Nothing is more important to a team’s playing grade than the strength of its opponent. Last season, the seventeen top teams we ranked proved this point by playing far better against weak competition than against strong competition. We divide the one hundred thirty teams in the FBS division into six categories: the top ten teams are category I; the rest of the top twenty-five are category II; the rest of the top fifty are category III; the rest of the top seventy-five are category IV; the rest of the top one hundred are category V; and, the weakest thirty teams comprise category VI.

The following chart shows the average raw, unadjusted playing performance grades achieved by the best teams in the country against each category.

Category I Category II Category III Category IV Category V Category VI
67.52 71.52 73.91 85.12 86.20 98.42

On a scale of one to one hundred, the best teams play almost perfectly against the weakest opponents. On the other hand, even these good teams play fifty percent worse when confronted with their elite colleagues. It is simply harder to play well against good teams.

The talking heads on TV broadcasts and the venerable members of the College Football Playoff Committee are fond of saying that strength of schedule is the most important factor in ranking teams or selecting them for the playoff. We take them at their word. We’ve assigned an opponent value to each category with the value of a category I team being nearly fifty percent higher than for a category VI team. The other categories have graduated values between those two points based upon their relative strength. The raw playing performance grade for any contest is multiplied by the category value of the opponent to produce a final RPG grade for the week.

Weekly grades are then averaged for each team. Again, we take the experts at their word. They claim their rankings are based upon each team’s full body of work so we give equal weight to all weekly grades. Our computer does not forget, nor does it forgive, weak early season performances. We do not deem an early season loss to be any less important than a late season loss. We do not deem a late season victory to be any more important than an early season victory. The computer will not forget that Ohio State played poorly in losing at home to Oklahoma or that Washington played poorly in its opener at Rutgers. The computer will not forget that Alabama and Oklahoma scored impressive early season victories.

With this method in mind, Clemson has the best chance to make a big move upward in week three as it faces a ranked Louisville team on the road (road games are worth more than home games). If Clemson wins, it could vault all the way to the top of the rankings. If Louisville wins, it will be added to our list of ranked teams.

The other team with a good chance to move up is LSU. This week, the Tigers play Mississippi State on the road.

On the other hand, Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma, and Washington play teams from category VI and have little possibility of improving their rankings as a result. For Washington, this will be the third consecutive week in which it played a category VI team and the Huskies haven’t always played well. Coming off a devastating loss, the Buckeyes now begin a three-week journey against weak competition and will still be near the bottom of our rankings when they finally play Maryland in their sixth game.

The remaining teams play middling competition. Wisconsin and Oklahoma State have the advantage of playing on the road.

Funny as it may seem to fans who’ve been brainwashed by bad technique in the past, road games and tough competition are actually the secrets to a good ranking.