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 resume.
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 school. 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 resumes worth considering for the CFP at the end of the season.
With all of this in mind, 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 rankings I use to compile the Fornelli 50 and Bottom 25 -- over the last 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 last 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 ACC in 2017, from most to least difficult.
|Vandy may have the toughest schedule in the SEC, but overall, it's only the 12th toughest in all the Power Five conferences. A big reason for this is that the SEC is the only Power Five conference in which every team has an FCS opponent. The Commodores play Middle Tennessee, Alabama A&M, Kansas State and Western Kentucky outside the SEC. What really ramps up their difficulty, however, is that the two teams they draw from the West are two of that division's toughest programs the last few seasons: Alabama and Ole Miss. Throw in road games against both Florida and Tennessee, and the Commodores have their work cut out for them.|
|Compared to recent years, LSU's nonconference schedule is rather comfy. It includes BYU, Chattanooga, Syracuse and Troy, and all four of those games will be in Baton Rouge. Where things get crazy is in conference play. Not only do the Tigers have to play both Florida and Tennessee from the East, but thanks to last year's hurricane troubles, both of those games will be on the road. Life isn't any easier within the division as the Tigers will also hit the road to take on Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.|
|The Gamecocks have one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the conference simply because they play Clemson every season. Though that doesn't mean the rest of it is awful, because aside from Wofford, neither NC State or Louisiana Tech will be pushovers. In conference play, the Gamecocks draw Texas A&M and Arkansas from the West, playing them in consecutive weeks. Within the division, they get Florida at home but have to hit the road to take on both Georgia and Tennessee.|
|Mississippi State's nonconference schedule never competes in any beauty contests, and this year isn't much different. A road trip to Louisiana Tech could be scary, and BYU isn't a pushover, but Charleston Southern and UMass are speed bumps. The Bulldogs are lucky enough to get Alabama and LSU at home -- lucky being a relative term, of course -- but will have to hit the road for games against Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas.|
|The Aggies schedule starts out nicely enough with a road trip to UCLA, but the rest of the nonconference consists of Nicholls State, UL-Lafayette and New Mexico. The Aggies also get somewhat of a break in that while they have to go on the road to face Florida, their other East opponent is South Carolina. The Aggies will also get to play host to both Alabama and Auburn this season, but having to finish the year with consecutive road trips to Ole Miss and LSU won't be a lot of fun.|
|Georgia actually has one of the more respectable nonconference schedules in the SEC. It includes a road trip to Notre Dame, as well as games against an Appalachian State team that's been very strong in the Sun Belt and a Georgia Tech team that's never easy. And there's also Samford, but again, everyone in the SEC plays an FCS team. The Bulldogs do catch a small break in that they avoid both Alabama and LSU from the West, but they'll still have to go on the road for Auburn. As for inside the division, Tennessee is on the road, and as always, they'll be playing Florida in Jacksonville.|
|The Gators' nonconference schedule has a pair of mighty impressive bookends. Florida opens the year against Michigan in Dallas and finishes against Florida State in Gainesville. It's just that its other two nonconference games are against Northern Colorado and a UAB team that is just getting its football program up and running again. Also, while the Gators have to play both LSU and Texas A&M from the West, both games are in Gainesville this year. As is the annual rivalry game against Tennessee, and Georgia will be played within the state of Florida as well. So there are tough opponents for sure, but Florida isn't traveling to any of their home stadiums to play.|
|If the Rebels are looking to rebound, they certainly have a nonconference schedule that should help. South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin, Cal and UL-Lafayette all await Hugh Freeze and Co. this year. Things do get a lot more difficult in the SEC, unfortunately, as the Rebels will play both Alabama and Auburn on the road in consecutive weeks. The season will also end with The Egg Bowl being played in Starkville. The biggest break the Rebels receive is that the two teams they drew from the East are Vanderbilt and Kentucky.|
|Unlike it's SEC West brethren, Alabama doesn't get the schedule boost of playing Alabama. It does open the season against Florida State in Atlanta, though, but the rest of its nonconference schedule is sub-par with games against Mercer, Fresno State, and Colorado State. The Tide will also get to play Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU all in Tuscaloosa this season. The toughest road game the Tide will play is also the biggest as this year's Iron Bowl will be played at Auburn.|
|Mark Stoops and Kentucky are looking to go bowling again and their nonconference schedule should get them halfway to eligibility. Sure, Louisville to finish the season is tough, but Southern Miss, Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan should all be wins. The Wildcats draw both Mississippi schools from the West, which won't be easy, but is likely preferred to most of the alternative options. They also get both Florida and Tennessee at home this season, though they will head to Athens to take on the Bulldogs.|
|The road game against Clemson outside the SEC is a monster, but the rest of the nonconference is the kid hiding from that monster in its closet. Georgia Southern, Mercer and UL-Monroe don't really move the needle. Within the SEC, the Tigers draw Missouri and Georgia from the East, while they'll get to play Alabama at home this season. The toughest road game in the SEC should be LSU.|
|Playing an option team is never easy, but Tennessee has all offseason to prepare for Georgia Tech in the opener. After that, the rest of the nonconference slate is Indiana State, UMass and Southern Miss. The Vols do get a bit unlucky in conference play, however, as they have to play both Alabama and LSU from the West. That's not going to be fun, nor will hitting the road to take on Florida. Still, the rest of the home schedule should be very manageable.|
|Missouri is ranked this low based on both design and a little bit of luck. Outside the SEC, the Tigers will play Missouri State, Purdue, Idaho and UConn. That's the design. The luck is that while they get Auburn and Arkansas out of the West, at least they get Auburn at home. They'll also get both Florida and Tennessee in Columbia this season, too, though that's offset a bit by the fact those games will be in consecutive weekends.|
|Every team in the SEC plays an FCS opponent. Only Arkansas will play two, at least when it comes to how my rankings judges Coastal Carolina. Without an FBS history, my formula treats the Chanticleers as another FCS opponent. The rest of Arkansas' nonconference includes TCU and New Mexico State. Even playing in the SEC West isn't enough to overcome that nonconference slate and keep the Razorbacks out of the cellar here. Though, to be clear, it's not all peaches and cream. No schedule that includes road games against both Alabama and LSU could be.|