BCS Rankings: A Closer Look at Strength of Schedule, Part I

Mississippi State Has Cruised Along By Beating Inferior Opponents, But They’re Not Alone

Football is unique among college sports because the champion is decided as much by poll as by play on the field. Traditionally the college football polls give the greatest weight to two factors:

  1. How few games a team has lost, regardless of opponent
  2. How many games a team has won against quality opposition

I number them that way because history has clearly shown that is the order of priority – being undefeated carries the most weight with voters, as a general rule. While the BCS has toyed with the idea of rewarding quality wins, that is no longer officially part of the equation. Still, in recent years there has been some consideration given to one-loss teams (and occasionally even a two-loss team) if the schedule is strong enough (and there are no undefeated teams with comparable schedules).

So, the question becomes “who has a comparable schedule and who doesn’t?” Let’s start out trying to answer that question by looking at the teams with zero or one loss after week eight. We’ll also limit ourselves to only the BCS-AQ conferences (plus Notre Dame) for now.These are the teams you would normally expect to see at the top of the polls, and it’s not far off from what the BCS poll gives us. The order isn’t exactly the same – I’ve placed Ohio State at the top simply because they have the most wins without a loss. Another big difference is in the fact that some two-loss teams like South Carolina, Stanford, and West Virginia are allowed to remain in the top 20 in the BCS.

Clearly, the Big Ten needs Ohio State — they have no one else to hang their hat on. Furthermore, looking at these numbers alone one could easily conclude that the Big East is better than the ACC in football. Is that really the case? To answer that, we need to consider strength of schedule — but this list doesn’t take that into account.  So let’s add each team’s opponents’ win-percentage.

Wow! Texas Tech jumps all the way to the top, with Oklahoma not far behind. Alabama and Oregon fall considerably. The highest Pac-12 team? Oregon State. The lowest unbeaten or once-beaten: Louisville, who goes all the way to the back of the line.

I should stop here for a moment and point out that this doesn’t mean that Texas Tech, Oregon State and Oklahoma are better than Alabama and Oregon — it just means that some of the undefeated teams really haven’t played a very difficult schedule yet, whereas some of the one-loss teams have been thoroughly tested, albeit with a loss.

Interestingly, the undefeated team most likely to be perpetrating a fraud (besides Louisville) is actually Mississippi State, who actually come in below both Florida State and Clemson.  That’s because Mississippi State has made a living so far while beating teams with a combined record of 19-25. Rutgers‘ opponents aren’t much stronger at 19-22.

There is still a problem with this data, though it may not be obvious to the naked eye. I’ll dive into that further tomorrow, however, so be sure to come back for part two

Read more from Hokie Mark over at ACCFootballRx, where he gives his prescription for fixing what ails the ACC on the gridiron.

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