Scheduling conflict

Northwestern is getting ready to host a seemingly hapless 0-5 Miami team this Saturday. But what the RedHawks' record doesn't show is just how tough their schedule has been thus far -- including a stomach-churning trip to blue-turfed and No. 6 Boise State (left). Inside, Purple Reign looks a little closer at the grueling (and unforgiving) road the RedHawks have taken to Evanston.

Miami (OH) has had a pretty cushy schedule. Or a really hard one. It all depends on where you look

At least one of the official strength of schedule polls is pretty unimpressed with the RedHawks' schedule thus far. According to CBS Sports, Miami's schedule ranks 87th in the nation in terms of difficulty, putting it comfortably inside the bottom third of the 120 FBS teams.

However, there doesn't seem to be much consensus. Because according to the GBE rankings, the RedHawks rank No. 28 – ahead of, for example, USC, LSU and BYU, the last of which has already played Oklahoma and Florida State.*

* In case you're curious, Northwestern ranks worse according to both polls –110 by CBS and 116 – four from the bottom – by GBE.

What does this mean? Well, the way Purple Reign sees it, it's a bit of an indictment on how strength of schedule (SOS) is determined. Seriously, how is there a 59-spot difference between these two polls? It's like one system is using computers and the other is using astrological signs.

But regardless of the incongruities in the system, if you look at Miami's schedule, the RedHawks have been on a binge of heavy-hitters. Forget of what CBS says; the RedHawks have played a murderous slate so far.

Sure, Miami is 0-5, which means that every one of their opponents – tough or not – handed the RedHawks a loss. But even if they are 0-5, the RedHawks' schedule has been a grueling one.

If someone took a gander at the CBS poll and saw that Miami was ranked 87th, they might jump to the conclusion that they opened the season with a couple cupcakes. And then probably a game or two against the dregs of the much-maligned Mid-America Conference, where the RedHawks (and NU"s Week 2 opponent Eastern Michigan) reside.

But that's just not the case. In fact, Miami has already played two top 10 teams – Boise State in Week 2 and Cincinnati last week. Two top 10 teams already,

Boise State's résumé speaks for itself. Along with throttling Oregon* – which itself is 4-1 with wins over California and Utah – Boise rolled Bowling Green and Fresno State, both road games. The Broncos, sitting at 5-0 and No. 6 in the polls, also beat Bowling Green and Fresno State by a combined 100-48.

* Despite how poorly they look against Boise State – and despite the post-game melee – Oregon has put together a good first half of the season. Ranked No. 13 in the AP poll, Oregon has outscored its opponents 163-69 since Week 1. So that the Broncos handled them 19-8 speaks to how good Boise is. As does the fact that the Broncos beat Miami 48-0.

The RedHawks have also tangled with No. 8 Cincinnati. The Bearcats may look an odd member of the top 10, but they have done nothing to impugn themselves of the distinction.

The Bearcats – who went 11-3 last season en route to the Big East title – opened the 2009 season with a 32-point win at Rutgers. They then traveled to Oregon State to dispatch the Beavers 28-18; they own a win over Fresno State; they beat Southeast Missouri State 70-3 in a game that was 63-3 after three quarters.

What's more, the RedHawks opened the season with Kentucky, which sits at 2-2. Now, 2-2 is nothing special, but consider this: UK's only two losses came to Florida (No. 1 in the nation) and Alabama (No. 5). It is thus self-evident that Kentucky's schedule has been murderous.* (The Wildcats next visit Columbia, S.C., for a game with the No. 25 Gamecocks.) While just 2-2, Kentucky would probably be 3-1 or 4-0 if but for a quirky schedule that has already featured two legit national title contenders – Florida and Alabama. What'd the Wildcats do to the folks who make SEC schedules?

* And get this: Despite Kentucky's schedule – two top five teams to go with Louisville and Miami (OH) – the Wildcats themselves are ranked No. 64 in SOS by CBS. Surely Miami is a drain on that number, but are you serious? 64? Florida AND Alabama? Wow. GBE has the Cats at No. 27, one spot ahead of Miami (OH), which seems much more plausible. As good of a job as CBS does covering the NCAA tourney, its strength of schedule numbers for football seem a bit off.

So there you have three of Miami's five games: No. 6 Boise State, No. 8 Cincinnati and unranked-but-thoroughly-tested Kentucky. That leaves two more games in the RedHawks' march to 0-5.

The first of those opponents was a road game at Western Michigan in Week 3. The Broncos are just 2-3, but they opened the season with games at Michigan and at Indiana – and as was discussed the other day, Indiana isn't bad this year. indeed, Western Michigan has been OK this season. After a nine-win campaign last year, the Broncos will likely again go bowling.

The other Miami game – hence the other Miami loss – was a Week 4 contest against Kent State, which beat Miami 29-19 in Week 4. Kent State is 2-3, yet, in its defense, all three losses came to BCS conference schools. Moreover, three of Miami's games have been on the road – Western Michigan, Kent State and Cinci – and a fourth one, against UK, was at a neutral site. So of their five games, only one has been at home.

Bottom line: Miami has played a really trying schedule so far. There are two top 10 teams, which obviously jumps out. In addition, there is a neutral site game and two in-conference battles.

This doesn't mean that the RedHawks are going to stroll into Ryan Field and win. Not at all. It does mean, though, that they'll probably be prepared for the Wildcats.

NU won't overwhelm them – after playing such heavy-hitters, you could easily argue that NU is among Miami's three easiest opponents. And being on the road, well, that's old hat by now.

Then again, so is losing.

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