Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Strength of Schedule

When it comes to strength of schedule issues, I prefer to use the NCAA’s own system for both its simplicity and transparency. The NCAA measures simply the win-loss record of teams faced, and has none of the “black box” elements of system’s like Sagarin.

Is it perfect? No, nothing is. But it does a pretty good job of comparing schedules, even between those teams of BCS conferences and non-BCS conferences. Sure you can argue that non-BCS teams end up playing their “own” thus inflating their NCAA SOS, but because the non-BCS conferences usually play tougher conferences during their seasons, and rack up losses accordingly, they tend to have worse win-loss records. A perfect example of this is a conference like the Sun Belt, where the best team (and conference winner) Troy had an 8-5 record even though they lost only 1 conference game. If you look at the teams Troy played in their conference (with records) you see -

Louisiana-Lafayette 6-6
Florida Atlantic 7-6
Arkansas State 6-6
Florida International 5-7
Middle Tennessee State 5-7
Louisiana-Monroe 4-8
North Texas 1-11

Accordingly Troy had a NCAA strength of schedule that placed them 100th, a perfectly legitimate ranking. And teams that played Troy only got to place an 8-5 team on their record, not something artificially inflated.

Oklahoma had the toughest schedule per the NCAA in 2008, and I can’t disagree. Florida was second, and the top ten were –

1 Oklahoma
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 Georgia
5 Arkansas
6 Ohio St.
7 Kansas
8 Florida St.
9 Syracuse
10 Virginia

No non-BCS conference teams made it in the top ten, with the highest coming in 22nd for TCU, who had to play Oklahoma, BYU and Utah.

However merely ranking them in order doesn’t do the strength of schedule justice, as there can be real differences between teams closely ranked. Oklahoma, for instance, played teams with a 95-50 record, while 2nd place Florida say teams that went 93-53. By this metric the Sooner’s schedule was 2.9% “harder”.

And while Utah – my BlogPoll number one – placed a respectable 32nd in SOS nationally, Florida’s schedule was 16% harder than the Utes. Is that 16% enough to overcome the Gator’s one home loss? It was a close call.

However when we are talking about Utah, take a look at the teams with schedules worse than the Utes, with their national ranking and the percentage Utah’s schedule was tougher –

35 Alabama 0.86%
37 Georgia Tech 1.20%
38 Southern California 1.44%
44 Penn St. 2.72%
45 LSU 2.72%
47 Cincinnati 3.27%
51 Nebraska 3.76%
53 West Virginia 4.21%
54 Michigan 4.21%
56 California 4.78%
61 Arizona St. 6.40%
62 Wisconsin 6.50%
67 Oregon 7.55%
69 Tennessee 8.14%
89 Notre Dame 18.79%

Now presumably any of these, had they qualified, would have played for the BCS title.

Several came very close to doing exactly that.

1 comment:

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Wow. Nobody can say that an undefeated Notre Dame would not have played for the BCS crown despite their strength of schedule that is 18.79% weaker than Utah's