What do the Last 10 National Champions’ Schedules Have in Common?

By Amy Daughters -

If you could draft up a blueprint of a national championship season what would it look like?

Would it include a certain way to start to the season or a specific mix of opponents? And what about timing?

Can scheduling really be manipulated in such a way that success becomes more likely?

The most sensible way to answer these questions is to use recent history to uncover intersections between schedule format and favorable results.

Take a look eight common threads in the last ten national champions’ schedules, from when Texas won it all in 2005 all the way up until Ohio State’s triumph last season.

It’s a lesson in what to do and what not to do if you want to win big.

8. Play Road Games Late in the Season

Road Games Sharing the Trait: 26/44 (59%)

The last ten national champions have played a total of 44 true road games, a number that doesn’t include the six neutral contests the group participated in. Of these, 26, or 59%, were played during Week 7 of the season or later.

This means that the title teams have played the bulk of their road games after the halfway point.

It’s a scheduling nuance that is trending up with three of the last four champions playing only one away game each during the first half of the season. The only exception was Florida State in 2013. They traveled to Pittsburgh and Boston College early and then hit the road three more times after the halfway mark.

Pushing a high percentage of the road action, where teams generally face a tougher environment, to later means that contenders have additional time to gel on their home turf.

7. Play a Team from the Sun Belt Conference

Champs Sharing the Trait: 6/10 (60%)

Only four of the last ten national champions haven’t played at least one Sun Belt member: Ohio State (2014), Florida State (2013) and Florida (2008 and 2006).

Of the six that did schedule a Sun Belt team, three played two: Alabama (2012 and 2009) and Auburn (2010).

Top-ranked teams playing Sun Belt members in 2015 include: Clemson (Appalachian State, Sept. 12), USC (Arkansas State, Sept. 5 and Idaho, Sept. 12), Georgia (ULM, Sept. 5 and Georgia Southern, Nov. 21), Oregon (Sept. 19) and Alabama (ULM, Sept. 26).

6. Play an FCS Team

Champs Sharing the Trait: 7/10 (70%)

It’s no surprise that only three of the last ten champions didn’t have an FCS opponent on their winning slate: Ohio State in 2014, LSU in 2007 and Texas in 2005.

The only Top Ten teams listed in ESPN.com’s Too-Early Top 25 that don’t have an FCS foe in 2015 are: Ohio State, USC and Michigan State.

5. Play the Conference Opener on the Road

Champs Sharing the Trait: 8/10 (80%)

The first of two scheduling aspects that calls into question the notion that an “easy start” presents an inherent advantage, only two of the last ten champs didn’t open league play on the road.

Last season, Ohio State kicked off its Big Ten slate at Maryland, in 2013 Florida State opened its entire season with a road trip to Pitt, in 2012 Alabama started its SEC play at Arkansas, in 2010 Auburn traveled to Mississippi State for its first league game, in 2008 Florida started SEC play at Tennessee, in 2007 LSU kicked off its entire campaign at Mississippi State, in 2006 it was Florida again at Tennessee and in 2005 Texas started Big 12 play with a road trip to Missouri.

That leaves Alabama’s 2011 and 2009 title teams as the exception. In 2011, the Tide opened SEC play at home vs. Arkansas and traveled to Florida the next week. The 2009 team got things rolling, again with a home game with the Razorbacks followed by a road trip to Kentucky.

Only four of the Top Ten teams from the Too-Early Top 25 have home-league openers in 2015: Oregon (vs. Utah, Sept. 26), USC (vs. Stanford, Sept. 19), Alabama (vs. Ole Miss, Sept. 19) and Michigan State (vs. Purdue, Oct. 3).

4. Don’t Play on Thursday Night

Champs Sharing the Trait: 8/10 (80%)

Only two of the last ten champions have played a Thursday night game during the regular season. In 2010 Auburn traveled to Mississippi State on Thursday, Sept. 9 and in 2007 LSU opened up its entire campaign at, again, Mississippi State on Aug. 30.

The only other weeknight games for title winners over the last decade were Florida State’s Monday night season opener at Pitt in 2013 and then a handful of rivalry games on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Thursday night action for top teams in 2015 include: Clemson (Thurs., Sept 27 at Louisville), TCU (Thurs., Sept. 3 at Minnesota and Thurs., Oct. 29 vs. West Virginia), Baylor (Thurs., Nov. 5 at K-State), Oregon (Thurs., Oct 29 at Arizona State), Auburn (Thurs., Oct. 15 at Kentucky) and USC (Thurs., Oct. 8 vs. Washington).

3. Play Only One Power-Five, Non-Conference Opponent

Champs Sharing the Trait: 9/10 (90%)

Only one of the last nine national champions had two Power-Five non-conference games on its slate. That was Florida in 2008, meeting Miami (Fla.) in Week 2 and then wrapping up the season with a road trip to Florida State.

Every other title winner since 2005 has had a single regular-season, non-conference Power foe.

For 2015, the only Top Ten team playing two Power opponents is Clemson, with Notre Dame on Oct. 3 and South Carolina on Nov. 28.

The only such team not playing a Power opponent is Baylor, with non-conference games at SMU (Sept. 4), FCS Lamar (Sept. 12) and Rice (Sept. 26)

2. Play a Power Opponent in the First Two Weeks of the Season

Champs Sharing the Trait: 9/10 (90%)

The second scheduling component that squashes the “easy start” plan, only one of the last ten champs has not played a Power team during the first two weeks of the season.

The exception was Florida in 2006, it played Southern Miss and UCF to open the season before traveling to Tennessee in Week 3.

Beyond that, seven of the nine teams that had a Power foe in the first two weeks had the game either at a neutral location or on the road. The only exceptions in this case were in 2014 when Ohio State hosted Virginia Tech and in 2008 when Florida welcomed Miami (Fla).

Top teams with a later start in 2015 include USC, which waits until Week 3 to host Stanford, Baylor which waits until Week 5 to square off with Texas Tech in Arlington, and Clemson which waits until Week 3 to travel to Louisville.

1. Don’t Play a Non-Conference Game vs. the Pac-12, Big 12 or Notre Dame

Champs Sharing the Trait: 10/10 (100%)

Not one of the last ten national champions played a regular-season, non-conference game against a member of the Pac-12, Big 12 or Notre Dame.

Six of the title holders played ACC teams (including Florida in 2008 which played two), three played Big Ten foes and one, Florida State in 2013, played an SEC opponent.

Teams that will have to break the trend to win it all in 2015 are USC, which plays Notre Dame on Oct. 17, Michigan State with Oregon on Sept. 12 and Clemson, which gets the Irish on Oct. 3.

Just in case you were wondering, of the ten teams listed at the top of ESPN’s Early Top 25, Georgia is the only program that ticks seven of the boxes for a national-championship ready schedule.

Amy Daughters is a contributor to FBSchedules.com.

  1. Hank
    May 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Awesome article, Amy. I really love these kinds of details.

    • Thomas Brown UGA
      May 31, 2015 at 3:25 am

      Favorable Schedule for Georgia ? We face the # 1 best and # 2 best teams in The SEC West. One of our non-conference games is against the # 6 team in the nation, and their players all returned after beating us last season at our house, this year it is there. We would have to face Alabama twice to make the play-offs where they would be found again. Playing Alabama 3 times in one season, is an advantage ? What is this a PAC-12 blog ?

      The Georgia Bulldogs do NOT have a favorable schedule. Every team on our schedule considers themselves our bitter Rival.

      We have won only 54 % of the games after 2007 against teams making a bowl game that season.

      We have lost all but 3 of the latest 24 games against teams higher ranked than us in the Final AP Poll.

      We average over 4 losses a season the most recent 7-year period.

      We lost Todd Gurley II, our best player.

      We have no QB prepared to play, and only 1 who has had any real opportunity does not know still how to set his feet to pass, with awful footwork.

      Anyone who believes that a discussion in the off-season of who will win the national championship 2015, should include Georgia, is a DISNEYdawgs.com fan.

    • Kevin Kelley
      June 1, 2015 at 10:52 am

      The article only says Georgia has a favorable schedule because they have 7 of the 8 criteria that the last 10 national champions have. That’s it, that’s all that statement was based on. The article wasn’t written with Georgia’s schedule in mind.

  2. Jeff B.
    May 21, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Agreed! Keep these great articles coming! Only 105 days till the real thing happens again!

  3. GEG
    May 24, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    What do the last 10 Champions have in common. They didn’t beat a Conference Champion from a BCS/Power 5 conference in their non-conf schedule.
    Who has done it?
    From 1998-present
    1998 Tennessee: Big East Champion Syracuse
    2002 Ohio St: PAC 10 Champion Washington St
    2004 Southern Cal: ACC Champions VT(Although Championship was vacated)

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