These days the talking heads on sports radio are fond of debating the resumes of the teams contending for the College Football Playoff. The most frequent comments are that Wisconsin has played a very weak schedule and that the SEC plays fewer conference games and more cupcakes.
At nemosnumbers we use the RPG system which incorporates a consistent method to gauge strength of schedule. We use the Massey College Football Composite Rankings which averages the rankings from 100 ratings systems and polls for all 130 FBS Division teams. Then we assign a value of 100 to the mean, the teams ranked 65 and 66, which happen to be Appalachian State and Ole Miss respectively this week. We then discount playing performances against teams ranked 67-130 and increase playing performances for teams ranked 1-64. The increments and decrements are proportional, meaning you get more points for playing number 30 than for playing number 45 and fewer points for playing number 90 than for playing number 75. We add to that an increment for playing on the road.
With the exception of Wisconsin (an SOS of 97.4) and Michigan (an SOS of 107.4), all teams we rank have played a schedule of above average difficulty, clustered between Washington at 101.2 and USC at 105.9. Michigan’s difficult schedule is the equivalent of playing number 32, LSU, every weekend while Washington’s comparatively easy schedule is the equivalent of playing number 59, Fresno State, each weekend. If we throw out Wisconsin and Washington on the low end and Michigan and USC on the high end, the other dozen teams have played similar schedules equivalent to playing teams ranked between number 42, Arizona State, and number 57, Colorado State, every weekend. Frankly there’s not a lot of difference in those dozen schedules and certainly not enough to single out a Clemson or Ohio State or Alabama or Oklahoma State as having played a particularly easy or hard schedule.
The radio heads typically pick one or two games from a team’s schedule and use those examples as an argument for a good or bad resume. The truth is that only Clemson has played two currently ranked teams while only Miami, Wisconsin and Washington have played no ranked teams. The other dozen have all played one ranked team. So, there’s not a lot of resume-building to be done at this point in the season.
The radio heads will then criticize teams for playing too many cupcakes. But, whom do they have in mind? With the exception of Michigan, Penn State and Alabama, all teams have played at least one game against teams ranked between 100-130, i.e. cupcakes. Michigan played number 99, Cincinnati, and Penn State played number 93, Georgia State, and those teams are at least slices of cake if not cupcakes. Although the SEC receives a lot of criticism for its scheduling of cupcakes, Alabama’s weakest opponent thus far has been Vanderbilt at number 76.
The bottom line is that all teams play weak opponents, no team plays a steady diet of strong opponents, and most SOS ratings are equivalent at this point in the season. The idea that schedules can be differentiated, that resumes can be compared, is a myth foisted upon radio listeners by guys who are paid to fill air time. Be careful what you believe when you listen to sports talk radio.