In a recent post noting the Texas Longhorns future football schedule additions (Minnesota and California, in 2015 and 2016), some Eyes Of TX readers brought up an interesting question on the difficulty of Texas’ strength of schedule, particularly in the ‘Horns non-conference slate. This prompted Eyes Of TX to do a bit more research, compiled below, starting with when the university joined the Big 12 Conference in the 1996 season.
Big 12 Conference: 1996-2009
Total Games Played
177 games played – including non-conference, conference and bowl games
49 non-conference, regular season games
Six games were against ranked teams, or 12% of all non-conference games
In 14 seasons, Texas has played less than one ranked non-conference team per year
116 conference games, including four Big 12 championship appearances
39 games were against ranked teams, or 34% of all conference games
In 14 seasons in the Big 12, Texas has faced an average of two-to-three ranked conference opponents each year
12 bowl games
10 games were against ranked teams, or 83%
Texas is 8-4 in those bowl games, but undefeated in their last five games dating back to the 2004 season
My summation of this leads to several conclusions:
First, the ‘Horns could definitely schedule more difficult non-conference teams.
Second, surely there are other schools in the Big 12 Conference (we’re looking at you Kansas State), as well as other Division I schools, that are scheduling even lower-tier non-conference teams. Scheduling D-II opponents is akin to paying for a win, and it defeats the purpose of the athletic event, in this author’s opinion.
Third, the Big 12 Conference year-in and year-out has proven to have a difficult conference line-up, with many of the teams that the ‘Horns face each year ranked in the top 25, and there is no option to not play those games. While it doesn’t justify scheduling power puff teams for the non-conference schedule, it surely helps clarify why teams across the country – and especially in the Big 12 – are reluctant to pit their teams against more ranked opponents early in the year…their strength of schedule will be hard enough as-is. For non-BCS conference teams, it makes sense to front-load the schedule with ranked teams, and their conference foes don’t help them make the argument for an at-large BCS berth at the end of the season.
Finally, it’s simply too hard to plan for how a non-conference opponent will be ranked when the game finally takes place down the road. USC may be highly ranked now, for example, but what about 10 years from now? Obviously, powerhouse football programs tend to retain their success rate over long periods of time, and one could still argue that an unknown Penn State down the road would still be more competitive than Louisiana-Monroe. But, you never know how the tides can turn in college football, which is what makes it so great.
While marquee match-ups are want the fans want to see, we all want to see our teams be successful and bowling come January. It is a debate that will live on far past this post.