Strength of schedule will be a factor in determining the four-team field for the College Football Playoff, which debuts this season. Unknown, however, is exactly what weight it will carry in the eyes of the selection committee.
Several teams in FBSchedules.com’s 2014 preseason strength of schedule rankings are considered legitimate contenders to make the playoff field, but first they must successfully manage their difficult run of games. As expected, the Southeastern Conference dominates the rankings, taking the top three spots and four of the top five.
Among the criteria used to determine the rankings: opponents’ won-lost record from last season, games against probable preseason top 25 foes and game sites.
Note: The NCAA uses only opponent wins and losses in their strength of schedule calculation. Their ranking can be found here.
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 103-54
Coach Bret Bielema was welcomed to the SEC last season with one of the nation’s most demanding schedules. This year’s slate is even tougher. Arkansas kicks off with a rare opening-day SEC game – and it’s at Auburn against the defending conference champion Tigers, a probable top five team. The Razorbacks then take a break from SEC action with challenging matchups at Texas Tech and at home against Northern Illinois. The Hogs then enter a tough stretch of games against Texas A&M (at Arlington, Texas), Alabama (at home) and Georgia (at Little Rock, Ark.). It doesn’t get easier late in the season with three more games against likely top 25 teams: LSU and Ole Miss at home and Missouri on the road.
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 101-54
After playing Utah State and Arkansas State at home, the Vols play at Oklahoma. Two weeks later, their conference schedule starts with a bang at Georgia, followed by a visit from Florida. The Vols later play consecutive games against likely preseason top 10 teams Alabama and South Carolina, the latter on the road. Late in November, they host Missouri before closing the regular season at Vanderbilt.
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 91-62
Florida eases into its schedule with home games against Idaho and Eastern Michigan and its SEC opener against Kentucky. But then it gets tough: trips to Alabama and, after an open date, Tennessee. The Gators then host LSU and Missouri. Then it’s rival Georgia in Jacksonville, followed by a trip to Vanderbilt and a visit from South Carolina. Florida closes its season at Florida State.
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 86-68
Stanford gets a warm-up against UC Davis in Week 1 before diving into Pac-12 play at home against USC in Week 2. After a visit from Army and an open date, the Cardinal makes trips to Washington and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. That’s followed by games against Washington State, at Arizona State and against Oregon State. Their two toughest games will be played on the road: against likely top 10 foes Oregon and UCLA, the latter in the season finale.
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 93-60
In order to return to the national championship game, Auburn must survive a schedule that includes games against five preseason Top 25 opponents. A rare opening-day SEC game against Arkansas kicks things off. Then, after a visit from San Jose State and an open date, the Tigers travel to Kansas State for a Thursday night game. The Tigers then return home to host Louisiana Tech and LSU. Finally, in their last five SEC games, they’ll play South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. And they’ll play three of the five, including the season-ending “Iron Bowl” at Alabama, on the road.
6. NOTRE DAME
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 103-56
Notre Dame kicks off a scheduling agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. The Fighting Irish will play four ACC opponents, including Florida State at Tallahassee. The Irish also host Louisville and North Carolina and play Syracuse at East Rutherford, N.J. (The arrangement calls for five ACC opponents each year, but the Irish will play four in 2014 and six in 2015.) They open the season at home against Rice and Michigan before taking on Purdue in their Shamrock Series game at Indianapolis. Other tough games include Stanford at home, Arizona State and Southern California on the road and Navy at Landover, Md.
7. TEXAS A&M
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 100-55
Texas A&M won’t ease into the post-Johnny Manziel era, playing at South Carolina on the first Thursday night of the season. After three nonconference games, the Aggies face Arkansas at Arlington, Texas, before traveling to Mississippi State. They play five of their last six games against probable top 25 opponents, starting with Ole Miss at home and Alabama on the road. After a visit from Louisiana-Monroe, they’ll travel to Auburn and host Missouri. On Thanksgiving, the Aggies will close the regular season at home against LSU.
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 98-59
Utah opens with three nonconference games, the second at home against Fresno State and the third at Michigan. The Utes begin Pac-12 play at home against Washington State before traveling to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl. After an open date, Utah closes with seven more conference games, including home dates against USC and Oregon and road games at Arizona State and Stanford.
9. SOUTH CAROLINA
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 96-59
South Carolina opens the season with three consecutive home games, a stretch that figures to be more challenging than it sounds. After facing Texas A&M in their opener, the Gamecocks host a good East Carolina team and Georgia, a probable top 25 opponent. Two weeks later, after a trip to Vanderbilt, they’ll play Missouri. Later in the season, the Gamecocks will be on the road for games against Auburn, Florida and Clemson, the last to end the season.
10. WEST VIRGINIA
OPPONENTS’ 2013 RECORD: 97-59
Like Tennessee and Texas A&M, West Virginia plays three opponents that probably will be ranked among the preseason top 10. The first is Alabama in its opener at Atlanta. Then, after hosting Towson and playing at Maryland, the Mountaineers return home to open Big 12 play against Oklahoma, another likely top 10 team. Later, they play a tough five-game stretch: at Texas Tech, vs. possible top 10 Baylor, at Oklahoma State, vs. TCU and at Texas. The Mountaineers close the season with games against Kansas State and at Iowa State.
This article appeared on page 40-41 of the USA TODAY Sports College Football 2014 magazine.