Phil Steele’s 2011 College Football Strength of Schedule Rankings

By Kevin Kelley -

Phil Steele 2011Phil Steele has published his 2011 college football strength of schedule rankings. Colorado has the toughest schedule in 2011, while Ohio has the easiest.

In 2010, the Iowa State Cyclones had the toughest schedule. They finished the season 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big 12. The easiest schedule in 2010? The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, and they finished 6-7 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt.

Listed below are Phil Steele’s 10 toughest schedules for 2011:

  1. Colorado (2010 ranking: 20) – The Colorado Buffaloes have the toughest schedule in 2011 according to Steele. The Buffaloes open the season at Hawaii followed by a “non-conference game” at home against California. Next is a matchup in Denver against in-state rival Colorado State, followed by a trip to Ohio State. Nine straight Pac-12 games follow: Washington State, at Stanford, at Washington, Oregon, at Arizona State, USC, Arizona, at UCLA and at Utah.
  2. Iowa State (2010 ranking: 1) – The Iowa State Cyclones had the toughest ranked schedule in 2010. This year they come in second. They open the season with Northern Iowa and Iowa at home followed by a trip to face Connecticut. Nine Big 12 games are next: Texas, at Baylor, at Missouri, Texas A&M, at Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma State, at Oklahoma and at Kansas State.
  3. Baylor (2010 ranking: 41) – The Bears open the season at home against TCU. They also have a non-conference game at home against Rice before nine straight Big 12 games: at Kansas State, Iowa State, at Texas A&M, at Oklahoma State, Missouri, at Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech (at Arlington, TX) and Texas.
  4. Oregon State (2010 ranking: 6) – The Beavers open the season at home against Sacramento State, but then travel to face Wisconsin and later host BYU. Pac-12 games include UCLA, at Arizona State, Arizona, at Utah, Stanford, at California and at Oregon.
  5. LSU (2010 ranking: 10) – The Tigers open the 2011 season with a huge non-conference game in Arlington, Texas against the Oregon Ducks. The Tigers also travel to face West Virginia the fourth week of the season. SEC games include at Mississippi State, Florida, at Tennessee, Auburn, at Alabama, at Ole Miss and home vs. Arkansas.
  6. Boston College (2010 ranking: 64) – The Eagles open 2010 with a non-conference game at home against Northwestern before traveling to face UCF. Late in the season, BC travels to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. ACC contests include at Clemson, at Virginia Tech, at Maryland, Florida State, NC State and at Miami (FL).
  7. USC (2010 ranking: 45) – The Trojans open the 2011 season with a non-conference game at home against Minnesota. USC also hosts Syracuse and later plays at Notre Dame. Pac-12 games include Utah, at Arizona State, Arizona, at California, Stanford, at Colorado, at Oregon and home vs. UCLA.
  8. Washington (2010 ranking: 7) – After opening against FCS team Eastern Washington, the Huskies host Hawaii and then travel to Nebraska. Their Pac-12 slate includes California, at Utah, Colorado, at Stanford, Arizona, Oregon, at USC, at Oregon State and vs. Washington State.
  9. Auburn (2010 ranking: 19) – The 2010 National Champions open the 2011 season at home against Utah State. Auburn travels to face Clemson and hosts Florida Atlantic and Samford. SEC games include Mississippi State, at South Carolina, at Arkansas, Florida, at LSU, Ole Miss, at Georgia and home against Alabama.
  10. Miami (FL) (2010 ranking: 8) – The Hurricanes open the 2011 season with an ACC game at Maryland on Labor Day. Non-conference games for Miami include Ohio State, Kansas State and at USF. Other ACC games include at Virginia Tech, at North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia, at Florida State and home vs. Boston College.

A Pac-12 school owns the toughest schedule, and the recently expanded conference also has the most teams in the Top Ten with four. The ACC, Big 12 and SEC each have two schools.

The rest of the Top 25 in Phil Steele’s toughest schedule rankings are:

(11) Vanderbilt, (12) Clemson, (13) Mississippi, (14) Notre Dame, (15) Mississippi State, (16) Arizona, (17) Michigan, (18) Oklahoma State, (19) Missouri, (20) Arkansas, (21) Minnesota, (22) Texas A&M, (23) Florida, (24) Alabama, (25) Oklahoma

What do you think of Phil Steele’s rankings? Discuss them in the comments below.

Comments (93)

And where is San Jose State on that list?

at Stanford
at BYU

plus Fresno State….I think SJS has a mucher more non-conference slate then just about any Schedule Easy Cupcake team….

The Spartans are 67th.

They have some tough games, but their strength is probably held down by Colorado State, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and Utah State.

Jinzo…Your football iq is less than that of an infant child if you actually think they should be on the list…

No one gives a crap about San Jose. Their strength of schedule doesn’t matter because there is no way in hell they will ever win a BCS game. They should be division 2

You can tell this guy is Big-12 biased no Big Ten representation at all, adding Nebraska to the confrence…….. have you seen who Michigan State plays on the road……@Norte Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern. The Big-12 isn’t what it use to be.

There are only 2 big 12 teams on the list. I don’t see how this is too biased…

I have to say I’m a little surprised that South Carolina isn’t in the top 25, nonetheless the top 10.

The Gamecocks’ schedule this year includes 10 opponents who went bowling last year, including 7 SEC opponents who did so. Plus, one of their so-called ‘gimme’ games (East Carolina) is a neutral-site game in Charlotte.

Again, very, very surprised by such an omission.

I’m not surprised that my Dawgs aren’t up there, because they’ve got the easiest schedule in the SEC. ;)

I don’t get how this guy ranks all these big 12 teams up there. I guess Baylor does have a pretty tough schedule, but Iowa State? Come on! The only reason they’re always ranked clear up there is because they are in the big 12 north and they are terrible. You took Nebraska out of their conference games, so I don’t get how Iowa State has that tough of schedule.

I’m with you, FAU prolly has a better schedule than Iowa State. @ Florid, Michigan State, and Auburn.

Well, you have to take into consideration ALL of the games. FAU plays in the Sun Belt, so every conference opponent drags their SOS down.

Yea I know that I am just saying that FAU plays a tougher no-confrence than Iowa State.

It ranked overall schedule. Not just non-conference, which ISU has a very tough non-conference for a BCS team. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M are preseason top 10 type opponents. Plus a top 25 Mizzou team that will be pretty stout. The only teams I would consider below average on ISU’s schedule are Northern Iowa and Kansas. Not too many teams in the nation can say that.

The thing is, taking Nebraska and Colorado out of the Big 12 North is what MAKES their schedule so hard. Now they actually have to play all the South teams in one season. EVERY South team is at least decent. Only 1 of them didn’t go to a bowl last season and one of those was Texas. You know, the team that lost the National Championship the year before. The Big 12 doesn’t have push-over schools in the South, and now the North gets a wake-up call. Look for Missouri to lose 3-5 conference games after all their hype this year. They look great against the North but last time they played the worst South school (4-8 Baylor 3 years ago) Mizzou won by 3…while Mizzou was ranked in the top 5.

Iowa State plays Texas (who is now in the top 25), Baylor, Missouri (who started in the top 25), Texas A&M #9, Oklahoma St. #8 and Oklahoma #1. Plus an always tough non conference game against Iowa and this year UConn. How is that not worthy of being number 2 in SOS?

I’ve yet to read a schedule that’s a difficult as Arkansas’. Though the schedule starts soft, as of 9/12, they play 4 top 10 teams and 6 top 25. Is there another team that plays 4 top 10 teams? Starting week 4, 6 of our last 9 games are against top 25 teams and 4 top 10’s.

#2 Alabama
#3 LSU
#9 Texas A&M
#10 South Carolina
#21 Auburn
#25 Mississippi State

The ranking is whole strength of schedule buddy not out of conference. Get a grip

Funny how you mention that Spartans play teams like Utah State and Idaho when Auburn and LSU also play them yet are considered to be playing a tough schedule. Not every Big 6 team is a beast…plenty of cupcakes in the ACC,SEC and Big 10….how did Middle Tennessee State get the softest schedule? I thought that was always reserved for the Florida Gators….or maybe Michigan.

i am hard pressed to believe that you think florida has anywhere near an easy schedule this year. with a stretch facing alabama, lsu, auburn, georgia, sc, and fsu in 8 weeks sounds like a cake walk to me

I believe your top 10 is pretty good. I might put in Utah after their move to the Pac-12

Well,all I can say is it is easy with the Sec. Because …well It’s the Sec. All you have to do really is look at the non conf. games and whomever has the hardest non conf. pretty much has the toughest schedule.

How does LSU have the hardest schedule hands down? While they play 7 top 25 teams compared to Arkansas’ 6, they only play 2 top 10 teams while Arkansas has 4 top 10 teams on their schedule…

Even though I am a Razorback I agree with you Mark on LSU’s schedule.
Most of the SEC is comparable simply because they have to play each other andmost toss another Top 25 game or 2.

Homer, don’t discount our strength of schedule. I seriously contend that ours is tougher than LSU’s and quite frankly any team’s schedule. At least as of 9/12 as the rankings constantly change…

I am just saying that as a fan I would prefer my team to schedule tough. First who wants to pay for season tickets to go see a 50 point blowout versus some team that I don’t even know what state they came from. Second though my team is not good enough to win a title if they are I want to know we are the best and not that we played the system to get there. Just an opinion but that is how I feel

I’d say Nebraska has the toughest schedule. They are not used to playing tough games week after week. Remember when Penn State was going to roll over the Big 10? After 20 years they have two conference titles. Nebraska is used to playing a bunch of easy games and then when they play a ranked team (usually only 3 per season), they end up 9-3 and everyone thinks they are good. They will go 4-4 in Big 10 play this coming year. If bowl games were played in the North, the Big 10 would easily dominate the country with only the SEC and PAC12 competing. The rest of the conferences are there for local entertainment.

Im a UT fan, just saying OU will be tough as always for years to come, especially next year, watch out

Iowa State has a terrific schedule even though it is tough. Don’t be surprised if they gather some momentum and surprise some people because they must be at 100 % every week just to keep from being obliterated from a raw talent standpoint. Coach Rhoads is the supreme motivator in the nation and I hope he sees this post because I know he is up for the challenge as well as his staff and his team. Together Everyone Achieves More. A better than 500 record assures them of a great bowl opportunity. Also, any recruits that want to play real schedules with real men should consider Iowa State. Go Cyclones!

LOL…..well…..what’s your thoughts on that now? Smack down after smack down….he’s still motivating them. Why can’t Iowa State fans get a clue and realize they get 1 good win a year and then the season is OVER!

If REAL MEN want to win, they know enough NOT to go to Iowa State. Cause quite simply…..Iowa State and .500 don’t go in the same sentence.

Tulsa? 3 of their first 4 games are against teams ranked in the preseason top 10, Oklahoma (road game), Oklahoma State (home game) and Boise State (road game). And C-USA is not an easy conference, SMU is on the rise, Houston has game and so does UCF.

You have to be kidding, right? They play 3 hard games. THREE. Other than those, they host 2 of the 3 non-horrendous C-USA teams that they play (SMU and Houston). For a non-AQ conference they may have a tough schedule, but keep in mind that 2 of the 3 games you talk about are in the same conference. A conference with another top 10 team as well as 2 others that are ranked. Not to mention 2 other teams that went to bowls last year.

I like Tulsa, but after their non-conference schedule they play the Sisters of the Poor nearly every game. I hope they do well this year too! (I used to live there)

I have to second Frank’s vote. I don’t care one way or another for Tulsa (lets be honest, they’ll also LOSE all their games against top 10’s), but 3 games against top 10 teams, two of which are on the road. I am not saying that earns you the top spot (especially with their conference schedule), but I would certainly expect top25 if not top 15.

how can you say the GATORS EVER PLAY a hard schedule. whens the last time they played a non conference road game out of STATE! thats obsurd and they never truly prove they can win outside the south. go play in the big house or the horseshoe…then ill give you an upgrade. they have south carolina and alot of down teams in the SEC east. not tough. at all

Really!!! Rating Mich above MSU in strength of schedule. MSU plays Ohio State, Nebraska (away) and Wisconsin, Iowa and even ND (ranked 16). Michigan plays Iowa, MSU and ND everything else is easy!!!! They don’t play Ohio, Nebraska, Wisc …….

ARKANSAS’ schedule is a beast. I’m being redundant but we play 4 TOP 10 TEAMS and 6 top 25’s. Obviously the rankings change as the season progresses, but please show me another team that plays 4 top 10’s and at least 6 top 25’s…

#2 Alabama
#3 LSU
#9 Texas A&M
#10 South Carolina
#21 Auburn
#25 Mississippi State

bama, lsu top 5-10 teams, A & m lost will be out of top 10 and its not a TRUE ROAD GAME (typical SEC bs scheduling) auburn shouldnt be in top 25 by years end and isnt now. and Miss State will creep back near it because of their defense but when you are 4-5 th best in your own HALF of the conference..hard for me to say top 25 calibre. arkansas has a tough schedule but when you consider auburn was preseason top 25 and had 6 teams they play ranked above it…how can you RANK a team that will LOSE 6 games! only in the SEC — they might not even make a bowl game this year

Is this some kind of joke? How in the hell does a pac 10 school have the toughest schedule acording to this guy? Must be a pac 10 fan. The SEC should have the top 3 or 4 toughest schedules. LSU and Alabama are without a doubt 1 and 2. LSU already beat 3rd ranked Oregon and still have to play Mississippi St., West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, and Florida. Need i say more?

Yeah…..I’d hate to have the schedule some Pac 12 teams have. It must be tough knowing that Washington State, Arizona, and Washingon loom down the road. If LSU had that kind of schedule we’d go undefeated every year. And don’t say no because LSU opened the year with the best the PAC 12 has to offer (Oregon) and destroyed them!

The Big 12 is the toughest, look at their record after three weeks, 23-2, the Huskers are going to crush teams in the Big 10, they are used to playing very tough teams, and the Big 10 doesn’t look that tough this year, GO CYCLONES, only picked to win 2 games all year. Haven’t lost one yet, Paul Rhoads is the man, and Steele Jantz isn’t too bad either.

Clemson? Really? They have 4 games tough games. VA Tech, GA Tech, FSU, & South Carolina. Auburn is way down, the ACC is soft, and their other games are Troy & Wofford. I realize it’s not exciting to just list SEC teams but Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, & TN all play more ranked opponents and it’s much tougher to go in to any SEC stadium which avg over 80,000 compared to the ACC and their 50,000 seat mini stadiums. Clemson has got by far the toughest one in the entire conference

clemson does have a pretty tough schedule. I usually wouldn’t include Auburn bc the only reason they were ranked was bc they were national champs last year, but I guess they were USC first challenge What type of schedule does USC have this year? ECU-UGA_NAVY-Vandy-Auburn-Kentucky-Mississippi State-UT-The Citadel… Florida may be a test and maybe Arkansas this a weak schedule. Not to mention 5 straight home games

Every SEC team plays at least one team from the NCAA Champion Subdivision. This brings down the strength of all their schedules. If you look at “quality” teams that the SEC plays: Penn State, TX A&M, Clemson, Florida St., Boise St., GA Tech, Louisville, Oregon, WVU, BYU, Navy, the SEC doesn’t have a good winning percentage. This strength of schedule doesn’t mean anything. Alabama destoyed Arkansas this weekend. Arkansas has no business being ranked. This is the problem with the rankings. Everyone who is an SEC fan thinks every SEC game is tough, and so do the sportscasters and writers, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Miss. St., Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Vandy are not tough this year. Though they have had decent seasons in years past, EVERY year is not the case.

I COULD NOT AGREE MORE E GRIDER!! Uga – lost what essentially was a home game vs boise, lsu a driveable distance neutral site game in texas. still impressive that they handled oregon but go play a TRUE ROAD GAME if you want a strength of schedule debate. i give props for playing WVA…and bama playing in happy lets see… auburn…oops lost at clemson (should have lost at home last year too) miss state? who did they one. arkansas? no one yet. s. carolina… uga? auburn should lose 6 games this year. georgia 4 or 5. what SEC fans fail to realize is the drop off factor. once FSU lost to oklahoma it had no shot at a national title. then lost at clemson. now auburn which argueably is the 6th or 7th SEC team. lost at clemson…yet because they play in SEC had a BETTER SHOT at national title despite the lousy effort at clemson. so tell me who has a harder road? when one loss eliminates you.

wow home game to the number 2 team. there isn’t a team that wants to go to alabama or LSU and play.

Gators play 2 top 5 team back to back, BACK TO BACK!!! Who else has that type matchup?!!?!?!! Oregon? Colorado? Please, jeez. This guy needs to lay off the carck pipe and get a real job.

Probably picked his team from the newspaper he was using to snort his lines.

E Gride ,you are an idiot. Why has the SEC dominated the championship??? Look at the winning percentages of ALL the teams that play against the SEC. The SEC wins 82.3% of ALL its non conference games. Look at the list of coaches who have a losing record to SEC opponents. The great Jim Tressel only beat them ONCE out of nine tries. ONCE. ONCE. You get that, ONCE.

You are another non SEC cry baby because the SEC RULES college football and your team is in a different conference. Wah wah wah!!!

If you want to talk strength of schedule, this is LSU’s! 7 ranked teams,incl. nos. 2, 3 and 10) Please note that LSU has played 2 ranked teams out of the SEC.

#3 Oregon* (currently 1st in the PAC-12)
#25 Mississippi State
#16 West Virginia (currently 1st in the Big East)
#17 Florida
#24 Auburn
#2 Alabama
#10 Arkansas

My biggest beef: Boise State – 1 ranked team all year, none left. With that schedule, ranking them so high will only encourage that school to continue to play its weak schedule.


Just checked Phil Steele’s website. No. 5 Boise State has the 41st ranking for strength of schedule. Ridiculous.

this guy must be one of the people that respect teames that play small schools go undefeted and think they should play for the BCS title game. LSU Alabama OKlahoma Arkansas OSU the hardest by far. this guy just put up names and numbers.

What about Nebraska, they have the strongest schedule in the BIG 10. Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan St., Ohio St., Illinois, Iowa. This web site is wack, they don.=,t even rank in the top 20?

I think its funny listening to everyone argue about these schedules. Everyone the proof has been laid out about the SEC LSU destroyed Oregon and plucked their feathers. LaMichael James Doesn’t belong in the running for the Heisman. He was put out the game 4 times by LSU cause he couldnt handle getting hit by a real Defense. Go ahead and keep beleiving the SEC doesnt rule. Alabama and LSU will destroy any team not in the SEC simple fact. Any team coming from another conferance will be at the bottom of the list if they had to play in the SEC. Simple Facts.

How in the world do you figure clemson is 12th in strength of schedule? They haven;t played anyone.

Clemson will play for the national championship game providing they get by Ga. Tech. Beating Auburn, Fla St, Va Tech, NC, and Maryland should say something. Still have to win at Ga. Tech and also win against a good Wake Forest team and at South Carolina. This is the reason they have the 12th toughest schedule in the nation.

This guys an idiot wheres nebraska look at who they play. Ohio State, at Wisconsin, Iowa,at Michigan, Michigan ST.,at Penn St. Iowa state hardly plays anybody compared to this schedule

There is absolutely no conference to compare with the SEC. You guys fluffing the Big 12 and Pac 10 have no clue. The simple fact is that any given SEC team might lose to another conference team only because they have to play 8 SEC opponents. I guarantee that no other conference can produce a team that can take the week-in/week-out beating of an SEC schedule and do any better than .500. Defense is where it’s at and that lives in the SEC.

One more thing…5 national camps in a row and this year will make 6. That should tell y’all something.

looks like you are a fan of the pac 12, even though the sec has more in the top ten than the 12 have in the rankings

Let’s face it, at the end of the year, look at these teams against the resulting Top 25 standings, and you will see Phil is not very good at this. Just one example Alabama faces at least 5 Top 20 teams this year, Colorado (his #1), faces 2.

This beginning of the year schedule looks like a joke now. Would liek to see the ratings now. Vols have not done well this year, due to youth, injuries and one of the toughest schedules in the country, much tougher than the first 4 in the above list (and some others). They have not won a SEC game yet, but still beat the best Big East team.