Daily Blog •Monday, December 14

Who Faced the Toughest Schedule in 2009?

What makes my Toughest Opponents Faced rankings far superior to the NCAA method is that mine takes into account 9 sets of power ratings, combines them and factors in every team's schedule this year. I did this not only for the bowl teams, but for all the NCAA teams & found out which teams played the toughest schedules this year.

2009's Toughest Schedules
*Bowl Teams are in Bold

1 Mississippi St 41 Purdue 81 UCF
2 Georgia 42 West Virginia 82 Navy
3 South Carolina 43 Texas 83 New Mexico St
4 Virginia 44 Texas A&M 84 Bowling Green
5 Florida St 45 Connecticut 85 Akron
6 Arkansas 46 Syracuse 86 Tulsa
7 Washington 47 Texas Tech 87 BYU
8 Auburn 48 Kentucky 88 Buffalo
9 Oregon 49 Miami, Oh 89 TCU
10 Washington St 50 Kansas St 90 Utah
11 Minnesota 51 Mississippi 91 East Michigan
12 Virginia Tech 52 Pittsburgh 92 San Diego St
13 Oklahoma 53 Memphis 93 Rutgers
14 Baylor 54 NC State 94 Idaho
15 Miami, Fl 55 North Carolina 95 Nevada
16 Arizona 56 Indiana 96 Houston
17 USC 57 Duke 97 SMU
18 UCLA 58 San Jose St 98 Ball St
19 LSU 59 Cincinnati 99 Hawaii
20 Illinois 60 Wisconsin 100 Northwestern
21 Vanderbilt 61 East Carolina 101 Boise St
22 Alabama 62 Nebraska 102 Troy
23 Georgia Tech 63 Penn St 103 ULM
24 Kansas 64 Ohio St 104 Air Force
25 Wake Forest 65 Boston College 105 Louisiana
26 Oklahoma St 66 Marshall 106 Florida Atlantic
27 Tennessee 67 Rice 107 Toledo
28 Iowa 68 USF 108 UTEP
29 Louisville 69 Wyoming 109 Southern Miss
30 California 70 Colorado St 110 WKU
31 Arizona St 71 Utah St 111 North Texas
32 Florida 72 Fresno St 112 Arkansas St
33 Notre Dame 73 Iowa St 113 Cent Michigan
34 Clemson 74 UNLV 114 Ohio
35 Colorado 75 Louisiana Tech 115 Temple
36 Oregon St 76 New Mexico 116 West Michigan
37 Michigan St 77 Michigan 117 N Illinois
38 Maryland 78 Tulane 118 Middle Tennessee
39 Missouri 79 UAB 119 Kent St
40 Stanford 80 FIU 120 Army

According to my ratings Mississippi St faced the toughest schedule. The Bulldogs played 10 bowl teams and faced 3 bowl teams (Georgia Tech, Houston, Middle Tennessee) in non-conference. The NCAA also had Mississippi St ranked #1 so the #1 ranking is much deserved. Army faced the easiest schedule this year and the NCAA had them ranked #119. However, that is where the similarities between the NCAA and my rankings ended. Washington ranked #26 in the NCAA rankings with an opponent win/loss % of 56.3% playing 8 games vs teams with winning records but played my #7 toughest schedule including games against five Top 25 Teams and USC. Per the NCAA, North Carolina faced the #10 toughest schedule with an opponent win/loss % of 58.4% facing 6 teams with winning records but took on 2 IAA/FCS teams (The Citadel and Georgia Southern) so that dropped the Tar Heels to just #55 in our rankings. One of the main reasons between the differences in rankings is the NCAA bases its rankings on pure overall records meaning a 8-4 IAA/FCS team is counted the same as a 8-4 FBS team.

Of the 68 bowl teams, Georgia faced the toughest schedule, playing 9 bowl teams. The Bulldogs non-conference schedule included two New Years Day bowl teams in Oklahoma St (Cotton Bowl) and Georgia Tech (Orange Bowl). The SEC yet again showed they are the best conference in the nation as four of the top five toughest schedules for bowl teams came from the SEC. Coming in last in the rankings was Middle Tennessee as they played just two bowl teams. Northwestern had the easiest schedule for BCS teams coming in at #100. Despite playing in the Big Ten, the Wildcats faced just five bowl teams and their non-conference schedule consisted of Towson (FBS), Eastern Michigan, Syracuse and Miami Oh.

When looking at the bowl match-ups, one of my considerations in picking who will win the game is taking a look at the schedule strength each opponent has faced and I look for the biggest discrepancies between the two teams.

Here are the Top 10 differences between schedule strength for the 2008 bowl games. (Schedule Strength)

1. St. Petersburg Bowl: USF (58) vs Memphis (117) Schedule Difference: 59 Final: USF 41-14 Win
2. Papajohns.com Bowl: NC St (16) vs Rutgers (66) Schedule Difference: 50 Final: Rutgers 29-28 Loss
3. Insight Bowl: Kansas (18) vs Minnesota (65) Schedule Difference: 47 Final: Kansas 42-21 Win
4. Outback Bowl: South Carolina (10) vs Iowa (51) Schedule Difference: 41 Final: Iowa 31-17 Loss
5. Rose Bowl: USC (24) vs Penn St (64) Schedule Difference: 40 Final: USC 38-24 Win
6. International Bowl: Connecticut (48) vs Buffalo (87) Schedule Difference: 39 Final: UConn 38-20 Win
7. Music City Bowl: Vanderbilt (14) vs Boston College (52) Schedule Difference: 38 Final: Vandy 16-14 Win
7. Alamo Bowl: Missouri (32) vs Northwestern (70) Schedule Difference: 38 Final: Missouri 30-23 OT Win
7. Eagle Bank Bowl: Wake Forest (43) vs Navy (81) Schedule Difference: 38 Final: Wake Forest 29-19 Win
10. Sugar Bowl: Alabama (40) vs Utah (76) Schedule Difference: 36 Final: Utah 31-17 Loss

As expected the team that played the tougher schedule went 7-3. The largest difference was the St. Petersburg Bowl which saw USF dominate Memphis 41-14. NC St who had faced the #16 schedule played well despite the 29-28 loss to Rutgers who had the #66 ranked schedule. Kansas who had a much tougher schedule than Minnesota won convincingly 42-21. The Rose Bowl had USC with the largest difference in schedule strength among BCS matchups crush Penn St 38-24 after racing out to a 31-7 halftime lead. Vanderbilt who played a much tougher schedule than Boston College got the upset. Despite the large difference in schedule strength, Alabama lost to Utah 31-17 as the Tide did not give their best effort after having their national title hopes evaporate in the loss to Florida in the SEC championship games.

Here are the Top 10 differences between schedule strength for the 2009 bowl games. (Schedule Strength)

1. Eagle Bank Bowl: UCLA (17) vs Temple (115) Schedule Difference: 97
2. Outback Bowl: Auburn (8) vs Northwestern (100) Schedule Difference: 92
3. Insight Bowl: Minnesota (11) vs Iowa St (73) Schedule Difference: 62
4. Poinsettia Bowl: California (30) vs Utah (90) Schedule Difference: 60
5. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas (6) vs East Carolina (61) Schedule Difference: 55
5. Rose Bowl: Oregon (9) vs Ohio St (64) Schedule Difference: 55
7. Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon St (36) vs BYU (87) Schedule Difference: 51
8. International Bowl: USF (68) vs N Illinois (117) Schedule Difference: 49
9. Emerald Bowl: USC (17) vs Boston College (65) Schedule Difference: 48
9. Little Ceasar's Pizza Bowl: Marshall (66) vs Ohio (114) Schedule Difference: 48

This year there many more larger differences than last year with 15 games having a difference of 40+ as last year only had 5 such occurrences. UCLA has the #1 tougher schedule edge over Temple as the Bruins faced a tough PAC-10 schedule and their non-conference schedule included a trip to Tennesssee. While Temple played in the MAC.

Northwestern has one of the weakest schedules in the nation (#100) and face an Auburn team that faced the #8 schedule including a tough SEC slate and West Virginia in non-conference play.

Last year Minnesota was on the opposite end of the schedule strength difference as they lost to Kansas 42-21 in the Insight Bowl. This year playing in the same Insight Bowl the Gophers have played the #11 schedule while their opponent Iowa St played just the #73 schedule.

Of the BCS Bowl games, the Rose Bowl has the largest difference in schedule strength with Oregon facing the #9 schedule while Ohio St played just the #64.

The Little Ceasar's Pizza Bowl features 2 non-BCS teams in Marshall and Ohio, but the Thundering Herd faced a much tougher schedule with 7 bowl teams including Virginia Tech and West Virginia in non-conference. While the conference schedule hurt the Bobcats who did play Connecticut and Tennessee in non-conference.

This year we will again have a “Bowl Confidence Contest” and I hope there will be even more participants! Like last year I will update two categories after each bowl game. The first category is total points. If you picked a team and they won their bowl you receive the points that you risked. I will also keep track of those that have the best win percentage of their points. The morning after each bowl game I will list the current leaders in two categories on the website. Like last year we will have great prizes with 1st place getting $250!! 2nd place receives $100 and a set of regional magazines and 3rd place $50 and a set of regionals!!

You can enter the contest by simply e-mailing your picks and contact information to Brandon@philsteele.com. To enter just pick who you think will win each of the 34 bowl games. You then award your confidence points to each. The team you think will definitely win the game would get 34 points and the team who you picked at the bottom which was very tough for you to call would get 1. For each team that wins their bowl game that you picked correctly, you get the confidence points you assigned to them. Those with the highest points are the winners.The first bowl game takes place on December 19th at 4:30 EST and Good Luck!!

Also make sure to check PhilSteele.com everyday for complete information and coverage on all the bowl matchups. On the homepage click on the Bowl matchups link, where you will find all 34 bowl games. Click on the bowl logo for each game to get all the information you need to become an expert! Start doing your homework now and get your 34 bowl predictions done and email them in.