Looking at Strength of Schedule: An Analysis of the Early Top 10

There are a number of pre-season rankings for the 2019 college football season that released their post-spring rankings. I was curious as to which teams, based on one of these rankings (https://www.sportingnews.com/us/ncaa-football/news/college-football-rankings-sns-pre-preseason-top-25-for-2019/1r9osjd86wpdr1alq91g458llh) was looking at the toughest schedule, at least as it appears now.

Team Rank
Alabama 1
Clemson 2
Georgia 3
Oklahoma 4
Ohio State 5
Texas 6
Florida 8
Michigan 9
Notre Dame 10
Texas A&M 11
Penn State 12
Oregon 13
Washington 14
Mississippi State 15
Auburn 16
Army 17
Washington State 18
Syracuse 19
Stanford 20
Wisconsin 21
UCF 22
Iowa State 23
Northwestern 24
Nebraska 25

I then assigned a value to each of the top 25 teams in the Sporting News’ rankings. This point value was simply inverse to their ranking (the 25th ranked team was worth 1 point to play, the top-ranked team is worth 25 points to play). Then, I took the top ten teams and looked at their upcoming schedule and tallied up the number of points their opponents are worth. Any opponent not ranked in the current top 25 is worth zero points. Charting the totals in a histogram shows that the point system is approximately normally distributed (i.e., similar to a bell-shaped curve).


To understand the degree of difficult beyond ordinal rankings, I standardized each teams’ overall point total relative to the other top ten teams. What we end up with is a pretty close look at how tough a schedule each of these top ten teams has compared to each other.


The outcome shows that LSU is looking at a very tough schedule, while Clemson has a cake-walk ahead of them. The column on the far right displays each teams’ overall difficulty in terms of standard deviations from the group (top ten teams) average.


I considered penalizing teams for home games and non-P5 opponents, but it wouldn’t change the outcome, so I chose not to complicate the analysis. Furthermore, if any of these teams are to make the playoffs, how they do against top 25 competition will be key.

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