In our last post on this topic, many commentators didn’t seem to get the point that I was trying to make. So, let’s try yet again.
The SEC doesn’t have to play challenging out-of-conference opponents to have a credible schedule because it’s conference opponents alone make the SEC’s schedule harder than anyone else’s.
Or, put another way other conferences NEED to schedule out-of-conference opponents just to make their own schedules credible.
Do we have it now?
The best way to illustrate this is graphically. The charts below show the conference opponents of Florida, Ohio State and USC by final rankings. For the top 25 we used the BCS. Since human voters don’t go beyond 25, we used an average of the computer polls (Sagarin, Coffey, Colley) for rankings below 25. (By using Sagarin we actually helped the Pac Ten).
The shaded area shows rankings 1 standard deviation from the mean (average). This represents the “typical” level of challenge faced by each team.
What we see is that neither Ohio State nor Southern Cal faced anyone nearly as challenging as LSU or Georgia on their schedules this year. Arizona State and Illinois were roughly equal for OSU and USC, while supposedly “top flight” opponents Wisconsin and Oregon were about the same as UF’s opponent Tennessee.
The average final rankings in conference for each team were –
Florida – 32
Ohio State – 47
USC – 45
When you add in Florida’s oft criticized out-of-conference opponents (WKU, Troy, FAU and FSU), UF’s schedule falls to an average 42, still better than either Ohio State or USC’s conference opponents.
Once again, it is the other conferences that need to schedule decent out-of-conference games just to make their overall schedules credible.
To USC’s credit they seemingly tried to add Nebraska to bulk up their schedule. Alas, it didn’t work with Nebraska ending up ranked 62nd. Ohio State in scheduling Washington, Youngstown State, Akron and Kent State didn’t even try to make their schedule more credible, which apparently worked to their favor.
Now say that Ohio State and USC, with the benefit of perfect hindsight, could go back and schedule out-of-conference teams of their choosing so that they would have had as tough a schedule as Florida did this year. The average opponent’s rank of each team before this little exercise in fantasy –
Florida – 42
Ohio State – 63
USC - 58
(For Ohio State, since only Sagarin rates the lower division teams, we used his rating of 99 for Youngstown State. Which is actually higher than Sagarin rates Akron, Minnesota, or Kent State; or USC opponent Idaho)
Continuing our little time-travel, rescheduling fantasy, for USC to get to Florida’s overall SOS with an average of 42, they could have started by dropped Idaho (138) and added Virginia Tech (3) to get them to a 46. Then by dropping Nebraska and adding, say Georgia (5), USC would have nearly exactly the same average opponent as Florida (41.66).
For Ohio State it is a little harder. Let’s start by dropping Kent State (120) and adding Oklahoma (4), which brings OSU down to a 53 average. Now let’s drop Akron (we can’t drop conference mate Minnesota), and add LSU (2) (we have to be aggressive here). That brings us to a 45 average. Well, toss Youngstown State then (99) and add another SEC opponent in Vanderbilt (61), which would bring the Buckeyes to nearly exactly UF’s average opponent of 42.
To recap, to get the same average opponent Florida had this year, Ohio State’s and USC’s out-of-conference opponents would have to have looked like –
Ohio State Out-of Conference
USC’s Out-of Conference
The disturbing part is that both of those teams, by merit of winning their conferences, would still be in BCS games having played the schedules above. But neither would be in the title game.