How Does Notre Dame’s 2016 Schedule Really Stack Up?

By Amy Daughters -

According to a June 14 article by ESPN’s Heather Dinich, Notre Dame’s status as an independent scheduler gives it a special pass with the CFB Playoff committee.

“Notre Dame continues to cling to its independence, and it should because of the freedom it has in creating schedules tailor-made to impress under the 13-member selection committee. Notre Dame isn’t stuck playing division cellar-dwellers every year. It’s not judged by how good any entire conference is from top to bottom. Notre Dame’s playoff worth is simply determined by who it schedules and who it beats. As long as Notre Dame continues to schedule aggressively, which it intends to, one loss likely won’t keep the Irish out of a semifinal unless there are several undefeated conference champs to consider.”

Though much of Dinich’s approach is logical, can the subjective term “aggressive scheduling” be quantified? In other words, how tough is Notre Dame’s schedule?

Take a look at Notre Dame’s 2016 slate vs. that of the top contenders from each of the Power Five conferences (according to ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25).

Notre Dame

2016 Schedule: at Texas, Nevada, Michigan State, Duke, at Syracuse, at N.C. State, Stanford, Miami (Fla.), Navy (at Jacksonville, Fla.), Army (at San Antonio, Texas), Virginia Tech, at USC

Power Five Opponents: 9

Non-Power FBS Opponents: 3

FCS Opponents: 0

Games vs. Teams with a Winning Record in 2015: 9

Games vs. Teams with Double-Digit Wins in 2015: 3

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25: 4

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 10: 1

Combined 2015 Winning Percentage of all FBS Opponents: 58.33%

Alabama

2016 Schedule:  USC (at Arlington, Texas), Western Kentucky, at Ole Miss, Kent State, Kentucky, at Arkansas, at Tennessee, Texas A&M, at LSU, Mississippi State, Chattanooga, Auburn

Power Five Opponents: 9

Non-Power FBS Opponents: 2

FCS Opponents: 1

Games vs. Teams with a Winning Record in 2015: 9

Games vs. Teams with Double-Digit Wins in 2015: 2

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25: 5

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 10: 2

Combined 2015 Winning Percentage of all FBS Opponents: 65.4%

Clemson

2016 Schedule:  at Auburn, Troy, South Carolina State, at Georgia Tech, Louisville, at Boston College, N.C. State, at Florida State, Syracuse, Pitt, at Wake Forest, South Carolina

Power Five Opponents: 10

Non-Power FBS Opponents: 1

FCS Opponents: 1

Games vs. Teams with a Winning Record in 2015: 5

Games vs. Teams with Double-Digit Wins in 2015: 1

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25: 2

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 10: 1

Combined 2015 Winning Percentage of all FBS Opponents: 43.8%

Michigan

2016 Schedule:  Hawaii, UCF, Colorado, Penn State, Wisconsin, at Rutgers, Illinois, at Michigan State, Maryland, at Iowa, Indiana, at Ohio State

Power Five Opponents: 10

Non-Power FBS Opponents: 2

FCS Opponents: 0

Games vs. Teams with a Winning Record in 2015: 5

Games vs. Teams with Double-Digit Wins in 2015: 4

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25: 3

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 10: 1

Combined 2015 Winning Percentage of all FBS Opponents: 50.65%

Oklahoma

2016 Schedule:  Houston (at NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas), Louisiana-Monroe, Ohio State, at TCU, Texas (at Dallas, Texas), Kansas State, at Texas Tech, Kansas, at Iowa State, Baylor, at West Virginia, Oklahoma State

Power Five Opponents: 10

Non-Power FBS Opponents: 2

FCS Opponents: 0

Games vs. Teams with a Winning Record in 2015: 7

Games vs. Teams with Double-Digit Wins in 2015: 5

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25: 4

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 10: 1

Combined 2015 Winning Percentage of all FBS Opponents: 56.50%

Stanford

2016 Schedule:  Kansas State, USC, at UCLA, at Washington, Washington State, at Notre Dame, Colorado, at Arizona, Oregon State, at Oregon, at Cal, Rice

Power Five Opponents: 11

Non-Power FBS Opponents: 1

FCS Opponents: 0

Games vs. Teams with a Winning Record in 2015: 8

Games vs. Teams with Double-Digit Wins in 2015: 1

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25: 5

Games vs. Teams Ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 10: 1

Combined 2015 Winning Percentage of all FBS Opponents: 53.54%

The Comparison

Notre Dame’s schedule is clearly more difficult in one key area—it is tied with Alabama for playing the most teams with a winning record in 2015 (9).

Though the Irish take pride in not scheduling FCS opponents, three of the five top teams compared here also don’t make dates with FCS schools. So, this isn’t as applause-worthy as advertised. Take a look at what Brian Kelly had to say in the Dinich article.

“I think my 12 stand up against another team’s 11 at any time, and I’m saying 11 because one of those games is really an effective bye week because it’s an [FCS] team…Then if they play a championship game, it’s my 12 against their 12, and then that’s where the committee will have to make a decision – my 12 against their 12.”

In our analysis, that’s simply not true. No matter what happens, Notre Dame will play nine Power opponents in 2016. Alabama and Clemson will also play nine, but add a tenth if they play in a conference title game. Oklahoma, the only team without a conference title opportunity, plays 10 Power teams regardless of what happens. That leaves Michigan and Stanford, both who (like the Sooners) won’t face an FCS opponent and play more Power opponents than the Irish. For the Wolverines, it’s 10 such games no matter what and 11 if they make the Big Ten title game. For the Cardinal, it’s a whopping 12 total if they ascend to the Pac-12 Championship.

So, FCS opponent or no FCS opponent, Kelly’s argument doesn’t hold much water. It’s more like his nine vs. the other guys nine, 10, 11 or even 12. Notre Dame represents the bare minimum.

The Irish finish in the middle of the pack in double-digit win opponents (3), topped by Michigan (4) and Oklahoma (5).

They can claim a tie for second place (with Oklahoma) in potential Top 25 opponents (4) and potential Top 10 foes (1). Keep in mind that every team compared has one Top 10 opponent except Alabama which has two.

The Irish also hold second place, again after the Crimson Tide, in combined 2015 winning percentage, edging Oklahoma by 1.83% and Stanford by 4.79%.

So, while Notre Dame’s schedule is difficult, it’s not significantly harder than what other top teams will face in 2016. In the case of programs who play in conferences that schedule nine league games and require a Power opponent in non-conference play (the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12), it’s one significant step easier.

Add in the Big Ten and Pac-12 championship games and it’s another step towards easier.

Even the SEC and ACC, with only eight league games plus a non-conference Power opponent, have an advantage over the Irish. This is true because any champion will have played 10 Power games vs. Notre Dame’s set nine.

And, at the end of the day, it’s the conference champions who will be compared with the Irish when the CFB committee meets to field its bracket.

If Notre Dame is in, two of the five title holders, who will have played more Power teams than the Irish, will be relegated to a meaningless bowl game.

  1. Sean
    July 6, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    “If Notre Dame is in, two of the five title holders, who will have played more Power teams than the Irish, will be relegated to a meaningless bowl game.”

    Are you really going to do a schedule analysis and end on that tired note? Is Houston not a Top 10 team because it plays in the AAC? Is Navy not better than half of Michigan’s or Clemson’s conference opponents? Would you rather play Navy or Indiana? Navy or Wake Forest?

    Your analysis should have been that Notre Dame ATTEMPTS to schedule aggressively, but they are far more dependent on its opponents being good than their conference counterparts. If Michigan State has a bad year, that doesn’t really impact Michigan’s view in the eyes of the committee, but would drastically impact the view of Notre Dame’s schedule since they don’t have the conference title to fall back on.

    • Joe
      July 7, 2016 at 10:41 am

      That is exactly the mentality. They tout Power 5 opponents without looking at the quality of those opponents. Houston is as good if not better than a lot of Power 5 teams. Now, I wouldn’t say they would do great playing an SEC or Pac 12 schedule al year long, but they can win their games and play with the big boys when they need to. But to some, playing a Power 5 team matters… it doesn’t matter that Kansas is horrible, they are a Power 5 team. So, Oklahoma will get credit for playing them for some reason while Alabama is slammed for playing non-Power 5 teams that would probably beat Kansas simply because they aren’t in the Big 12.

      It makes no sense.

    • Maverick
      August 11, 2016 at 11:50 pm

      Joe,
      You’re a big SEC guy. We all know it. What you and the rest of the Committee need to do is subtract the FCS win from each of your opponents’ record as well as your own. Only then will we get a true opponents win percentage rather than the bloated 65.4%. Then you should add another conference game like the other conferences, which will again drop your opponents’ win percentage.

  2. Blake
    July 6, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    Would have loved for you to also compare the Non-power conference opponents instead of simply discounting them. I wouldn’t equate Army, Nevada, and definitely not Navy – to an FCS team, but that would have ruined the pre-determined narrative you had established.

  3. Travis B
    July 6, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    “In our analysis, that’s simply not true. No matter what happens, Notre Dame will play nine Power opponents in 2016. Alabama and Clemson will also play nine,”

    Clemson plays 10 before a championship game Amy, FYI…

  4. Eric Wm Olsen
    July 6, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    “If Notre Dame is in, two of the five title holders, who will have played more Power teams than the Irish, will be relegated to a meaningless bowl game.”……

    Are you saying the Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar Bowls are “meaningless” this year?

  5. Jim Reagan
    July 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    This ESPN commentary is very lame for the many reasons already stated. The failure to qualitatively differentiate Power 5 Conference teams particularly jumps out. Also, it is reasonable to interpret conference championship games as opportunities Notre Dame foregoes instead of challenges the Irish avoid. Then there the eye test. This year Alabama plays Kent State and FCS teams Western Kentucky and Chatanooga. LSU plays FCS team Jacksonville State and Southern Miss, and South Alabama.

    • Day
      July 7, 2016 at 5:00 pm

      Western Kentucky is not an FCS team, they won the Con USA last year & went 12-2

    • crimson tsunami
      July 12, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      Day-
      And the Miami Beach Bowl against S. Fla. which was essentially a home game for them. But then again, our second string plays, so…. Lmao

  6. crimson tsunami
    July 11, 2016 at 10:17 pm

    Bottom line…. There are advantages to being in a P5 CG. The selection committee will always get the best team in the top 4. I will always be an advocate of an 8 team play-off, with 5 power conf. champs and 3 at-large bids. Get in or get over it. Roll Tide!!

  7. LouisD.
    July 12, 2016 at 12:32 am

    So just to be clear…Notre Fame should be punished for scheduling two games against the United States Government. Kidding a little, but the fact remains, Notre Dame respects the U.S. Military (Army and Nave, often Air Force) and frankly in my book. That counts far more than Alabama actually nearly leaving the South to play USC in Dallas, or facing ULM, Furman or My Mother the Car in Tuscaloosa yet again. I grew up hating the Golden Domers and my GaTech grad Father grew up a Tide lov’n Bear man in Summerdale east of Fairhope. I have no prejudices here. My vote for Alabama might happen if they ever leave their time zone, even once a decade. ND croses more Time Zones in a Month than Alabama does in a decade of regular seasons. Let me know when tough is based on reality, not if the breakfast grits are just a little different than in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa.

  8. LouisD.
    July 12, 2016 at 12:33 am

    Again, sorry about the typos. I hate these mobile touch screen keyboards.

    • Day
      July 12, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Sure, blame the mobile touch screen keyboard. ND is independent & travels because they have too, Alabama being in the SEC (the south) does not have to travel so much. You being a writer/analyst should know that & yes you are playing prejudices here. Your funny little jokes like ” or facing ULM, Furman or My Mother the Car in Tuscaloosa yet again” sound stupid. Bama does not even play ULM or Furman, you don’t know what you are talking about & I don’t buy at all you are who you say you are.

  9. Bill
    July 14, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    calling a team a ‘power 5’ team is THE most meaningless term possible…Wake Forest, Purdue, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Syracuse and Boston College are all ‘power 5’ teams and according to this author those qualify as quality wins while Houston, Boise State, East Carolina etc. are not. Truly pathetic analysis.

  10. Joe
    August 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Oh look another person in the media bashing ND based on silly pre-season predictions and bad self serving analysis.

    Why don’t you look at NDs schedule in the past years and see how the teams ended up being ranked at the end of the year after the bowl games? I prefer the rankings after the teams, you know, actually play football. Average the end of the year rankings out and be sure to include the rankings of those FCS teams (are they even included?) Then make your claims. At least then we have something sensible to talk about.

  11. Don
    August 21, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    One day ND will take off their skirts and join the Big 10 and end irish fans ridiculous argument of strength of schedule. In the last 25 years playing Indiana or Wisconsin or Northwestern is helluva lot tougher opponent than Army Navy & Air Force. Go Blue

  12. Dan F
    August 29, 2016 at 12:23 am

    What a great time of year! How much better would it be without all the preseason hype and rhetoric? The self admitted “way too early predictions”. Interesting to see the head to head comparisons of ND’s schedule to the others. Is there enough of a difference to warrant this article or does it show that the ND schedule is just as good as the others? Like Joe, I believe the results of the games and final rankings matter most.
    Don,
    We will see in 2018 on opening day if they are skirts or kilts?
    Looking to the future, ND’s opening games starting in 2018: Mich., Louisville, Purdue, Fla St, Ohio St, Ohio St, Tx A&M, Purdue then Mich St.
    That is not passive scheduling on opening day!

  13. Joe
    August 31, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    This year the Irish will play 2 conference champions. Does any other team do that?

    • crimson tsunami
      August 31, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      How about Auburn and Ohio St. ND will need extenuating circumstances to get in the playoff over a P5 champ unless we grow the playoff to 8 teams.

  14. John Doe
    September 10, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Notre Dame now plays two military teams that do not contain blue chip players while touring it as some kind of respect. That is such a farce. In fact, beating up on a military team (a team with players that are going to serve the country and likely will never be considered for the NFL) with a team of all-stars is simply unfair and strikesif a bully nature. One thing that Notre Dame definitely has is a financial backing in the form of a network in NBC. Now how many college football teams can claim that? If ND were to join the conference, that financial backing would definitely be an issue as far as fairness. The article writer does have a good point that conference champions had to risk it all in order to have a chance at the playoffs. ND gets to have in essence an extra bye week while an undefeated team has to prove itself in one more game against another winning team. How is that fair?

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