Is Alabama’s 2014 Schedule the Key to Another National Championship?

By Amy Daughters -
Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama opens the 2014 season vs. West Virginia. (Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports)

This just in: According to Phil Steele, Alabama has the easiest schedule in the SEC.

Yes, you heard that right…preseason No. 2 ranked Alabama has—according to football’s statistical genius—the easiest road to the SEC title. That is, at least in terms of who they’ll have to play to get there.

Here’s how Steele has the 2014 SEC schedules ranked from toughest to easiest: Tennessee (No. 2 most difficult in the FBS), Arkansas (No. 3 FBS), Auburn (No. 5), Texas A&M (No. 12), Kentucky (No. 15), Ole Miss (No. 20), South Carolina (No. 30), Missouri (No. 31), Florida (No. 32), LSU (No. 33), Georgia (No. 35), Mississippi State (No. 56), Vanderbilt (No. 58) and Alabama (No. 61).

This puts Alabama’s schedule on par with Wyoming’s (No. 59), Virginia Tech’s (No. 60), Tulane’s (No. 61) and NC State’s (No. 63).

Shocked? Well, here are a few facts about the Crimson Tide’s 2014 slate that justify the ranking.

  • Alabama won’t play a winning team from last season until it travels to Oxford to face Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 4.
  • Of Alabama’s 12 opponents this season, only five (or 41%) finished above .500 last season, this includes 7-6 Mississippi State.
  • The combined winning percentage of Alabama’s 2014 opponents is 47.3%. That ranks No. 95 out of the 128 teams in the FBS. To put this into perspective, Akron is at No. 94 and Navy is at No. 96.
  • Other than Tennessee—Alabama’s permanent, cross-division rival—the Crimson Tide will play Florida this season from the SEC East. That leaves Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri completely off the table.
  • Alabama gets Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M at home in Tuscaloosa. The Tide’s only true road games are at Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU, and Tennessee.
  • Alabama gets LSU after a bye week.

How much does the schedule ranking matter? Take a look at Alabama’s place in Steele’s scheduling rankings versus the results it achieved over the last four seasons.

2010: No. 15 FBS/No. 4 SEC = 10-3, won Capital One Bowl, final AP rank No. 10

2011: No. 24 FBS/No. 6 SEC = 12-1, won BCS National Championship, final AP rank No. 1

2012: No. 28 FBS/No. 8 SEC = 13-1 won BCS National Championship, final AP rank No. 1

2013: No. 40 FBS/No. 11 SEC = 11-2 lost BCS Sugar Bowl, final AP rank No. 7

2014: No. 61 FBS/No. 14 SEC = ???

This makes two things clear: First, Alabama’s strength of schedule is in a downward trend, even though the Tide continue to get credit for playing one of the most difficult slates in college football.

Next, the results do reflect Steele’s ratings. The only time Alabama missed out on a BCS appearance in the past four seasons was also the same year its schedule was the most difficult. As for last season, the Crimson Tide were one crazy, returned field goal against Auburn away from the SEC title game and a repeat appearance in the BCS championship.

Ask yourself this: Would Florida State have beaten Alabama in the title game last season? And then ask yourself again: Are you sure? If the Tide would have pushed Auburn into overtime and won, beat Missouri in the SEC title game and then triumphed against the Seminoles—then suddenly they’ve won three national championships in a row at the same time that their strength of schedule plummeted.

To further illustrate the importance, Steele ranked Florida State’s 2013 schedule at No. 64 coming into last season. That was No. 13 in the ACC and on par with UConn at No. 63 and Temple at No. 65.

Which ACC team had the easiest schedule coming into 2013? Well, that was Duke, which ended up going 10-4, the most wins in the history of the program.

Finally, here’s a look at the Top Ten teams in the 2014 Coaches’ preseason poll and their Steele ranking in scheduling.

#1 Florida State (No. 46), #2 Alabama (No. 61), #3 Oklahoma (No. 49), #4 Oregon (No. 48), #5 Auburn (No. 5), #6 Ohio State (No. 36), #7 UCLA (No. 11), #8 Michigan State (No. 50), #9 South Carolina (No. 30) and #10 Baylor (No. 57).

So, not only is Alabama’s schedule the easiest in the SEC, it’s the easiest in the preseason Top 10. In fact, the only preseason Top 25 team with a schedule rated below the Tide’s is #14 Wisconsin, which earned a No. 72 rank.

Add in that Alabama has recruited better than any team in the nation over the last four years (Rivals rated all four classes from 2011-14 at No. 1) and you get the picture: It’s not like watching your brother-in-law win the city golf championship on the short, wide-open municipal course. No, it’s more like unleashing Rory McIlroy or Adam Scott on the same tournament at the same course.

That said, there are two hypothetical roadblocks for Alabama that aren’t accounted for in the schedule ratings: The SEC title game and the first-ever playoff game in the new championship mini-bracket.

Both potential challenges will force the Tide to play high-ranking, powerhouse programs to move on to the next step towards a national title game appearance.

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Categories: NCAA, SEC, Strength of Schedule

38 Comments to Is Alabama’s 2014 Schedule the Key to Another National Championship?

  1. Will said....

    This is fantastic. I have becoming tired of hearing about how great certain teams are when they have relatively weak schedules. Basically, some teams are great, but because they do not have to actually play at least 3 good regular season teams a year (re: teams that (1) are ranked in the top 25 at the end of the regular season and (2) defeated at least 1 team that ends up ranked in the top 25 after the regular season is over). For example, Alabama is a fantastic team. That being said, the only regular season opponents that are actually great are Auburn and LSU. So, even if Alabama wins both the SEC West and the SEC Championship game, it still would not have that tough of a schedule. When you look at their regular season schedule, those two teams are the only ones that will likely (1) end up in the top 25 at the end of the regular season and (2) defeat at least 1 other team that will end up in the top 25 at the end of the regular season. If Alabama had to play 3 of LSU (plays Wisconsin, Auburn, and Alabama), Auburn (plays Kansas State, Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina), South Carolina (plays Georgia, Auburn, and Clemson), Georgia (plays Clemson, South Carolina, and Auburn), or a competitive non-conference opponent (the list is lengthy), none of this would be an issue. It seems draconian to give an undefeated Alabama the nod into the SEC championship game over a 1 loss Auburn or LSU, even if the loss is to Alabama. Alabama schedule is that weak, relative to the other major teams in the SEC. This isn’t just Alabama vs. the SEC specific; I feel the same way about Ohio State, but even more so. I think a 1 loss Michigan State (plays Nebraska, Oregon, and Ohio State) should get the nod over an undefeated Ohio State (plays Michigan State. Look at OSU’s schedule!). The schedule for Ohio State is bad enough that I don’t think an undefeated Ohio State should make the four team playoff if it goes undefeated in the B1G.

    August 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm
  2. schoup said....

    This why the SEC kept the 8 game conf 6-1-1 format. You avoid Bama playing UF, GA, SC more than twice every 12 years. Instead of playing another conf game like the 3 the other P5 conf do with 9 games, they play another cream puff which is guaranteed win. It gives a mathematical advantage.

    August 15, 2014 at 12:37 pm
    • dawgdaddy said....

      Just wonder why the article locks in on Alabama being 61st hardest schedule so statements like the above would look good when if you look at the 11th easiest schedule (UGA 35th) and it is more difficult that any top ten team except for SEC teams or UCLA. All of the top teams are playing easy schedules except for those mentioned.

      Day in and day out the SEC still plays the most difficult schedules and everyone knows it, 9th conference game or not. Alabama just happened to get the easier schedule this year. Watch that supposed tread over the next couple of years and what it reverse sharply when the tougher teams in the east roll onto the Alabama schedule.

      I don’t believe any other conference can show 11 teams with schedules ranked in the 35 most difficult.

      August 16, 2014 at 2:20 pm
  3. nawlinspete said....

    Saban should not have cancelled the Tulane game.

    August 15, 2014 at 3:09 pm
  4. Jinzo said....

    Auburn has the 5th most difficult schedule…because they are actually playing a legitimate OCC schedule this year,including a true road game…..

    August 15, 2014 at 3:29 pm
    • day said....

      I respect the traveling to K-State as legitimate road game but playing Samford, La Tech(4-8) & San Jose St(6-6) does not make it a “legitimate OCC” scheudle.

      August 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm
    • Jinzo said....

      Samford is a strike but both La. Tech and the Spartans are solid teams…I do expect Auburn to win both games but they shouldn’t be blow outs but good games. SJS will be very young on offense but much better on defense then last year. Skip Holtz will have La. tech much improved as well…so I do think Auburn’sOOC is pretty worthy…

      August 15, 2014 at 5:18 pm
    • Jake said....

      K-State will only win 5 or 6 games this year. They can beat legitimate teams. Auburn will wipe the floor with them. Auburn’s OCC is a joke

      August 15, 2014 at 7:01 pm
    • Jake said....

      *Can’t beat

      August 15, 2014 at 7:02 pm
    • Frederick Bailey said....

      For a change

      August 18, 2014 at 12:43 am
    • Jeff said....

      Kansas State has been the 3rd best BIGXII team since the league formed, better than Missouri or A&M, who both have done extremely well in the SEC!

      August 20, 2014 at 6:03 am
  5. Tom said....

    I believe Conference Champs shout get a automatic bid. 8 teams= Power 5 + 3 Mid majors. Let the Committee pick the Mid-Majors

    August 15, 2014 at 7:06 pm
  6. Dale said....

    Anyone is welcome to her/his opinion, but Bama is playing eight (8) “Creampuff” SEC teams this season. Anyone who knows anything about CFB will know that the SEC is the toughest conference in CFB. PERIOD. Any stats or wins/losses concerning last year is HISTORY. Any team, whether SEC or any other conference, is capable of pulling out a win against ANY team at any time. Penalties, injuries, bad calls, missed extra points, blocked punts, intelligent use of the clock, etc., all play into any game. Any team, ranked #1 to #25 and beyond is capable of winning or losing because of the fore-mentioned reasons. To say Bama has a easy schedule is total B.S..

    August 16, 2014 at 2:10 am
    • day said....

      I agree! First Bama needs a starting QB, rumors are now that SIMS & COKER will be dueling it out the first three games. I think the games @ LSU, @Tennessee & @OLE MISS will come with a price in the injury department. SEC is having a QB problem this year so we will see how it goes.

      August 16, 2014 at 8:16 am
  7. Randy Lee said....

    Wisconsin will win the National Championship this year. Toledo will beat Missouri. Melvin Gordon wins the Heisman Trophy. The Seahawks repeat as Super Bowl Champs. …you heard it here first. -www.RandyLee.info

    August 16, 2014 at 7:22 am
  8. Pa said....

    The SEC knows how to game the system, one of their henchman Roy Kramer created the BCS with the SEC in mind. Bama has a typical SEC schedule: nonconference-1 fcs, 2 against Sunbelt/MAc, 1 power 5 game against a name team in decline at a ‘neutral south (Sec) location.
    Then the games against mediocre SEC teams like Ol Miss, Miss stake, ATM( middle rung in big12),Tennesee (lost to Oregon by 45). The only really good teams they play are LSU and Auburn, and if they split those games they are in the national championship because of the SEC gauntlet. The system is screwed up and corrupt thanks to the NCAA, SEC, and ESPN.

    August 16, 2014 at 12:35 pm
    • Jinzo said....

      Pretty much says it all….especially the ESPN part.

      August 17, 2014 at 5:35 am
    • Jeff Watson said....

      I agree! I would really like to see all the Power 5, play at least 10 Power 5 games each year! No more of this 6-1-1 or scheduling a FCS school in November! No one wants to watch a Power 5 beat up on Furman, etc. in November or anytime for that matter. In fact the 14 SEC schools only play 13 OOC Power 5 opponents this year, so lame! Make for bad TV and bad SEC network.

      August 20, 2014 at 5:56 am
  9. jonbranda said....

    Until last season the SEC has pretty much run rough-shot over college football the past few years. The west has pretty much owned the SEC the past few years and until last season the Iron Bowl Champion was also the National Champion 4 years running. Yea it looks to me as tho Bama is taking advantage of the system and playing no one of any substance. With cupcakes such as Auburn, LSU, Florida, Ole Miss, TAMU and Arkansas they should bow their heads in shame. I guess just because the list of champions over the past 20 years or so is littered with SEC teams that it must be a flawed system. You guys do understand the only loss the SEC suffered in BCS Championship games was to another SEC team.

    August 17, 2014 at 10:34 pm
    • Will said....

      I assume you saw the final BCS Championship game? If so, I’m not sure how the only loss the SEC suffered in a BCS Champ game was to another SEC team. Also, Alabama’s schedule is easier than every single schedule in the Big 12 (including Baylor), regardless of what metrics one uses (phil Steele or NCAA method). If Alabama doesn’t win the SEC West with its schedule, it should be embarrassed and Saban should be fired on the spot.

      August 18, 2014 at 10:35 pm
    • day said....

      “If Alabama doesn’t win the SEC West with its schedule, it should be embarrassed and Saban should be fired on the spot.” I think this is a little extreme, Bama is still searching for a starting QB, playing @LSU, @Tennessee @OLE MISS & Auburn may not be the easiest. We don’t know what Florida will look like this year either. Saban wins 10 or more games a year so no way Saban should be fired right now for anything.

      August 19, 2014 at 7:34 am
  10. Dick said....

    How does Auburn have the 5th toughest schedule and Alabama the 61st. Alabama plays 5 of the same sec teams as Auburn. The only 3 teams Alabama doesn’t play is south Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Alabama plays Tennessee, Florida, and Auburn. I guess if you play ALABAMA your strength of schedule goes up drastically.

    August 18, 2014 at 11:24 am
  11. William said....

    Sour grapes! Eat your heart out!

    August 18, 2014 at 9:00 pm
  12. Cortne brewton said....

    Yes they are and they is roll tide

    August 21, 2014 at 7:16 pm
  13. bohawk said....

    Their schedule has been ridiculous the last few years! Florida Atlantic? Southern Miss? Chattenooga? Colorado State? Georgia State? (rated 100 in the top 100 college teams!) Western Kentucky? Western Carolina? Kentucky Wildcats? and that garbage about ‘not being motivated’ for the Oklahoma game is ridiculous. When McCarron threw the long bomb touchdown he ran all the way down the field beserk with hysteria. Sounded pretty ‘motivated’ to me. The fact was, McCarron couldn’t handle being rushed for the first time in his life.

    August 22, 2014 at 7:18 pm
  14. joseph said....

    hahaha what are you talking about, just remember the national champ game against LSU !!!

    August 24, 2014 at 10:14 pm
  15. Todd said....

    Lets set aside all the obvious hatred for the Tide and the SEC. I would like someone to tell me who has the premiere program and toughest schedule. The toughest conference is not up for debate. Like it or not from top to bottom year end and year out it has been the SEC for the past 20 years. Sure there have been some slip ups but no one is perfect. The key word here is “consistency”. Flashes of brilliance are excluded. I have noticed that Bama’s toughest game is usually the SEC Championship Game. All of the recent National Title Games have been dominated by Alabama. All of the losses and near losses have been conference games from 2008-2013. Most of the conferences only have 2 or 3 powerhouse teams. As compared to the SEC who has 5 or 6 on any given year. And that is why the SEC owns 7 titles in a row. In the 11th week of the 2012 season the top 3 BCS teams were SEC. And guess who broke that strangle hold? Other SEC teams! So why would you want a tough Non-Conference schedule when you play in the SEC? They need a break every now and then. The SEC plays their toughest Non-Conference schedule in the Bowl Games. In 1992 the SEC was 7-1 in bowl games AND won the National Championship. And the one loss was a last minute punt return given up by Mississippi State for the loss. In fact, I don’t recall any bowl season under 500 period for the SEC. So again I ask……who has this so called toughest schedule? Just saying….

    August 26, 2014 at 2:03 am
  16. J. Smith said....

    Alabama won again today….against Florida Atlantic….hehehe…meanwhile USC and Stanford are playing and Michigan state meets Oregon here in a bit. Alabama plays an easy schedule so they can be number 1 or 2. If I recall Alabama cancelled their game with Michigan State due to a scheduling conflict….hmmmmmm. If Alabama actually played someone they would not be number 1 or 2….next up for Alabama…..southern miss….geezzzzz

    September 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm
    • dick said....

      Let’s not forget about LSU, Texas A/M, Ole Miss, Auburn, and the sec east champs!

      September 6, 2014 at 8:13 pm
    • dick said....

      Maybe Bama is scared to play Michigan State after that last meeting in 2011

      September 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm
    • Michael said....

      Come back at the end of the season and let us know if you still think Alabama’s schedule was easy.

      I’m sure Alabama is terrified of Michigan State after the 49-7 game a few years ago.

      September 10, 2014 at 11:31 am
  17. dick said....

    Alabama plays 4 teams ranked in the top 15! That’s one weak schedule!

    September 6, 2014 at 8:23 pm
  18. Michael said....

    I love how people determine how difficult a team’s schedule is BEFORE the season when nobody actually knows how good any of these teams are going to be.

    September 10, 2014 at 11:34 am
  19. Dan said....

    Let’s face it, it just all about the money. Look at the obscene amounts of money that college sports has turned into. These schools don’t care how they win, just as long as they win. Maybe if they ban recruiting then we would see what a team is really made of. When your team is hand picked from high schools all around the country like the NFL then you are shamelessly in it for the mega dollars.

    October 19, 2014 at 5:37 pm
  20. Paul said....

    It’s just all about the money. College sports is just like anything else, it’s ruined by the greedy money whores that would sell their momma for a price.

    October 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm

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