Strength of schedule has become more important than ever before in college football. With the College Football Playoff selection committee choosing four teams to compete for the national title every season, it's not just important to win as many games as possible, you want to beat the best teams to help boost your résumé.
This is why we've seen Power Five teams scheduling more Power Five opponents in nonconference play over recent seasons. Some conferences, like the Big Ten, have even adopted policies stating that they don't want their schools scheduling any more games against FCS schools. And then there are conferences like the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 that have moved to nine-game conference schedules rather than the traditional eight.
And they've done all of this in an effort to improve their strength of schedule in order to help ensure that their best teams have strong résumés worth CFP consideration at the end of the season.
It's with all of this in mind that I wanted to figure out which teams were playing the toughest schedules in 2017 before the season even started. I went through each Power Five team's 2017 schedule and rated teams based upon how they've performed in my own personal rankings -- the same mathematical formulas I use to compile the Fornelli 50 and Bottom 25 -- over the past three years. This gave me a baseline, which I then tinkered with a bit.
It's one thing to play Alabama, but are you playing them in Tuscaloosa? At a neutral site? Are you coming off a bye?
These are all variables I considered and weighted. Road games are always more difficult, and having to play a team without having a Saturday off for the last month can wear on your team as well.
As no formula is perfect -- teams always surprise you, whether it's by exceeding expectations or failing to meet them -- I averaged each teams' individual ranking based on the past three years rather than just last season. This should give us a good idea of what to expect each team will be facing in the 2017 season.
Here's how things break down for the Pac-12 in 2017, from most to least difficult.
|There just aren't many breathers in UCLA's schedule this season. It kicks off with Texas A&M and includes two more nonconference games against Hawaii and a trip to Memphis. Then Pac-12 play begins with Stanford on the road and defending South Division champion Colorado. And just in case playing Stanford wasn't enough, the Bruins also draw Washington and Oregon from the North this season, and only Oregon is coming south to Los Angeles. Throw in road games against Utah and USC and, well, it's pretty clear why this schedule is ranked No. 1 now, isn't it?|
|Arizona State's nonconference schedule isn't as difficult as that of UCLA as it consists of New Mexico State, San Diego State and Texas Tech. Given the way Arizona State has played the past couple years, those last two games will be difficult. What Arizona State does have in common with UCLA is that it also must play Stanford, Oregon and Washington from the north, and it plays all three of them in a four-week span. In fact, over an eight-week span, the Sun Devils play Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Utah, USC, Colorado and UCLA. The good news is five of those games are at home. Still, that's not going to be fun.|
|The nonconference schedule isn't a cakewalk, but it's not incredibly difficult either. Colorado State and Minnesota will provide good tests for the Beavers, while Portland State should be a win. In conference play, the Beavers get both Washington and Stanford in Corvallis, though the Civil War against Oregon will be fought in Eugene this year. As for the cross-divisional draw, the Beavers get USC and Arizona on the road and Colorado and Arizona State at home.|
|If Southern Cal manages to live up to the hype this year it will do so having played a schedule worthy of a playoff berth. The season opens against Western Michigan, though it remains to be seen how the Broncos will look post-P.J. Fleck. The rest of September is rough, too, as Stanford, Texas and road trips to Cal and Washington State await. The Trojans will also have road tests against Notre Dame and Colorado later in the season, while teams like Utah and UCLA will come to The Coliseum.|
|As far as nonconference schedules go, Washington State's isn't going to blow anybody away. Boise State is still Boise State, but Montana State and Nevada aren't head-turners, and all three games will be played in Pullman. The difficulty in this schedule resides in the road games the Cougars will play in conference. They'll hit the road for games against Oregon, Utah and Washington this season, while also having to deal with USC, Colorado and Stanford at home.|
|Stanford's schedule is pretty well-balanced. Its nonconference slate includes Notre Dame, San Diego State and Rice, with only San Diego State being a road game. In the conference, there's a tough road game against USC in early September, as well as one against Utah in October, but both of Stanford's biggest games (Oregon and Washington) will be played at home this season.|
|If not for its game against Weber State, Cal would be ranked ahead of Stanford in these rankings. While it's not an impossible schedule, it includes plenty of challenges. The nonconference includes both North Carolina and Ole Miss, and Pac-12 play opens with USC, Oregon and Washington in consecutive weeks. Those last two games are on the road. As if that wasn't enough, the Bears will also have to play Colorado, Stanford and UCLA on the road at the end of the season.|
|Utah is yet another team from the South with bad enough luck to draw Stanford, Washington and Oregon all from the North this season. Making matters worse, both Oregon and Washington are road games. The Utes will also hit the road to take on USC in mid-October, and while these are all difficult games, plenty of other Pac-12 teams have similar slates. What they don't have are nonconference schedules consisting of North Dakota, BYU and San Jose State.|
|The Wildcats caught a few breaks from the scheduling gods this season. Like every Pac-12 South team, they have to play four games against the Pac-12 North. It's just that none of those four games will be against Stanford or Washington. That doesn't mean it's all easy, though, as Arizona plays Houston early in the season and will have to go on the road to play Colorado, USC and Oregon.|
|Oregon caught the same kind of break that Arizona did in that it won't have to play either USC or Colorado from the South during the regular season. What's not so lucky is the fact that the Ducks will be going on the road to play both Stanford and Washington in the division this season -- and will also be on the road against UCLA. Nebraska and a road trip to Wyoming could prove challenging in nonconference games as well.|
|Colorado's schedule is affected by a few things. First, while it will host Washington in late September, it doesn't have to play either Stanford or Oregon. It also gets USC in Boulder. That all matters, but the biggest drain on its SOS is its nonconference schedule. The Buffs will play Colorado State, Texas State and Northern Colorado outside the Pac-12 this season.|
|Simply put, Washington has one of the easiest nonconference slates in the country. The Huskies will play Rutgers (2-10 last year), Fresno State (1-11) and Montana (eighth place in the Big Sky). The Pac-12 schedule will provide its challenges, as the Huskies get Colorado and Stanford on the road, but they also get UCLA, Oregon, Utah and Wazzu all at home. In other words, Washington won't be giving up its Pac-12 crown all that easily this season.|