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.