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2010′s Toughest Schedules

Today’s Blog will start an in-depth look at who plays the toughest schedule this year and also some of the flaws in the other methods in determining schedule strength.

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 opponent’s schedule, however, you would count them as a 2-10 team! In 2008, I had teams like Ole Miss and Minnesota on my Most Improved Teams List meaning I thought they were bowl caliber but using the previous year’s record you would have counted them as 3-9 and 1-11 teams (both made bowls, Ole Miss finished #14). On the flip side of the coin, Notre Dame was in an obvious rebuilding year in ’07 yet was still counted as a 10-3 team if you based strength of schedule on 2006’s record and they were far from a January bowl team in 2007 at just 3-9!

The second flaw is basing it on pure overall records. If a team plays an FCS (IAA) school that was 11-1 in 2007, that counts 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!

In the April 14 Blog, I posted 2010’s Opponent Winning % and talked about a few examples which show that this method is not very accurate.

Now here are my 2010 toughest schedules, which 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 Oklahoma and USC, two Top 10 teams that were just 8-5 and 9-4 last year.

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 2010 Toughest Schedules          
1 Iowa St 41 Baylor 81 Rutgers
2 South Carolina 42 Wyoming 82 Idaho
3 UCLA 43 San Jose St 83 Utah
4 Mississippi St 44 Georgia 84 Temple
5 Minnesota 45 USC 85 Wisconsin
6 Oregon St 46 New Mexico 86 Toledo
7 Washington 47 Virginia Tech 87 Boise St
8 Miami, Fl 48 Wake Forest 88 New Mexico St
9 Duke 49 USF 89 Fresno St
10 LSU 50 Mississippi 90 UAB
11 Florida St 51 Kansas St 91 Nevada
12 Vanderbilt 52 Memphis 92 San Diego St
13 Washington St 53 BYU 93 TCU
14 NC State 54 Missouri 94 Northwestern
15 Alabama 55 Oregon 95 Houston
16 Penn St 56 East Carolina 96 Southern Miss
17 Notre Dame 57 Maryland 97 E Michigan
18 Florida 58 Michigan St 98 Florida Atlantic
19 Auburn 59 Cincinnati 99 Akron
20 Colorado 60 Colorado St 100 WKU
21 Illinois 61 Ohio St 101 Hawaii
22 Oklahoma 62 Texas 102 FIU
23 Texas A&M 63 Connecticut 103 Louisiana
24 North Carolina 64 Boston College 104 C Michigan
25 UNLV 65 Utah St 105 Kent St
26 Tennessee 66 Louisville 106 ULM
27 Georgia Tech 67 Kentucky 107 Navy
28 Pittsburgh 68 Rice 108 Army
29 Arizona St 69 Tulane 109 Tulsa
30 Oklahoma St 70 West Virginia 110 Buffalo
31 Clemson 71 Indiana 111 Arkansas St
32 California 72 Air Force 112 Ball St
33 Arkansas 73 Louisiana Tech 113 W Michigan
34 Stanford 74 Purdue 114 UCF
35 Iowa 75 SMU 115 UTEP
36 Virginia 76 Nebraska 116 North Texas
37 Michigan 77 Marshall 117 Troy
38 Texas Tech 78 Kansas 118 Ohio
39 Syracuse 79 Bowling Green 119 N Illinois
40 Arizona 80 Miami, Oh 120 Middle Tenn


Now let’s pick out some teams to show you the differences between my method and the NCAA’s and you can decide which one you think is more accurate.

According to 2009’s opponent records, Miami, Ohio plays the 38th toughest schedule while USC takes on an easy #87 schedule. The Trojans schedule consists of long non-conf trips to Minnesota and Hawaii and USC must play nine games in the very competitive wide open Pac-10 this year. Meanwhile Miami, Ohio plays in a much weaker conference and while the RedHawks face a decent non-conf slate that includes road games at Florida, Missouri and Cincinnati, new USC HC Kiffin would love to face a schedule that, outside the Florida opener, would see the Trojans favored in the other 11 and would give them a much easier path to the National Title game. For the record I have USC’s schedule ranked #45 while Miami, Ohio is #80.

Based on 2009’s opponent records, Louisville plays the 31st toughest schedule while Oregon takes on an easy #104 slate. The Ducks “cupcake” schedule has them facing all 9 Pac-10 foes which could have as many as 9 bowl eligible teams this year. While Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest venues to play in, the Ducks have just 4 Pac-10 home games this year and their road schedule includes games at Cal, USC and Oregon St and an early non-conf road game at Tennessee. Meanwhile, Louisville plays a Kentucky team in the opener who has just 11 returning starters and an SEC high 27 letterman lost.  The Cardinals also play FCS Eastern Kentucky, Arkansas St and Memphis in non-conf play. While Oregon plays more conference away games than home (5-4), Louisville has more home games (4-3) in the unbalanced Big East conference schedule this year. Do you think Oregon HC Chip Kelly would rather play Louisville’s schedule? For the record I have Oregon’s schedule ranked #55 and Louisville’s #66

According to the NCAA method Missouri faces a “cupcake” #97 schedule this year while Louisiana Tech plays the 50th toughest schedule.  This year’s Missouri squad is much more experienced and stronger than the ’09 version but they do have a killer Big 12 schedule and only have three Big 12 home games with one of them coming vs Oklahoma who the Tigers are just 1-20 against the last 21 meetings! Meanwhile Louisiana Tech plays in the WAC which will have just one team ranked in the preseason Top 25. If the Tigers played Tech’s schedule they would be favored in 10 games and they would have their eyes on a possible BCS bowl bid, which they were robbed out of in 2007. For the record I have Missouri’s schedule ranked #54 and Louisiana Tech’s #73.

Boston College has won at least eight games in every season since 2001 but have not reached a BCS Bowl yet. This year the NCAA rates the Eagles schedule as one of the easiest schedules in the country at #102 and you have to think that this could be the year the Eagles break thru. However, Boston College plays in the highly competitive ACC with difficult home games against Virginia Tech and Clemson and also has to go on the road to Florida St. Not to mention they get a much improved Notre Dame team in non-conf play. The Eagles would probably take a split in those games hope to sweep everyone else just to get to 10-2.  Tulane meanwhile plays the #54 schedule which features Army and SE Louisiana in non-conf games along with their CUSA schedule which has only one possible Top 25 team. If the Eagles were to switch schedules with the Green Wave, fans in Boston might be celebrating a National Title in addition to the recent success of their favorite pro teams. If the Eagles played this schedule, they would be favored by double digits in at least 10 games and the only huge obstacle would be a road trip to Houston where it would be interesting to see their great set of linebackers fare against the high-powered Cougar offense.

According to the NCAA, Purdue plays the easiest schedule (#106) of all BCS teams. Meanwhile Toledo plays the #58 schedule. While both teams do play each other this season I have to think Purdue would not mind switching conference schedules as they have to go on the road to Ohio St and Michigan St with a home game against Top 25 Wisconsin while the Rockets play in the MAC and avoid its best team (Temple). For the record I have Purdue’s schedule ranked #74 with Toledo’s #86.

Tomorrow I will dwell on further about the toughest schedules and feature my teams that I feel play much easier/tougher schedules and how that could effect their record this year.

Also tomorrow is the day Phil Steele’s 2010 College Football Preview officially hits the newsstands nationwide! Make sure you pick up a copy at your local Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million or Borders bookstores as well as any Target, K-Mart or one of the larger grocery chains. Wal-Mart will also be displaying the magazine in all their stores this year. The cost is just $8.95 in the stores but they tend to fly off the shelves. If you’re having trouble finding a copy visit the store or call 1-866-918-7711 and order your copy thru the office (plus shipping). 

Don’t forget that I will be holding a live one-hour “chat session” and answer all of your questions tomorrow on Facebook. During the “live chat” post your questions as you normally do on the Fan Page (in the “what’s on your mind” box) and I will answer them as quickly as possible. It looks like the 1:30-2:30 pm est time slot is the most popular right now. If that does not work for you log on to the Homepage and vote for a different spot. Get your friends to vote too, and make sure they become a fan on Facebook to participate in the chat!


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  • http://twitter.com/Haverhill40 Travis Halm

    ISU will be pretty highly regarded with even a 6-6 record. http://blog.philsteele.com/2010/06/07/2010s-tou

  • http://twitter.com/Haverhill40 Travis Halm

    ISU will be pretty highly regarded with even a 6-6 record. http://blog.philsteele.com/2010/06/07/2010s-tou

  • Redgie Taylor

    You telling me playing Pitt, Notre Dame, TCU, and BYU warrents a 83 for Utah on your strength of schedule? You give BYU 30 spots higher and they have Florida State and Washington! I know you give Utah love, but come on, our strength of Schedule has got to be higher than 83.

  • matthew

    i think penn state should rank higher, most of the experianced players are all gone

  • http://www.philsteele.com Phil Steele

    Not sure what you are getting at here. The toughest schedules have nothing to do with how strong your team is. It considers the strength of your opponents. As for Penn St I think despite facing THREE teams that won BCS games all on the road this year, they should win the rest of their games and still have a shot a double digit win season. Phil

  • Mark

    My problem with college football is a team like Boise St, which is a good team, but play only one tough game and has a very weak schedule will go undefeated and play for the NC. Now that they have beat VA Tech, I think they will win out. Does it make since that the first game of year, because it was a win, qualifies Boise St for the national championship game? PLAYOFF PLEASE!!!!!!!!

  • Tom

    I’m having a hard time understanding how ANY SEC wouldn’t rank in the top 30-40…randomly looking at Virginia (36), for example…where are they earning points? Hosting a weakened USC? Visiting GA Tech? The ACC looks pretty weak this year…don’t understand how they rate above literally any SEC school.

  • Miseys

    Tom, Just off the top of my head, imagine if all SEC teams would be ranked in the top 40. That would have a snowball affect not only with teams that play them being elevated in difficulty. Then any team that would not have SEC teams on their schedule would not be considered difficult. Mathematically impossible. I know the SEC is the best overall conference, but that doesnt mean every schedule is a top 25 schedule calling for your speculation that Georgias schedule is more difficult than Baylors or Stanfords schedules when Georgia isnt playing the likes of LSU or Alabama? Same goes for Vanderbuilt, Who doesnt play Auburn or Bama. Besides, as it is, Phil has 7 SEC teams ranked among 19 of the most difficult schedules. Only 12 teams can say they have a more difficult schedule. Thats pretty impressive.