As part of his annual college football preview, Phil Steele‘s put together an overall ranking of every FBS team’s strength of schedule this year. Since we’re doing a little preview of our own over here for the 2012 ACC football season, it only seemed right that we took a look at the overall rankings for all 14 conference schools. First, your top 10:
1. Notre Dame
3. Iowa State
8. Texas A&M
9. Miami (FL)
So for every team that ends up on this list due to being mediocre team in a great conference (Ole Miss, Iowa State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Kentucky), there’s an equal amount that simply scheduled tougher, namely independent Notre Dame. It’s something to keep in mind as conference realignment talk continues to swirl, too. If they’re invited to the playoff party (they will be), it’s a tough sell to give up four games against top-15 opponents, and all 12 matchups on national television, too. Also in favor of the Irish remaining independent: just one ACC team in the top 10 (and one Miami’s opponents is Notre Dame).
As for the ACC schools, we’ve ranked them out below:
9. Miami (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: Bethune-Cookman)
33. Maryland (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: William & Mary)
35. Duke (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: NC Central)
39. Wake Forest (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: Liberty)
40. Syracuse (toughest opponent: USC/easiest: Stony Brook)
41. Boston College (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: Maine)
44. Virginia Tech (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: Austin Peay)
48. Georgia Tech (toughest opponent: Georgia/easiest: Presbyterian)
49. Clemson (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: Furman)
51. Virginia (toughest opponent: TCU/easiest: Richmond)
61. NC State (toughest opponent: Florida State/easiest: The Citadel)
70. Florida State (toughest opponent: Clemson/easiest: Savannah State)
76. Pittsburgh (toughest opponent: Virginia Tech/easiest: Youngstown State)
85. North Carolina (toughest opponent: Virginia Tech/easiest: Elon)
Right off the bat, a few thoughts: Teams in the Atlantic Division get the added boost of facing FSU, Clemson and NC State (unless you are one of those teams), plus Clemson and Georgia Tech both play highly-ranked SEC teams as their primary rivals. Florida State does the same, however, since they had to schedule two FCS schools, that weight is largely offset. Syracuse, on top of their league schedule, face four BCS schools in non-conference play. North Carolina plays the third-easiest schedule overall, of any school in a current BCS conference (and worst in the big five leagues).
If you look at the numbers, they seem to trend toward the upper-middle of the pack 35-60, and a lot of that’s due to the league’s parity as a whole. With so many teams in the range of six-to-eight wins, these matchups fail to pad or diminish the overall quality of games — leaving them at neutral. Outside of league play, Duke and Virginia Tech were the only ones not to schedule at least one game against another member of the big five conferences (all current BCS leagues, minus Big East). As mentioned earlier, SU scheduled four such games.
So are ACC teams scheduling practices aggressive enough to put them on an even playing field in a potential playoff tiebreaker? Or is weak scheduling another reason to knock the conference? Multiple opportunities for debate here. As additional points of reference, the SEC had just one team finish outside the top 50 (Georgia at 72) and the Big 12’s lowest-ranked school was actually Texas Tech at 50.