Phil Steele’s 2012 ACC Football Strength of Schedule Rankings

Miami Has One of the ACC’s Strongest Schedules in 2012, Which Includes a Matchup with Notre Dame in Chicago

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

2. Mississippi

3. Iowa State

4. Michigan

5. Florida

6. Washington

7. Baylor

8. Texas A&M

9. Miami (FL)

10. Kentucky

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.

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8 thoughts on “Phil Steele’s 2012 ACC Football Strength of Schedule Rankings

  1. The problem isn’t the scheduling of the out-of-conference games. It’s winning them … or more precisely, not winning them.

    Here are the out of conference records (including bowl games) of the top football conferences from 2011:

    Big 12 OOC record: 33-5 (.868)
    SEC OOC record: 48-9 (.842)
    Big Ten OOC record: 39-19 (.672)
    Big East OOC record 29-16 (.644)
    Pac-12 OOC record: 27-18 (.600)
    ACC OOC record: 33-23 (.589)

    As I see it, this is the main problem.

    In the Big 12 and the SEC, even the teams that have losing SEC records are winning many of their out-of-conference games. I don’t think that the ACC’s out-of-conference schedules are too weak; the problem is that the teams simply don’t win enough of the games – and that goes especially for the lower-tier teams in the league.

    Some weak-schedule examples from last year …

    Tennessee’s out-of-conference schedule: Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Mid Tennessee State. It’s a mediocre schedule. Cincinnati is a good team, but the rest are should-win games (Montana is very good, but they’re still FCS).

    Mississippi State’s out-of-conference schedule: Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB, Tennessee-Martin. This is just flat-out awful.

    However … both the teams went undefeated in conference play (combined 9-0, including Miss State’s bowl game against Wake Forest). Therefore, even though they were at or near the bottom of the SEC standings, they helped the other SEC teams with their conference strength of schedule by winning their own out-of-conference games.

    To sum up a long post – the ACC’s schedule strength problem is not because of its out-of-conference schedule. It’s because the ACC doesn’t win enough out-of-conference games, and therefore its conference schedule is weaker.

    If the ACC teams get better and win more OOC games, then the conference schedule strength (and hence overall schedule strength) will be better.

    • But why commend the SEC and Big 12 for weak scheduling? Yes, of course the ACC needs to win more OOC games, but at least they’re scheduling difficult opponents in the meantime. Perception-wise, it doesn’t help the league that it’s losing its chances at beating SEC teams, but for right now, part of me would rather schedule them and lose than avoid them completely.

      • I’m going on the assumption that a large factor of most “strength of schedule” measurements is the win-loss percentage of your opponents.

        Also consider the following:
        (1) The collective win-loss record of any conference, for only conference games, is always .500.
        (2) Either two-thirds (8 of 12) or three-fourths (9 of 12) of a team’s games are in-conference.

        Therefore, the win-loss records of a conference’s teams vs. out-of-conference teams is a big factor in determining the conference strength of schedule. It’s not the only factor, but I’d guess it is a dominant factor. I think that when measuring strength of schedule for the SEC and Big 12, any negative factor regarding the weak records of their OOC opponents is outweighed by the fact that the winning percentage of the SEC/Big 12 teams themselves is very high.

        I am not suggesting that any of this is good, and I do not “commend the SEC and Big 12 for weak scheduling.” I think that scheduling tough out-of-conference games is a good thing, and I think the ACC overall does a pretty good job with its out-of-conference scheduling.

        But based on the way strength-of-schedule works, if the ACC schedules tough teams and loses the games, it will hurt their strength-of-schedule. Because of this, there’s actually strong logic that suggests the weaker ACC teams (e.g. Duke) should schedule weak OOC opponents so they have a better chance to win those games and help the overall strength-of-schedule of the conference.

        Saying “this is the way to game the system” is not the same as saying “the system is good.”

        • Fair points. Definitely get the thinking there. I guess what I want to see more of is the type of atmosphere last year’s FSU/OU game created, and what Clemson/Auburn will likely create this year (along with NC State and Tennessee, UVa/TCU and other matchups). The top teams in the conference can improve the league’s stature — win or lose — by scheduling better games. FSU wasn’t penalized in the court of public opinion for their loss to Oklahoma, and the same can be said about this year’s marquee non-league games. Completely agree that the weaker teams should beef up their schedules with cupcakes, though. Tons of teams have had huge one-year turnarounds as a result (see Kansas in ’07 as a prime example) — why not Duke/Wake/Syracuse/Maryland?

        • Perhaps the solution is for teams to schedule OOC opponents at roughly the level they expect themselves to be at in the future. It’s a bit hard, because OOC schedules are made up pretty far in advance. But for teams that have a ways to go before they get back to respectability, they can make an easier OOC schedule and still pick up some wins.

          I’m not sure there’s much hope for Duke … they seem perpetually lost in football. They were really good once upon a time (the 50s and 60s) but haven’t done much since then. I’m surprised whenever Wake Forest does good, because being as small and high-level as they are, I’d think they’d have trouble.

          Syracuse has a great history and a ton of potential, although you’d know better than I what they’ll be like over the next few years. BC needs a new coach (and AD) before I expect things to get better for them.

          As for Maryland … in two or three years, watch out. The Terps are working hard to win local recruits in Maryland, and if they succeed at that, they will be a very dangerous team. This past weekend, the Terps picked up five recruits, including three of the top four recruits from DC for 2013 (two 4-stars, one 3-star). I expect Maryland to be in the top half of the conference in 2014 at the latest.

          The mind-numbingly frustrating thing is that most of the ACC teams have a ton of potential. But they go and … well … pull a Clemson.

        • Honestly, if Cutcliffe can’t get it done, I’m starting to think Duke is a lost cause in football. As for the others:

          -Wake Forest has a chance to compete, so long as Jim Grobe’s at the helm. He recruits well in Florida, because he understands he will lose the top players to the other three schools by just focusing on North Carolina. He gets the most out of the least in the league, which is admirable.

          -Boston College needs a coach who understands what he’s working with: a private school in the northeast that can and should own the New England recruiting landscape. The Eagles have a rich history, and I’d hope that Spaz doesn’t squander it all in just four years.

          -Syracuse is in a bit of a predicament, admittedly. Given the rise of their northeast counterparts, they can no longer capitalize on NY, CT and NJ recruits, which has been an underrated part of their struggles of late. I hope the ACC move pays some dividends in terms of expanding our reach, but what we really need to do is land a few four-stars and improve the overall quality of recruits. We’re being mentioned in conversations vying for better prospects, which is good. But it may take a few more years to consistently win eight games per year again.

          -Maryland’s actually in a pretty good place already, as you allude to. While the Randy Edsall cleansing project may not have been great to watch, I think the team may be back on track now. And with all the money Under Armour’s pouring into the program, there’s a good chance they could turn into “Oregon lite.” The biggest concern for BC, ‘Cuse, Md. and Wake, though is that no matter how much they may improve, they’re still taking on the bigger, wealthier FSU and Clemson every year. Ideally, that’s what you want as a strong league, but as these teams are trying to improve, it more serves as a glass-ceiling than anything.

      • Realistically, it all boils down to the fact that the conference teams (nearly all of them) need to win more out-of-conference games, regardless of who they schedule.

        • Oh, for sure. I get the black-and-white of it all. But I do think we unfortunately have to deal in the world of public opinion, regardless of its validity. No clear way to see what works best though. Have our best schedule clown schools and then get murdered in the Orange Bowl? Or stack it with SEC teams, and eventually, beat those schools on a consistent basis? The new playoff format will also be a huge factor, here. I’d love to see one top school play a rigorous OOC slate and go 2-1, and another schedule patsies and go 3-0 (playing virtually the same league schedule), and see who ends up in the playoff.

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