois 65 83 43.90%
113 Arkansas St 64 83 43.50%
113 Troy 64 83 43.50%
115 W Michigan 65 86 43.00%
116 Army 64 85 43.00%
116 Middle Tenn 64 85 43.00%
118 Ball St 63 85 42.60%
119 Kent St 63 86 42.30%
120 Florida Atlantic 61 86 41.50%

Now let’s take a look at my rankings which were included on page 318 in last year’s magazine and are listed below.

These rankings take two major factors into account. The first is my 9 sets of Power Ratings. This ensures that an FCS team is rated much lower than Miami, Fl which was 7-6 in 2008.

The second factor is the amount of home and away games played. As an example, this year some teams will have as many as 8 home games, while others play as many as 8 on the road.

Phil Steele’s 2009 Toughest Schedules Preseason

 

Rank Team Rk Team Rk Team Rk Team
1 S Carolina 31 Missouri 61 Iowa St 91 Southern Miss
2 Florida St 32 Indiana 62 NC State 92 Fresno St
3 Oklahoma 33 Purdue 63 Kansas St 93 Louisiana Tech
4 Mississippi St 34 Florida 64 East Carolina 94 Nevada
5 Minnesota 35 Nebraska 65 San Jose St 95 E Michigan
6 Arkansas 36 Notre Dame 66 USF 96 New Mexico St
7 Georgia 37 Wake Forest 67 UAB 97 C Michigan
8 Virginia Tech 38 UCLA 68 Alabama 98 WKU
9 Tennessee 39 Ohio St 69 Rice 99 Toledo
10 Michigan St 40 Texas 70 Cincinnati 100 Hawaii
11 Oregon 41 Texas A&M 71 BYU 101 Louisiana
12 Miami, Fl 42 Illinois 72 Penn St 102 San Diego St
13 Virginia 43 Connecticut 73 New Mexico 103 ULM
14 Oklahoma St 44 Wyoming 74 UNLV 104 Temple
15 Auburn 45 Clemson 75 FIU 105 North Texas
16 Washington 46 Colorado 76 Tulane 106 Rutgers
17 USC 47 Boston College 77 Mississippi 107 Idaho
18 Baylor 48 Arizona St 78 Colorado St 108 Arkansas St
19 Texas Tech 49 Louisville 79 Houston 109 Troy
20 Washington St 50 N Carolina 80 Utah St 110 Buffalo
21 LSU 51 California 81 Utah 111 Middle Tenn
22 Stanford 52 Kentucky 82 UTEP 112 N Illinois
23 Vanderbilt 53 Wisconsin 83 Bowling Green 113 Akron
24 Arizona 54 Pittsburgh 84 Marshall 114 W Michigan
25 Maryland 55 Oregon St 85 Northwestern 115 Ball St
26 Kansas 56 UCF 86 Miami, Oh 116 Florida Atlantic
27 Georgia Tech 57 Memphis 87 Navy 117 Boise St
28 Iowa 58 Duke 88 TCU 118 Army
29 Michigan 59 West Virginia 89 Air Force 119 Ohio
30 Syracuse 60 Tulsa 90 SMU 120 Kent St

Below is the final Opponent Winning % based on 2009 records. I have taken out the teams record in these rankings. For example, Ohio St’s opponents actual record were 82-70 (53.9%) on the season but when you take out the Buckeyes 11-2 record, the opponent record jumps to 80-59 (57.5%) On the flip side, Western Kentucky opponents finished 75-75 (50%) on the season but when you take out the Hilltoppers 0-12 record it falls to just 63-75 (45.7%). I don not think good teams should be penalized for beating a majority of their opponents while weaker teams get rewarded for not winning a majority of their games.

Final 2009 Opponent Winning % Preseason

(based on 2009 Records)

 

Rank Team Foe Wins Foe Losses Foe Win %
1 Miss St 97 47 67.36%
2 Florida St 91 50 64.54%
3 S Carolina 91 51 64.08%
4 Arkansas 89 52 63.12%
5 Minnesota 86 53 61.87%
5 West Virginia 86 53 61.87%
7 IOWA 85 53 61.59%
8 Virginia Tech 88 55 61.54%
9 Miami, Fl 86 54 61.43%
10 Georgia 86 55 60.99%
11 Syracuse 85 55 60.71%
12 Pittsburgh 83 54 60.58%
13 Virginia 87 57 60.42%
14 Oregon 84 56 60.00%
15 Michigan St 82 55 59.85%
16 Arizona 83 56 59.71%
16 Auburn 83 56 59.71%
16 Oklahoma 83 56 59.71%
19 Alabama 81 56 59.12%
20 Illinois 81 58 58.27%
20 LSU 81 58 58.27%
22 Louisville 81 59 57.86%
22 Oklahoma St 81 59 57.86%
24 Miami, OH 82 60 57.75%
25 Clemson 79 58 57.66%
26 Ohio St 80 59 57.55%
27 Connecticut 79 59 57.25%
27 N Carolina 79 59 57.25%
29 Baylor 80 62 56.34%
29 Wake Forest 80 62 56.34%
31 Florida 77 60 56.20%
32 Washington 79 62 56.03%
33 Tennessee 80 63 55.94%
34 Georgia Tech 76 60 55.88%
34 USF 76 60 55.88%
36 Wisconsin 77 61 55.80%
37 Colorado 79 63 55.63%
38 Penn St 76 61 55.47%
38 Texas 76 61 55.47%
38 Wyoming 76 61 55.47%
41 East Carolina 77 62 55.40%
42 Missouri 76 62 55.07%
43 Marshall 77 63 55.00%
44 TCU 75 62 54.74%
45 Texas Tech 76 63 54.68%
45 UNLV 76 63 54.68%
47 Notre Dame 77 64 54.61%
47 Utah St 77 64 54.61%
49 Mississippi 74 62 54.41%
50 Fresno St 75 63 54.35%
51 Kansas 76 64 54.29%
51 Tulane 76 64 54.29%
53 Oregon St 74 63 54.01%
54 Colorado St 75 64 53.96%
54 Maryland 75 64 53.96%
56 Memphis 76 65 53.90%
56 San Jose St 76 65 53.90%
56 Washington St 76 65 53.90%
59 Kansas St 74 64 53.62%
59 Kentucky 74 64 53.62%
59 USC 74 64 53.62%
62 Cincinnati 73 64 53.28%
63 FIU 74 65 53.24%
63 Purdue 74 65 53.24%
65 Vanderbilt 75 66 53.19%
66 Indiana 72 64 52.94%
67 NC ST 73 65 52.90%
68 Bowling Green 74 66 52.86%
69 Louisiana Tech 75 67 52.82%
70 Nebraska 71 64 52.59%
71 Air Force 72 65 52.55%
72 UCLA 72 66 52.17%
73 SMU 73 67 52.14%
74 Duke 71 66 51.82%
75 Buffalo 72 67 51.80%
75 San Diego St 72 67 51.80%
75 UCF 72 67 51.80%
78 Navy 76 71 51.70%
79 Rutgers 69 65 51.49%
80 California 71 67 51.45%
81 New Mexico 72 68 51.43%
82 Michigan 69 66 51.11%
83 Boston College 70 67 51.09%
83 BYU 70 67 51.09%
85 Arizona St 71 68 51.08%
86 Iowa St 69 67 50.74%
87 Texas A&M 70 68 50.72%
88 Rice 72 70 50.70%
89 Akron 70 69 50.36%
90 Utah 68 68 50.00%
91 Stanford 68 69 49.64%
92 Hawaii 75 77 49.34%
93 New Mexico St 73 75 49.32%
94 Ball St 69 72 48.94%
94 UAB 69 72 48.94%
96 Boise St 72 76 48.65%
97 Nevada 66 72 47.83%
98 Troy 65 71 47.79%
99 Temple 66 73 47.48%
100 Tulsa 66 74 47.14%
101 Louisiana 64 72 47.06%
102 ULM 63 73 46.32%
103 Idaho 63 75 45.65%
103 North Texas 63 75 45.65%
103 WKU 63 75 45.65%
106 E Michigan 62 76 44.93%
106 Florida Atlantic 62 76 44.93%
108 Arkansas St 61 75 44.85%
109 Houston 58 76 43.28%
109 Southern Miss 58 76 43.28%
111 C Michigan 57 75 43.18%
112 UTEP 60 79 43.17%
113 Northwestern 58 77 42.96%
114 Toledo 58 80 42.03%
115 Ohio 55 79 41.04%
116 Kent St 56 81 40.88%
117 N Illinois 55 81 40.44%
118 Army 52 85 37.96%
119 Middle Tenn 50 84 37.31%
120 W Michigan 50 85 37.04%

So who is more accurate the NCAA or Phil Steele when it comes to predicting strength of schedule?

 

Pre-Season Rankings Compared to Final Phil Steele NCAA
# of Predicted Rankings Exact 7 2
# of Pred Rank +/- 3 22 17
# of Pred Rank +/- 5 31 26
# of Pred Rank +/- 10 47 44
Overall Phil Steele 64-54-2  

 

As you can see I predicted 7 teams’ schedule strength exactly right (Arkansas St, Army, Florida St, Louisiana, Minnesota, Virginia and Virginia Tech) compared to just 2 for the NCAA. I also came within 3 final ranking spots of 22 teams compared to just 17 for the NCAA and overall my preseason predictions ended up being more accurate than the NCAA for 64 teams (54%)!

Here are a couple of examples which prove why my rankings are superior. In the preseason the NCAA had New Mexico facing the 14th toughest schedule based on 2008 opponent records. The Lobos faced a grand total of 2 BCS conference teams! There are 65 BCS conference schools and ALL 65 would love to have traded their schedule for New Mexico’s, which my ratings ranked as the 73rd toughest schedule. When the 2009 season concluded New Mexico finished with the 81st toughest schedule based on opponent win % which was 67 spots lower than the NCAA predicted but just 8 spots below where I had them ranked in the preseason!

Also According to the NCAA’s method, NCSt played the 17th toughest schedule and Alabama faced the 110th toughest (11th easiest). Coming into the season Alabama’s opponents 2008 records were 67-83 (44.47%) while NC St opponnents were 89-65 (57.8%) in 2008. The two teams did have 2 mutual opponents in South Carolina and Virginia Tech but Alabama played in a much tougher conference. When the 2009 season concluded my schedule strength was far more accurate than the NCAA. Alabama opponents finished 81-56 (59.1%) while NC St opponents finished 73-65 (52.9%). The Crimson Tide finished with the 19th hardest schedule which was 91 spots higher than what the NCAA predicted! NC St meanwhile finished with 67th hardest schedule just 5 spots lower than what I predicted but 50 spots lower than what the NCAA predicted!

Ohio St opponents were just 75-75 in 2008 and the NCAA ranked the Buckeyes schedule as the 80th hardest in the preseason while I had them facing the 39th toughest schedule. When the season concluded Buckeye opponents went 80-59 (57.6%) and finished with the 26th toughest schedule which was 54 spots higher than the NCAA but just 13 spots higher than my rankings.

This year when you are looking at your favorite teams schedule make sure to check my rankings compared to what the NCAA has and see for yourself who is more accurate. I will be be back on Wednesday to take a look at this year’s toughest schedules.

 
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  • http://twitter.com/BlockONation Block-O-Nation

    Before the season, rankings and strength of schedule projections are all guesswork IMO. After a season and the bowls, we have a much clearer idea of how good a team, or conference actually was in that particular year.

    Clearly, at least to me, the SEC as a whole was not very good last year, although many still viewed it as the best conference priot to the start of the season, for example.

  • http://twitter.com/BlockONation Block-O-Nation

    Before the season, rankings and strength of schedule projections are all guesswork IMO. After a season and the bowls, we have a much clearer idea of how good a team, or conference actually was in that particular year.

    Clearly, at least to me, the SEC as a whole was not very good last year, although many still viewed it as the best conference priot to the start of the season, for example.