With recruiting officially in the books, the beginning of spring football just around corner, and March Madness rapidly approaching, it will be only a matter of days/weeks until college football fans officially shift their focus to the upcoming 2012 season. And given the way that the Florida Gators’ 2011 football season turned out, you can’t blame us here at Hail Florida Hail for “jumping the gun” just a bit. So with that in mind, I bring you my way too early look at the 2012 college football strength of schedules (SOS).
For those of you who have visited this site (and its predecessor site) before, you know that I love numbers. That’s probably why I majored in Finance while at UF and am now in the investment banking industry. Given this fact, I have decided that the easiest way to analyze one’s SOS when teams have yet to even take the practice field is to look at how each team’s opponents finished the 2011 season. The simplest way to do this was to take an average end of the year ranking for each team’s 12 upcoming opponents. Sound complicated? Well, it’s not really. In fact, the hardest part was trying to find a complete ranking for all 120 teams after the bowl games had taken place. In the end, I decided to go with the College Football News Top 120 (in association with Scout.com and FoxSports.com) as it seemed fairly accurate and reliable. With that in mind, let’s look at the Gators’ 2012 SOS:
As you can see, the average 2011 BCS ranking for the 12 teams that Florida will face in the upcoming football season is 46.2. One thing to note is that I had to assign some sort of BCS ranking to FCS (Division I-AA) teams. I chose to assign them a BCS ranking just below the lowest ranked FBS (Division I-A) team, therefore they were all assigned a ranking of 121. We could argue the legitimacy of this assumption for hours, but honestly that wouldn’t be much fun, so let’s just go with it for these purposes.
Using this methodology for all 14 teams in the SEC (it still seems weird to say 14 teams in the SEC!), I came up with the following SOS for the conference members:
Some interesting thoughts based on these results:
• At first glance, I was somewhat surprised that Ole Miss had the toughest 2012 schedule on paper out of any of the SEC teams. But upon further review, it actually makes quite a bit of sense. First and foremost, they play in the SEC West which guarantees that they will play teams that finished #1 (Alabama), #2 (LSU), #7 (Arkansas), #27 (Auburn), #29 (Texas A&M) and #41 (Mississippi State) in 2011. In addition, their two SEC East opponents are #11 Georgia and much improved #46 Vanderbilt. Finally, Ole Miss has a mid-season out-of-conference matchup with #24 Texas, a team which most SEC schools frankly wouldn’t schedule as an out of conference opponent even if they had to. That means that 9 of Ole Miss’s 12 opponents in 2012 finished ranked in the top 50 in 2011. Not exactly what you want to hear if you are a Rebels’ fan who just suffered through a dreadful 2-10 season.
• Missouri’s SOS seems pretty high as well considering they are playing in the water-downed SEC East. But SEC West opponents of #1 Alabama and #29 Texas A&M strengthen their SOS considerably. Plus, Missouri plays two out-of-conference games against decent competition in #61 UCF and #66 Arizona State. It should be noted that Missouri has yet to finalize its final game of the season and should they pick up a FCS school, the Tigers’ SOS would drop significantly down to 50.4.
• The two teams that battled in the BCS National Championship have the exact same SOS leading into the 2012 college football season. Both Alabama and LSU play against teams that had an average ranking of 51.91667 in 2011. Seems almost too coincidental to be true, but it is.
• And then there are the Bulldogs (both Georgia and Mississippi State). First looking at UGA, their 2012 SOS certainly isn’t helped out by the fact that the SEC East was down last year and only resulted in one team (besides Georgia) being ranked in the top 25 at the end of 2011 (#14 South Carolina). In addition to this, Georgia plays three games against teams which ended near the bottom of the rankings last year (#89 Ole Miss, #113 Buffalo and #119 FAU) and an additional game against a FCS team (Georgia Southern). All-in-all, the Bulldogs certainly can’t blame the schedule makers if people are once again calling for Coach Mark Richt’s head by mid-season.
• Mississippi State’s schedule though is simply the worst in the conference. Although these Bulldogs play in the SEC West which is no laughing matter, they counteract those difficult intra-division games with games against the two worst teams in the SEC East (#53 Kentucky and #54 Tennessee) and out-of-conference games against #112 Troy, #115 Middle Tennessee and two FCS schools (Jackson State and South Alabama). Mississippi State finished 7-6 last year. If they don’t at least duplicate that record in 2012 given the schedule they have, fans may start wondering whether Dan Mullen really is the answer.