Strength of schedule: Phil Steele’s 2017 rankings

By Kevin Kelley -

Phil Steele has published his 2017 college football strength of schedule rankings. The LSU Tigers have the toughest schedule in 2017, while the Appalachian State Mountaineers have the easiest, per Steele.

How does Steele arrive at his preseason toughest schedule ratings? Steele combines his “9 sets of Power Ratings” with the amount of home and away games. This differs from the NCAA method which is strictly based on the opponent winning percentage from the previous year.

The ACC and Pac-12 lead Phil Steele’s rankings with seven teams each in his Top 25 toughest schedules. They are followed by the SEC (5), Big 12 (3), Big Ten (2) and Notre Dame.

Phil Steele’s 10 toughest schedules for 2017

1. LSU (2016 rank: 3rd) – LSU opens the season vs. BYU (at New Orleans) and later hosts Syracuse and Troy. Due to moving the Florida game to Baton Rouge last season, LSU will play five SEC road games in 2017: Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Tennessee. The Tigers will host Auburn, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.

2. California (2016 rank: 9th) – The Golden Bears open the season at North Carolina and then host Ole Miss two weeks later. Pac-12 games for Cal include USC, Washington State, Arizona, and Oregon State at home and Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Stanford, and UCLA on the road.

3. UCLA (2016 rank: 15th) – The Bruins open the season with consecutive home games vs. Texas A&M and Hawaii and then travel to Memphis. UCLA hosts Pac-12 foes Colorado, Oregon, Arizona State, and California and travels to Stanford, Arizona, Washington, Utah, and USC.

4. Syracuse (2016 rank: 2nd) – The Orange open 2017 with four straight non-conference games: vs. CCSU, vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. CMU, and at LSU. ACC contests for Syracuse include Pitt, Clemson, Wake Forest, and Boston College at the Carrier Dome and NC State, Miami, FSU, and Louisville on the road.

5. Mississippi State (2016 rank: 31st) – MSU has two tough non-conference games, at Louisiana Tech and home vs. BYU. In SEC play, the Bulldogs host LSU, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss and play at Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

6. Oregon State (2016 rank: 16th) – The Beavers opened the 2017 season at Colorado State and fell 58-27. They also host a good FCS team, Portland State, and Minnesota. In Pac-12 action, Oregon State will host Washington, Colorado, Stanford, and Arizona State and travel to Washington State, USC, California, Arizona, and Oregon.

7. South Carolina (2016 rank: 63rd) – The Gamecocks start the season with a bang taking on NC State in Charlotte. Other tough non-conference games include Louisiana Tech and Clemson, both at home. SEC foes include Kentucky, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Florida at home and Missouri, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Georgia on the road.

8. Stanford (2016 rank: 28th) – The Cardinal opened the season in Week Zero and easily defeated Rice 62-7. Stanford later travels to San Diego State and hosts Notre Dame. Conference games include UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington, and Cal at home and USC, Utah, Oregon State, and Washington State on the road.

9. Georgia Tech (2016 rank: 47th) – The Yellow Jackets face two SEC teams in 2017 — vs. Tennessee on Labor Day and at home vs. Georgia to close out the regular-season. Tech also hosts Jacksonville State and travels to UCF. ACC opponents include Pitt, North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech at home and Miami, Clemson, Virginia, and Duke on the road.

10. Arizona State (2016 rank: 30th) – The Sun Devils kick off the season with New Mexico State and San Diego State at home before traveling to Texas Tech. ASU will host Pac-12 foes Oregon, Washington, USC, Colorado, and Arizona and will play at Stanford, Utah, UCLA, and Oregon State.

The rest of Phil Steele’s toughest schedule rankings for 2017 are listed below.

11-25

(11) USC, (12) Notre Dame, (13) Maryland, (14) Utah, (15) Vanderbilt, (16) Florida State, (17) Iowa State, (18) Georgia, (19) Texas Tech, (20) Michigan State, (21) Clemson, (22) Duke, (23) Wake Forest, (24) Texas, (25) Boston College

26-50

(26) Oklahoma State, (27) NC State, (28) Alabama, (29) Texas A&M, (30) Pittsburgh, (31) Kansas, (32) Auburn, (33) Illinois, (34) Tennessee, (35) Nebraska, (36) Michigan, (37) Washington State, (38) North Carolina, (39) Purdue, (40) Florida, (41) Ole Miss, (42) Oklahoma, (43) Iowa, (44) Oregon, (45) West Virginia, (46) Virginia, (47) Miami, FL, (48) Baylor, (49) Arizona, (50) Arkansas

51-75

(51) Kentucky, (52) Rutgers, (53) TCU, (54) Ohio State, (55) Penn State, (56) Indiana, (57) Colorado, (58) Virginia Tech, (59) Washington, (60) Kansas State, (61) Northwestern, (62) Louisville, (63) East Carolina, (64) Tulsa, (65) Missouri, (66) Tulane, (67) Minnesota, (68) Navy,
(69) Fresno State, (70) Wisconsin, (71) Boise State, (72) Houston, (73) San Jose State, (74) Temple, (75) Kent State

76-100

(76) UConn, (77) Air Force, (78) ULM, (79) SMU, (80) UMass, (81) Eastern Michigan, (82) Utah State, (83) Nevada, (84) BYU, (85) Colorado State, (86) UTEP, (87) New Mexico, (88) Rice, (89) Akron, (90) UCF, (91) Cincinnati, (92) Toledo, (93) UNLV, (94) Central Michigan, (95) Hawaii, (96) Northern Illinois, (97) Memphis, (98) Bowling Green, (99) New Mexico State, (100) San Diego State

101-130

(101) Florida Atlantic, (102) Marshall, (103) Western Michigan, (104) Georgia Southern, (105) Wyoming, (106) Army, (107) UL Lafayette, (108) Buffalo, (109) South Alabama, (110) USF, (111) FIU, (112) Ball State, (113) Charlotte, (114) Texas State, (115) Old Dominion, (116) Middle Tennessee, (117) North Texas, (118) Georgia State, (119) Idaho, (120) Miami, OH, (121) Arkansas State, (122) Southern Miss, (123) Troy, (124) Louisiana Tech, (125) Coastal Carolina, (126) WKU, (127) UTSA, (128) UAB, (129) Ohio, (130) Appalachian State

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Comments (10)

LSU’s SOS should NOT be that high. BYU and Syracuse as non-conference is a cupcake. Unless Troy is that much of a threat. Florida and Alabama, maybe Tennessee will be their only losses.

BYU & Cuse are not considered cupcakes, I don’t care how bad Cuse is. The Orange should play stronger this year & the Cougars always give it their all.

Amongst all this, once again the Pac 12 plays the hardest schedules. 6 of the top 11 hardest schedules come from the Pac 12.

No mention of the relative number of home and away games between some of these schools? LSU, for example, only plays four true road games (seven games at home plus BYU in Texas). Meanwhile, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Oregon, Maryland, Texas and a half dozen other schools have to go on the road SIX times. That’s a HUGE advantage. Yes, LSU has to play in the SEC west, but so does everyone else in the SEC West. What is the difference between Auburn and LSU’s schedule? I would argue that Auburn’s (at #32) is harder than LSU’s…