Scheduling Yourself Out of the Top 25

This is the first in a followup on last year's "did Florida State improve in 2008?" article.  While last year it was appropriate to ask whether the 'Nole's 2008 season was an improvement over the 2007 campaign, there is no debate about the 2009 team.  They definitely regressed.  So for this series, I will look at the new highs and lows set by Florida State's offense, defense, and special teams.  I ask where the team was better on the field, because there is no doubt as to whether the program is in better shape now than it was at any point in this millennium's first decade.  FSU has leadership for the first time in a long while and the improvements made in recruiting by the new coaches are nothing short of staggering as the 'Noles recruiting class has rocketed from 34th on the day Bobby Bowden retired to what is now a guaranteed top 10 class

First we should start with some context.  Performance is irrelevant without context.  In this case the context is schedule strength.  We'll use Brian Fremeau's SOS numbers.  Strength of schedule, based on the likelihood of an elite team going undefeated against this team's schedule.  Florida State played the 13th toughest schedule in 2007, including the bowl game.  In 2008 they played the 12th toughest.  This past season the 'Noles played the 5th toughest.  No team that played a top 9 schedule managed 10 wins against division-1 teams, even including the bowl game!  Here is a list of that top 9 and the records against division 1 competition:

  1. Tennessee: 7-6
  2. Arkansas 7-5
  3. South Carolina 6-6
  4. LSU 9-4
  5. FSU 6-6
  6. Mississippi State 4-7
  7. Florida International 3-9
  8. Virginia 3-8
  9. North Carolina 6-5

That's a combined 51-56 record.  I'd argue that all but Virginia and Florida International were in the 45 best teams in the country.  And I'd argue that Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida State, LSU, and North Carolina are among the 30 best teams in the country.  But those teams effectively scheduled themselves out of the final polls.  Of the 9, only 1 team ended up ranked in the final polls- LSU at #17.  To further illustrate what a joke college football really is, take a look at the final top 25 and the corresponding strength of schedules.  Keep in mind that these include the bowl game and thus teams playing against excellent competition in bowl games will have a schedule much higher than their regular season schedule for which they were responsible.  That is the case with Texas, Alabama, and Florida, all of which received a massive bump from their conference championship game and bowl game.

RK TEAM RECORD (Including D1-AA teams)
Strength of Schedule
1 Alabama (58) 14-0 12
2 Texas 13-1 38
3 Florida 13-1 15
4 Boise State 14-0 104
5 Ohio State 11-2 44
6 TCU 12-1 70
7 Iowa 11-2 20
8 Penn State 11-2 67
9 Cincinnati 12-1 33
10 Virginia Tech 10-3 10
11 Oregon 10-3 27
12 Brigham Young 11-2 92
13 Georgia Tech 11-3 11
14 Nebraska 10-4 42
15 Pittsburgh 10-3 73
16 Wisconsin 10-3 55
17 LSU 9-4 4
18 Utah 10-3 58
19 Miami (FL) 9-4 13
20 USC 9-4 23
21 Mississippi 9-4 31
22 West Virginia 9-4 60
23 Texas Tech 9-4 51
24 Central Michigan 12-2 101
25 Oklahoma State 9-4 71
  • 19 of the top 25 teams (75%+) played a schedule outside of the top 20 most difficult schedules. 
  • 16 of the top 25 teams (60%) played a schedule outside of the top 30 most difficult schedules.
  • 13 of the top 25 teams (52%) played a schedule outside of the top 40 most difficult schedules.
  • 11 of the top 25 teams (44%) played a schedule outside of the top 50 most difficult schedules.
  • 8 of the top 25 teams (32%) played a schedule outside of the top 60 most difficult schedules.  There are 120 teams in Division 1.  A third of the teams that ended up ranked did so by racking up wins against a schedule that was not in the top half of all college football schedules!  Where the teams in the first list scheduled themselves out of the final rankings, a great many of the teams that were in the final rankings were there solely because their schedules did not consistently present opportunities to lose games. 
  • 91 teams played a more difficult schedule than that of Central Michigan, BYU, and Boise State.  

The old school thinking is that playing a difficult schedule earns a team respect.  That is no longer true.  It is evident by the inclusion of many of the teams in the final 25 that record no matter against who it was attained, and not resume, is the sole determining factor in garnering respect.  To put it another way, everyone is not taking the same test but they are being graded as if they were.

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