Just What Is Schedule Strength?

The playoff committee will soon release their first rankings of the season. It’s been mentioned that they will focus on schedule strength among other things when considering teams. A lot has been made of the SEC teams and their strong schedules. But are they really that strong? What makes a strong schedule?

Let’s start with East Carolina. The Pirates won’t be in the playoff. That’s a given. But why? Because of their “weak” schedule strength. What that means is weak teams litter their schedule. That’s true. But look at this: 6 games at home, 6 games on the road. Let’s compare that to, say, Alabama: 7 home games, 4 road games, 1 neutral site game. That schedule also features Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Western Carolina.

ESPN’s rankings for the Playoff Picture give Alabama the 6th hardest schedule in the nation. They give East Carolina the 96th hardest. Compare that to the Pac-12 where they play 9 conference games. Oregon has 5 road conference games and 4 home conference games. That’s kind of a big deal. Of course, they made up for it with all 3 non-conference games being played at home. USC didn’t. They have 5 road conference games plus took a road trip for one of their 3 non-conference games. USC plays 6 road games and 6 home games this year. But their schedule is still just 11th, supposedly easier than Alabama’s. Both play 5 teams in the top 25 (although Stanford may be ranked again by season’s end, so USC could play 6). But USC has to face TWO more road games than Alabama. I call that much tougher.

Here’s what I think. The NCAA needs to step in and normalize the system here. Every team can play 6 games at home per year. Period. No more freebies for the big boys on top. You get 6 home games and you play 6 road games. Now if two teams schedule each other and both have 6 home games already, they can play at a neutral field and both count it as a road game. That’s fine. But some teams having 7 home games and others having 6 isn’t fair. And some teams playing 4 true road games compared to others playing 6 just isn’t fair. And it should make you look twice at schedule strength which should take in to account fewer road games.

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