Recently, I’ve seen a couple of posts attacking Jeff Sagarin’s strength of schedule (SOS) computer model, one at Saurian Sagacity (another excellent Gator blog, by the way) and one at AOL’s ACC Fanhouse. Both score some telling points – particularly with regard to the fact that Sagarin won’t disclose the methodology behind his rating system.
But I do want to take issue with one item both bloggers raise as an indictment of Sagarin, namely, that he ranks the PAC-10 as the top conference in his SOS rankings. It’s a criticism I see levelled regularly on the Internet and I’m not sure it’s a justified one. In fact, I can think of a good reason why it may be entirely valid.
First, though, let me say that there’s a difference between saying that a particular conference’s schools play the toughest strength of schedule and saying that a particular conference is the toughest conference to play in. The former simply takes into account which opponents appear on the schedules of the conference members. The latter would be more focused on the strengths of the top teams in the conference, what the conference venues are like to play in, how bad the weakest teams in the conference are, how the teams in the conference fared against top non-conference opposition, etc.
Given that, I don’t have any problem stating that I believe the SEC was the best conference in college football this season while also believing that the PAC-10 had the best SOS of any college football conference in 2006.
The reason that I alluded to earlier as to why Sagarin may not be off base here is a decision the PAC-10 made when the regular season was expanded to twelve games. That conference decided to add a ninth conference game to every member school’s schedule. That’s at least one more conference game than is played in any other major conference right now (the Big East teams play only seven conference games).
With regard to how this plays in to Sagarin’s computations, I would think that one significant factor would be addition by subtraction – the PAC-10 filled the twelfth game void with another conference game, while some schools filled that game with a much lesser opponent.
In fact, looking over the PAC-10 schedules for 2006, I could only find three 1-AA schools listed as opponents for the entire conference. I’m not saying that PAC-10 schools didn’t schedule any weak sisters (of course they did), just that, because of the ninth conference game, they scheduled fewer of them. You might take note that Alabama played two winless non-conference teams this year, or that Purdue’s first two non-conference opponents went 3-20 this year (and Purdue lost to one of them!) or that none of Wisconsin’s non-conference opponents had a winning record to appreciate my argument.
And it’s not like Sagarin is alone in his ranking the PAC-10 first. Massey and Howell, for example, do as well.
I expect that any major conference that joined the PAC-10 in going to a nine conference game schedule – and I’d be thrilled to see Georgia drop the likes of Western Carolina for another SEC West opponent, as an example – would see their SOS rating climb.