Who schedules the easy Non-Conference games?

Boise State's football schedule has been much maligned, not only by the Broncos' opponents, but also by those who decide if Boise State is to be accepted into the "club", the nation's media, coaches and talking heads. Boise State is required by the Western Athletic Conference to play certain teams, just as Miami of Florida is required by the Big East to play certain teams and, short of movement into other conferences, this schedule remains the same—it is fixed.

Let's analyze that part of the schedule that isn't fixed, then…i.e. look at schools' non-conference schedules. That shows a school's habits—do they constantly schedule easy opponents attempting to pile up wins for win-loss record and to impress the pollsters before they begin conference play or do they truly challenge themselves? Non-conference games are, after all, a level playing field in which any team can schedule any team. This part of the schedule reveals without doubt if a school is attempting to consistently schedule tough games or if they are running away from the competition.

What would such an analysis look like? How would an analysis of the non-conference schedules of the top football teams look like? There are several ways one could look at conducting the research—the methodology used would certainly have to factor in not only the strength of the opponent but the strength of their opponents' opponents as well. I chose to look at the Sagarin ratings (current as of November 9th, 2003), computed by Jeff Sagarin for USA Today each week. Sagarin's ratings are highly respected and show the ranking for every college football team, no matter what the division. His "raw" ratings are so accurate that they can fairly accurately predict point spreads between any two given teams. In the following table, I thus compared each school's non-conference schedule by inserting the raw Sagarin rating next to their name, adding up the total ratings, and presenting one number which represents the average quality of each school's non-conference opponent (rounded to decimal places). I then ranked the schools by the average Sagarin strength of their non-conference schedule (keep in mind that these rankings change weekly, depending upon how each of the opponents listed below does from week to week).

All schools (43) receiving votes in either the Associated Press poll of the media or the ESPN/USA Today poll of coaches (Poll Date: November 9th, 2003) are included. A brief analysis follows the table. It's a true level playing field, so let's see the results and see if Boise State's schedule is far inferior to the major schools, as the BCS and the media would have us believe: 

SCHOOL

NON-CONF OPPONENTS

SAGARIN RATING

AVERAGE RATING

RANK WITHIN SURVEY

Air Force

Wofford

59.86

   
 

Northwestern

73.46

   
 

North Texas

71.08

   
 

Navy

68.87

   
 

Army

45.92

   
     

63.84

32

Arkansas

Tulsa

67.91

   
 

Texas

89.19

   
 

North Texas

71.08

   
 

New Mexico State

51.42

   
     

69.90

12

Arkansas State

Texas A & M

70.51

   
 

Tennessee Martin

28.93

   
 

SE Missouri State

45.32

   
 

Tulsa

67.91

   
 

Memphis

69.92

   
 

Mississippi

84.29

   
     

61.25

39

Auburn

USC

90.54

   
 

Georgia Tech

75.49

   
 

Western Kentucky

66.31

   
 

Louisiana-Monroe

46.17

   
     

69.63

13

Boise State

Idaho State

59.89

   
 

Idaho

51.55

   
 

Oregon State

77.14

   
 

Wyoming

71.72

   
 

Brigham Young

71.76

   
     

66.41

26

Bowling Green

Eastern Kentucky

49.68

   
 

Purdue

84.45

   
 

Liberty

33.73

   
 

Ohio State

84.40

   
     

63.07

34

Clemson

Georgia

87.58

   
 

Furman

49.27

   
 

Middle Tennessee State

58.55

   
 

South Carolina

75.16

   
     

67.64

24

Florida

San Jose State

56.96

   
 

Miami of Fla.

85.99

   
 

Florida A & M

42.58

   
 

Florida State

87.09

   
     

68.16

21

Florida State

Colorado

73.29

   
 

Miami of Fla.

85.99

   
 

Notre Dame

73.47

   
 

Florida

86.30

   
     

79.76

1

Georgia

Clemson

76.11

   
 

Middle Tennessee State

58.55

   
 

UAB

65.17

   
 

Georgia Tech

75.49

   
     

68.83

16

Iowa

Miami, OH

88.15

   
 

Buffalo

49.33

   
 

Iowa State

66.41

   
 

Arizona State

70.86

   
     

68.69

19

Kansas State

California

76.14

   
 

Troy State

62.87

   
 

McNeese State

63.01

   
 

Massachusetts

65.13

   
 

Marshall

72.47

   
     

67.92

23

Louisville

Kentucky

69.00

   
 

Syracuse

72.86

   
 

UTEP

48.46

   
 

Temple

56.61

   
     

61.73

37

LSU

Louisiana-Monroe

46.17

   
 

Arizona

62.52

   
 

Western Illinois

66.55

   
 

Louisiana Tech

70.41

   
     

61.41

38

Marshall

Hofstra

45.99

   
 

Tennessee

84.40

   
 

Kansas State

82.59

   
 

Troy State

62.87

   
     

68.96

15

Maryland

Northern Illinois

78.47

   
 

Citadel

45.61

   
 

West Virginia

74.25

   
 

Eastern Michigan

49.51

   
     

61.96

36

Miami of Fla.

Louisiana Tech

70.41

   
 

Florida

86.30

   
 

East Carolina

52.47

   
 

Florida State

87.09

   
 

Tennessee

84.40

   
     

76.13

2

Miami of Ohio

Iowa

83.72

   
 

Northwestern

73.46

   
 

Colorado State

77.13

   
 

Cincinnati

66.02

   
     

75.08

4

Michigan

Central Michigan

54.70

   
 

Houston

64.46

   
 

Notre Dame

73.47

   
 

Oregon

73.98

   
     

66.65

25

Michigan State

Western Michigan

64.20

   
 

Rutgers

66.94

   
 

Louisiana Tech

70.41

   
 

Notre Dame

73.47

   
     

68.76

17

Minnesota

Tulsa

67.91

   
 

Troy State

62.87

   
 

Ohio

54.24

   
 

Louisiana-Lafayette

50.41

   
     

58.86

41

Mississippi

Memphis

69.92

   
 

Louisiana-Monroe

46.17

   
 

Texas Tech

81.94

   
 

Arkansas State

53.76

   
     

62.95

35

         

Missouri

Illinois

59.08

   
 

Ball State

64.57

   
 

Eastern Illinois

40.61

   
 

Middle Tennessee State

58.55

   
     

55.70

42

Nebraska

Utah State

59.79

   
 

Penn State

66.85

   
 

Southern Mississippi

74.67

   
 

Troy State

62.87

   
     

66.05

27

North Carolina State

Western Carolina

41.70

   
 

Ohio State

84.40

   
 

Texas Tech

81.94

   
 

Connecticut

70.43

   
     

69.62

14

Northern Illinois

Maryland

77.98

   
 

Tennessee Tech

39.70

   
 

Alabama

77.43

   
 

Iowa State

66.41

   
     

65.38

29

Ohio State

Washington

72.86

   
 

San Diego State

69.81

   
 

North Carolina State

77.41

   
 

Bowling Green

81.53

   
     

75.40

3

Oklahoma

North Texas State

71.08

   
 

Alabama

77.43

   
 

Fresno State

71.92

   
 

UCLA

75.33

   
     

73.94

6

Oklahoma State

Wyoming

71.72

   
 

Southwest Missouri State

52.51

   
 

SMU

44.95

   
 

Louisiana-Lafayette

50.41

   
     

54.90

43

Oregon State

Sacramento State

48.40

   
 

Fresno State

71.92

   
 

New Mexico State

51.42

   
 

Boise State

83.81

   
     

63.89

31

Pittsburgh

Kent State

61.72

   
 

Ball State

64.57

   
 

Toledo

70.22

   
 

Texas A & M

70.51

   
 

Notre Dame

73.47

   
     

68.10

22

Purdue

Bowling Green

81.53

   
 

Wake Forest

74.85

   
 

Arizona

62.52

   
 

Notre Dame

73.47

   
     

73.09

8

Southern Mississippi

California

76.14

   
 

Nebraska

84.39

   
 

Alabama

77.43

   
 

Louisiana-Lafayette

50.41

   
     

72.09

9

TCU

Navy

68.87

   
 

Vanderbilt

59.17

   
 

Arizona

62.52

   
 

SMU

44.95

   
     

58.88

40

Tennessee

Fresno State

71.92

   
 

Marshall

72.47

   
 

Duke

63.34

   
 

Miami of Fla.

85.99

   
     

73.43

7

Texas

New Mexico State

51.42

   
 

Arkansas

84.10

   
 

Rice

58.03

   
 

Tulane

61.15

   
     

63.68

33

Texas Tech

SMU

44.95

   
 

New Mexico

76.51

   
 

North Carolina State

77.41

   
 

Mississippi

84.29

   
     

70.79

10

USC

Auburn

82.18

   
 

Brigham Young

71.76

   
 

Hawaii

70.74

   
 

Notre Dame

73.47

   
     

74.54

5

Utah

Utah State

59.79

   
 

Texas A & M

70.51

   
 

California

76.14

   
 

Oregon

73.98

   
     

70.11

11

Virginia Tech

Central Florida

55.65

   
 

James Madison

53.35

   
 

Texas A & M

70.51

   
 

Connecticut

70.43

   
 

Virginia

76.25

   
     

65.24

30

Washington State

Idaho

51.55

   
 

Notre Dame

73.47

   
 

Colorado

73.29

   
 

New Mexico

76.51

   
     

68.71

18

Wisconsin

West Virginia

74.25

   
 

Akron

64.79

   
 

UNLV

71.33

   
 

North Carolina

64.29

   
     

68.67

20

West Virginia

Wisconsin

76.48

   
 

East Carolina

52.47

   
 

Cincinnati

66.02

   
 

Maryland

77.98

   
 

Central Florida

55.65

   
     

65.72

28

 

Not all the heavyweights have easy non-conference schedules—hats off especially to Florida State, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Miami, FL. They occasionally do play an East Carolina or Troy State but they also play tough contests as well. Obviously, Boise State does not have the nation's toughest schedule, but non-conference, as you can see, is not the worst either. Out of 43 college football teams getting votes in this week's polls, only fourteen schools have significantly tougher non-conference schedules (rating of over 3 points higher) than do the Broncos.

Concerning the Western Athletic Conference, note an interesting observation. The media and BCS schools put the WAC and the Sun Belt Conference teams down time after time; i.e. "Those are weak conferences—you have an easy schedule"…you know the line. And yet who do the above schools schedule time and time again for their non-conference games? You guessed it—WAC, Sun Belt, Mid-American and I-AA teams. 75 of the 181 opponents listed above, and generally not even the cream of the crop, but often the lowest-ranked teams they can play. Then, when Florida State beats San Jose State, or Texas Tech , TCU or Oklahoma State trounces SMU or Louisville beats UTEP, these major programs dismiss the WAC by saying, "See, they're not that good." Kudos to Oregon State, Arkansas, USC, Miami of Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Tennessee and LSU for testing the true mettle of the WAC and playing the top teams in the conference.

Special mention—Fresno State has no votes in either poll, despite a 6-4 record and a rugged, commendable schedule. This is absurd; their non-conference schedule of Tennessee, Oregon State, Oklahoma, Portland State and Colorado State (avg. strength of 78.31) would finish 2nd behind only Florida State in this table.

For 4 of the 5 non-conference Bronco opponents, Boise State was the toughest non-conference team scheduled (Idaho played Washington State). To the schools who fared badly in the table (Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Virginia Tech), imagine how good your non-conference schedule would have looked with Boise State on there. Boise State would have been the toughest game on every one of those heavyweights' schedules with the exception of Texas, who played Arkansas. Scheduling the Broncos would have dramatically improved the strength of these otherwise weak non-conference schedules. And every game doesn't have to be at your place—Boise State owns the nation's longest home winning streak (currently at 18 regular-season games)—accept a real challenge and see if you have what it takes to win at Bronco Stadium. Washington State and Oregon State have and are to be congratulated for doing so.

Louisville, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Virginia Tech and the other "heavyweights"—want to step up and try your luck? And improve those miserable schedules?


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