After careful spreadsheeting, I've determined the following 60 to be the toughest 2012 out-of-conference schedules in college football. UMass, a newcomer, is to be hailed for its sheer brazenness, while the Oregon St. Beavers, UCLA Bruins and Virginia Cavaliers lead the power conference entrants.
After the list, I hope you'll allow me to explain how we've reached such a conclusion.
To make this list, I combined two different rankings: a raw strength-of-schedule ranking and a challenge-adjusted schedule strength ranking.
But first, I ruled out any team that plays more than one FCS opponent this year. This narrowed the list of schedules from 124 to 80 or so. If your school plays half its out-of-conference games against FCS teams, then its schedule lacks an element of adventure, at the least. You'll not be shocked to learn this eliminated much of the SEC from contention, along with other power conference teams. The SEC plays brutal conference games, but doesn't make itself do a lot of traveling otherwise.
(This isn't to say all SEC out-of-conference schedules are free of challenge. Several SEC teams scheduled big-name opponents, but most of them offset the risk with multiple money games. And we should note that, likewise, most mid-majors typically agree to play top teams due to money and recruiting gains, not due to codes of honor. C.R.E.A.M.)
Next, I used unofficial 2012 F/+ projections to figure out each team's strength of schedule by combining opponent rankings. (F/+ indeed remains a work in progress, but that's the best metric we've got to this point.) That produced a raw strength of schedule ranking. Here's that list's top 60:
Raw Strength Of Schedule Rankings
(One note about this list. If the West Virginia Mountaineers hadn't dropped their game against the Florida St. Seminoles, FSU would've had the second-toughest out-of-conference schedule in the country, with the Florida Gators and South Florida Bulls also on the slate.)
But that doesn't account for certain teams punching well above their weight classes. The USC Trojans play a relatively tough OOC schedule, but they'll likely be favored in all three of those games. And isn't it asking more of Ball State to play the Clemson Tigers than it is of the South Carolina Gamecocks?
For this next set of rankings, I used the difference between each team's own projected F/+ and its opponent's projections, so that we can get a sense of which teams are going to be most highly challenged by their own schedules:
Challenge-Adjusted Schedule Rankings
That list makes lower-tier teams look especially brave, but at the expense of teams like the Miami Hurricanes and Boise St. Broncos, who have really tough schedules. Boise State will be a good team, but we still have to acknowledge what a relentless out-of-conference schedule they're facing. Likewise, teams like the Michigan Wolverines and Penn St. Nittany Lions deserve credit for playing zero FCS schools.
To resolve this, I combined the raw strength-of-schedule rankings with the challenge-adjusted rankings, making a hybrid. That's what produced the very first list in this piece. There you have it!
Also, one more thing.
The No Sleep Gang
Here are the 18 FBS teams that scheduled nary a FCS team this year, so that their names may be praised:
- Ball State
- Boise State
- Central Florida
- Florida International
- Louisiana Tech
- Michigan (Though UMass was a FCS program at the beginning of their series.)
- Michigan State
- Middle Tennessee
- Penn State
- Southern Miss
While we're here, let's watch some college football videos from SB Nation's new YouTube channel together: