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Intended Strength of Schedule

Publication Date: March 13, 2001

Yeah, But What Did They Mean to Do?

As a result of Rick Rollins publishing his always-useful full schedule for this season last week, I've been able to compute intended strength of schedule ratings, something that always interests me at this time of year. Go take a look; I'll wait.

One of the major tenets of any ranking system (other than listing by winning percentage, I suppose) is that it's not just how many you win, it's who you play. I credit teams for the strength of their schedule, and, within the bounds of reasonable scheduling that no one gets close to the edge of, combining that with a team's winning percentage, even if indirectly as the ISR's do, gives a good measure of how strong a team has been over the course of a season.

A corollary of that is that I tend to respect teams who schedule tougher competition. There's no particular reason for that -- despite the occasional macho chest-thumping about taking on all comers, there's no real moral reason to play a tougher schedule, although it also doesn't hurt you in baseball the way it can in football. It's obviously better for the fans if the better teams play each other more often, but that's our problem, not theirs. Still and all, I think that playing the strongest schedule that they can compete against is a goal for most programs.

It turns out, of course, that programs don't have full control over the strength of their schedule, and I'm sure that frustrates them greatly. Oh, sure, you can make some guesses, and usually you can tell ahead of time how tough they're going to be, but there's too much volatility in the ranks to gauge. That's why I like to also look at what the schools intended to do along with what they actually end up playing. I do this by looking at the ISR's for the opponents for the year before, which is generally all the schools had to go on (not the ISR's, usually, but the last year's success) in making out this year's schedule.

Usually, this doesn't matter. In 2000, for example, Southern California intended to play the toughest schedule in the nation, and they did so. Sometimes, though, it can make a difference, especially when a whole conference has an off-year. Texas Tech last year intended to play a top 10 schedule and ended up with the 35th toughest schedule when the Big 12 had a relatively bad year, and Tech had a few key rainouts thrown in as well. Alabama, on the other hand, went from a respectable but not scary 23rd to 5th, a development which probably didn't help an already troubled season.

This Year

There's nothing shocking on this year's list, although Hawaii-Hilo playing the fourth-toughest schedule is probably a bit of a stretch. Geography causes the West Coast teams to stretch themselves again, as Southern California again plays the nation's toughest schedule. Since the program I use to compute these isn't smart enough to properly handle the few cases where teams in the same conference play non-conference games, their non-conference rank is probably actually higher than the sixth shown due to the extra series with Stanford.

The toughest non-conference schedules belong to Cal State Fullerton, Houston, and Rice, which probably accounts for the struggles that the first two have gone through so far; all three of those should be well served by this in conference play this year, although Houston may be a little too far gone by this point. That's the problem with aggressive non-conference scheduling; in a down year, you can get chewed to bits. That scheduling, though, is what got Houston to the point of being considered a national power in the first place, so I think they just have to suffer through this year and keep plugging.

ISR Notes

A few quick thoughts on this week's ISR's:

Rutgers (#3) has been impressive to this point. If they can keep this up, they will actually deserve their seeding this year, which will confuse everyone who's been paying attention. Add to this is Notre Dame's (#22) reasonable success to this point, and the Big East may actually be progressing as a league. It could also just be a sample size problem, but that bears watching.

Auburn (#14) shows what losing 15% of your games to date against a previously-mediocre opponent will do to a #1 ranking.

Texas-Arlington (#18) continues to quietly impress. I suspect their presence in Texas, which has developed into quite a target-rich environment over the last few years, may be helping the development of teams like Arlington and Southwest Texas State (#50) the same way that smaller California teams like Pepperdine were able to grow to prominence in earlier days by sharpening themselves against Pac-10 and Big West powerhouses.

LSU (#34) went 1-4 in over one-fourth of their games to date, which hurt their rating considerably. Presumably, they'll begin to recover from this point on. It's worth noting that Southern is one of two SWAC teams above the average 100 mark in the ISR's, an unheard of event; frequently, when you look closely at these David and Goliath stories, you'll find that David was having a relatively good year by their standards in order to have a shot.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Intended Strength of Schedule About the author, Boyd Nation