Strength of schedule no longer matters for Power 5 football teams

During the BCS era, one of the easiest ways to build your team’s resume was by not only scheduling big-time game against major, high-ranked opponents, but to win those games. A win over a top-25 team meant so much more than one over a team in the bottom end of the FBS or even FCS programs, for many obvious reasons.

When the College Football Playoff made it’s way onto the scene in 2014, it not only allowed four teams to compete for the big prize instead of just the BCS naming two for the national championship game, but it also took away all of the computer rankings and relied entirely on the human element; a committee consisting of 13 people able to select who would make the Final Four.

Strength of schedule used to be one of the most important factors, other than record. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Sunday’s Selection Show proved it. While the argument that the better team (Alabama) made the Final Four over the team that has had it’s good moments and bad moments (Ohio State) is valid, choosing the Crimson Tide over the Buckeyes set yet another precedent. Strength of schedule no longer matters for Power 5 programs.

I’m not saying the Crimson Tide don’t deserve to be the fourth and final team in the Playoff ahead of the Buckeyes, but the reasoning behind the selection is what’s wrong.

The College Football Playoff committee contradicted themselves from week to week. Last Tuesday night, committee chairman Kirby Hocutt admitted that there was “very little separation in the committee’s eyes between teams five (Alabama) through eight (Ohio State).”

That single quote gave Buckeye Nation plenty of false hope, because with Ohio State able to add another quality win and a conference championship to their resume in the Big Ten Championship, it seemed as though the scarlet and gray would then jump Bama and be the fourth team in the Playoff. But, that didn’t happen.

The committee might have had its mind made up prior to the Big Ten title game Saturday night. If Wisconsin won, the undefeated Badgers would be the No. 4 seed; if the Buckeyes won, Bama would be in. So, why even give Ohio State that statement? They should have just been straight up and said that due to their 31-point loss at Iowa earlier in the season, it’s going to be tough for the Buckeyes to make the Final Four even with a Big Ten championship.

Due to the human element that will obviously take place when selecting the Final Four, the committee has a set a four criteria that they will always use to compare two teams that they consider close, or at least so we thought:

  • Championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head-to-head
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents

When it comes to Ohio State and Alabama, the latter two cannot be used because they not only didn’t play one another, but they didn’t have any common opponents either. So, who won the first two? The Buckeyes won the Big Ten championship while Alabama was able to sit at home and watch Conference Championship Saturday in the luxury of their own living room, so that gives them the advantage in the first one. In terms of strength of schedule, Ohio State had three wins better than the Crimson Tide’s best win. The Buckeyes beat No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State, and No. 16 Michigan State; Bama had just two wins against ranked opponents: No. 17 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State.

During Sunday’s Selection Show, the committee’s main reason for picking Alabama over Ohio State was because Bama is not only a better team, but they had “a better body of work” over Ohio State. That isn’t the case whatsoever. The Crimson Tide may be the better team, but any argument that includes them having a better “body of work” over the scarlet and gray is ridiculous.

Much can be made about Ohio State’s 31-point loss at Iowa, but they made up for it by beating the quality opponents that they did, right? Perhaps the committee values less losses and a weaker schedule over better wins.

On the second leg of a home-and-home, Ohio State lost to Oklahoma in Columbus early in the season, a loss that greatly affected their chances of make the Playoff. Meanwhile, Alabama’s out-of-conference schedule included Florida State (at Atlanta, Georgia), Fresno State, Colorado State, and Mercer. If Ohio State had played Mercer instead of Oklahoma, their lone loss on the season would have been to Iowa. Would a one-loss Buckeyes team have made the Playoff over Alabama? Probably. So, why schedule tough non-conference opponents then? There’s no point, really. Granted, no one knew that the Seminoles would go 6-6. But, that is life. Florida State was completely overrated to start the year, which didn’t give Alabama a quality non-conference win.

Also, the Big Ten plays a nine-game conference schedule, the SEC has just an eight-game schedule, giving teams like Bama yet another opportunity to schedule a cupcake. The Crimson Tide not only have a weak out-of-conference schedule, but they also schedule one of those cupcakes for the second-to-last week of the regular season, essentially giving themselves a “bye week” and an easy win prior to taking on their biggest rival, Auburn.

Plus, Bama refuses to schedule home-and-home matchups. Why? Probably so that the Crimson Tide don’t have to play a true road game out of conference.

Bama’s weak non-conference schedule is mind boggling, but if this year proved anything, it showed that they should continue to schedule like they do because as long as they win those bad games, they’ll make the Playoff, which is all that matters in the end. Not only is it weak, but the fact that they don’t play any true non-conference games on the road is crazy, too.

For those wondering, Alabama’s out-of-conference schedule doesn’t get any tougher for the foreseeable future. Let’s take a look at their upcoming out-of-conference schedules that are already set for them so far:

  • 2018: Louisville (at Orlando, Florida after Lamar Jackson leaves), Arkansas State, UL Lafayette, The Citadel
  • 2019: Duke (at Atlanta, Georgia), New Mexico State, Southern Miss
  • 2020: Georgia State, Kent State
  • 2021: Miami, FL (at Atlanta, Georgia)

For those who are curious, Ohio State has some tough home-and-home matchups already scheduled in the coming years:

  • 2018: Oregon State, TCU (at Arlington, Texas), Tulane
  • 2019: Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Miami (OH)
  • 2020: Bowling Green, at Oregon
  • 2021: Oregon, Tulsa
  • 2022: Notre Dame, at Texas
  • 2023: Texas, at Notre Dame
  • 2024: at Washington
  • 2025: Washington
  • 2026: Boston College
  • 2027: at Boston College

No matter who Ohio State plays, both in-conference and out-of-conference, an undefeated Buckeyes team will make the Final Four. So why schedule premier non-conference matchups, especially on the road? Strength of schedule and quality wins used to matter, but now less losses matter more, and the committee proved that on Sunday. While big-time non-conference games are fun and all, a loss hurts more than a win helps, especially for a Power 5 team.

I was kidding when I sent this tweet, but in reality, the Buckeyes should just do this. Would be four guaranteed non-conference wins.

Whether you’re Ohio State or another Power 5 team, if you go undefeated, you’ll make the Playoff. For the first time ever, strength of schedule no longer matters for Power 5 teams, and for teams like Ohio State, who have matchups set up with Notre Dame, Texas, and Oregon, just to name a few, they mine as well should just play Mercer instead.

The committee set a new precedent this season, and it’s one that could potentially make the non-conference part of the regular season less entertaining in the future. Like I said, if the Buckeyes would have scheduled Mercer instead of Oklahoma this season, Ohio State would be preparing for a Final Four game instead of preparing for the Cotton Bowl. The committee only has themselves to blame.

  • Saggy

    Georgia was ranked 14th – 1 spot BEHIND Michigan this preseason.

  • mgbode

    So, back to BCS computer systems?

  • Steve

    They all do it differently.

  • mgbode

    I am unconcerned with what Kiper & McShay say about the NFL Draft in December. Their value to ESPN is radically changing their stances each week on television. Watch him “RISE” through the process as if he weren’t great the whole time.

    (Allen is terrible… Rudolph is a mid-round gamble type)

  • CBiscuit

    Trust me…would have personally loved to see OSU (although deep down feared us damaging our reputation since I know we weren’t super strong).

    But the committee got exactly what they want. In fact, keeping us all continuing to guess is great for them. That builds future suspense and drama. And as for ratings, I think Clemson-Alabama (part 3 of recent battles I believe?) will get quite a viewing. Maybe I’m wrong, but sadly, I think they won’t feel any pinch of consequences from their actions/decisions.

  • Garry_Owen

    No need for it.

  • Saggy

    They’ve shut out an entire region of the country (the football hungry Midwest). I bet their ratings will suffer.

  • Garry_Owen

    Yup. Big-time college football is, and always has been, just a buzz machine. And boy are we buzzing.

  • Steve

    Through all of this, you have told us that everyone else’s way is wrong, but not once have you explained what your way even is.

  • tigersbrowns2

    it looks like they all do “bracket-style” playoffs … I-AA 24 teams , II 28 teams & III 32 teams

  • CBiscuit

    I hear that. And I have no real dog in the fight (sorry PETA). My only tune in interest would be to watch Alabama lose (hopefully) and for Baker Mayfield to cry on the field. And I’m not that vested.

  • tigersbrowns2

    thanks … you know more than I do … if it was me , right now I’d be taking Rosen #1 overall & just deal with it.

  • Steve

    Sure, but after “big bracket”, we see differences regarding automatic qualification and regional brackets vs a national one. Each takes a different approach to the set of variables that make this process so hard.

  • Saggy

    Grab the numbers on USC. They’re deserving, too.

    I don’t mind the numbers point of view – but I don’t like the “eye test” trump card. How much should that really be worth?

    I am also not the biggest fan of stats that delve into what Team A would do against Team C and D, etc… I just think that’s too slippery of a slope. Things like weather, injuries, suspensions, time of year, and more can play into it.

    What am I missing in this chart here?

  • JM85

    Don’t lose by 30 to Iowa next time.

  • Jeff Emerson

    Stop complaining that Alabama does not play OOC away games. The shopping mall in your town is still safe.

  • mgbode

    There are a fair number who feel similar.

  • mgbode

    A healthy Florida State team might have gone 6-6.

  • mgbode

    I doubt it. I don’t think there is much they can do to hurt CFP ratings unless it becomes a continued that they shut out certain conferences.

  • mgbode

    Worth noting here that FEI has Bama 5 and tOSU 6 (Auburn is 4). SOS though is tOSU 12 and Bama 60 by these measures.

    I think a big part of the problem here is that the CFP committee said last week that 5-8 was so very close, then said tOSU wasn’t close to Bama after a week in which the Buckeyes won the B1G and Bama didn’t play as justification for not using their stated criteria.

    I think it was a toss up between the two teams. I can make the argument Bama was more deserving. I cannot follow any logic by the CFP in reaching this decision.


  • Chris

    If you feel that the Alabama-Florida State game should not positively impact Alabama’s resume, then I 100% disagree with you.

  • mgbode

    OK, we disagree. I think the Seminole game should maybe be the 3rd or 4th best win on Bama’s schedule this past year.

  • Steve

    The chart you linked to is the forward-looking version of S&P+, who the system would favor in any upcoming games. The one I linked to is the backward-looking one, resume-evaluating one.

    Unfortunately with how schedules work in college football, we have no choice but to make our best guess as to how Team A would look against Team B, knowing full well that we are only making a best guess and that one game samples can have all kinds of weird results.

  • Steve

    “then said tOSU wasn’t close to Bama”

    Did the committee actually say this or are we inferring it? I kind of throw my hands up regarding stuff the committee says publicly. I think most of it is made-for-tv drama. I want minutes from the meeting, not PR-crafted statements afterwards.

    “I cannot follow any logic by the CFP in reaching this decision.”

    Unfortunately, this was how the powers that be interpreted what we wanted when we complained about the prior results. The computer polls weren’t fair because they didn’t actually see the teams play, even after we manipulated them to ignore margin of victory. We wanted teams that passed the eye test. What I think we’re seeing is actually that no one really agrees on this stuff, because it’s darn near impossible to make confident predictions on how Ohio St or Alabama would do if they switched places.

    I don’t know what the solution is other than expanding the committee to include a lot more voices. But at what point are too many differing opinions just trying to shout over each other rather than having a useful discussion?

  • JNeids

    Is the ad box just above the comment section preventing anyone else from actually reading the comments? Every time I scroll down, it shoot me back up to the ad. I might be able to read 2-3 comments, then ZIP I go back up.

  • mgbode

    The CFP chair said it though the exact words might have been about separation or something similar.

    I would like to see people in the room arguing the data alongside those w/ the eye test. Allowance of departing from specific criteria is fine, but they should be able to explain how they reach conclusions. I agree it is all messy.

  • mgbode

    I reported this issue. I don’t see it myself.

  • JNeids

    Could be a browser thing. I’m using Chrome FWIW

  • mgbode

    I am using Chrome, Desktop.

  • CBiscuit

    Garry and I are using Netscape.

  • mgbode

    at least it is not Safari

  • CBiscuit

    No way Hose-eh!

  • tigersbrowns2

    winner , winner , chicken dinner !!

  • tsm

    I think being left out of the playoff is the best thing for the Buckeyes. Clemson would have buried them like they did last year. OSU is one dimensional with JT at QB, and Clemson has a terrific run defense. Bama is a 2 point favorite. Does anyone seriously think that the Buckeyes would be favored? Besides, USC will prove to be a more competitive game, and we might even get to see the Browns next QB.

  • RGB

    Just rip off the exact same program OHSAA uses.

  • JM85

    That team lost to Virginia Tech and then destroyed everyone they played including Wisconsin in the title game. They deserved to get in.

  • Chris

    By nature of human evolution, fingers are much easier pointed away from one’s body than back towards it.

  • Chris

    “And I’m not criticizing Josh, specifically, but… will someone please get off the grass??”

    Selective quoting… G_O doesn’t think Josh Gordon is actually clean.

  • JT Barrett?

  • We lost to 7-5 Iowa. By 31 points. I enjoy bashing the SEC habit of playing no one OOC as much as anyone, but WE LOST TO 7-5 IOWA BY 31 POINTS! No one to blame for being on the outside looking in this postseason but ourselves. To quote Lt. Sam Weinberg USN, “The rest of this is just smoke-filled coffeehouse crap”

  • mgbode

    When your arms are at your side or wrapped in embrace, your fingers point inward.
    When your arms are up geared for a battle, your fingers point outward unless your fist is clenched.

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  • BenRM

    Counterpoint: Strength of schedule counts. So does getting waxed by unranked teams.

  • BenRM

    THIS right here is the point. It was a bad year. Only 3 teams “deserved” to make the playoffs. And if we’re honest with ourselves, OSU isn’t that good of a team this year.

  • BenRM

    I am going to cite this WFNY comment in a wikipedia article about citation, which I will then cite in a scholarly article.

  • David G

    Wisconsin is actually the team that got shafted. They beat #19 Michigan, #24 Iowa, # 20 Northwestern, a couple of formidable teams in FAU and Purdue that were more talented than they were credited for at the time Wisconsin played them. These were much better teams than Bama OOC scheduled. And they get left out because of a 6 point loss, essentially on the road in the B1G Championship Game, a game with questionable holding calls against the Badgers #1 O-Line and an egregiously bad missed Pass Interference that really changed the outlook in the Badgers last drive of the game.

    Wisconsin would have been better off if they had lost to Northwestern early and then finished like they did with no more losses. Then NW loses to Ohio State and the 1 loss Badgers have a better “body of work” than Alabama … and the same record.

    GO B1G

  • Jacob

    Why don’t you know the difference between it’s and its? It’s really hard to read this article because of your misuse of the word.