Phil Steele’s 2012 College Football Strength of Schedule Rankings

By Kevin Kelley -

Phil Steele 2012Phil Steele has published his 2012 college football strength of schedule rankings. Notre Dame has the toughest schedule in 2012, while UTSA has the easiest.

How does Steele arrive at his preseason 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.

In 2011, the Colorado Buffaloes had the toughest schedule according to Steele’s rankings. They finished the season 3-10 overall and 2-7 in the Pac-12. The easiest preseason schedule in 2011? The Ohio Bobcats, who finished 10-4 overall and 6-2 in the MAC.

Phil Steele’s 10 toughest schedules for 2012

  1. Notre Dame (2011 ranking: 14) – Notre Dame tops Phil Steele’s list and it’s hard to argue with him. The Irish open the 2012 season against Navy in Dublin, Ireland and also face another independent in BYU. The rest of the schedule is all BCS conference teams: Purdue, Michigan, Miami-FL (at Chicago), Stanford, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, at Michigan State, at Oklahoma, at Boston College, at USC.
  2. Ole Miss (2011 ranking: 13) – Ole Miss has an easy first two weeks (vs. Central Arkansas and UTEP), but then the Rebels host Texas and travel to Tulane. Eight straight SEC games follow: at Alabama, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Auburn, at Arkansas, at Georgia, vs. Vanderbilt, at LSU, and vs. Mississippi State.
  3. Iowa State (2011 ranking: 2) – The Cyclones had the 2nd toughest schedule in 2011 and face a tough slate again in 2012. A big road game at in-state rival Iowa looms on the non-conference slate. Their Big 12 slate includes home games against Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and West Virginia and road games at TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma.
  4. Michigan (2011 ranking: 17) – The Wolverines open the 2012 season with a huge game against defending national champion Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Michigan then hosts Air Force and UMass before traveling to Notre Dame. B1G home games include Iowa, Michigan State, Illinois, and Northwestern. Conference road game include Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue, and Minnesota.
  5. Florida (2011 ranking: 23) – After warming up with a home game against Bowling Green, the Gators hit the road to face SEC newcomer Texas A&M followed by Tennessee in Knoxville. Florida also hosts LSU, Missouri, South Carolina, and Kentucky, travels to Vanderbilt, and faces Georgia in Jacksonville. UF caps off the regular-season with a trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida State.
  6. Washington (2011 ranking: 8) – The Huskies open the 2012 season at home vs. San Diego State before traveling to LSU. A home game against Portland State (only UW’s 3rd against an FCS team since 1971) rounds out their non-conference slate. Three straight tough Pac-12 games follow: vs. Stanford, at Oregon, and vs. USC. The Huskies also host Oregon State and Utah and travel to Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington State.
  7. Baylor (2011 ranking: 3) – The Bears open the 2012 season at home vs. SMU and Sam Houston State before traveling to ULM. Baylor then opens Big 12 play at new member West Virginia before returning home to host TCU, also a new Big 12 member. The Bears also host Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Kansas and travel to Oklahoma, Texas, and Iowa State.
  8. Texas A&M (2011 ranking: 22) – The Aggies open the 2012 season against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport and later travel to face SMU. TAMU plays their first SEC game at home against Florida and later hosts Arkansas, LSU, and Missouri. SEC road games include Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss.
  9. Miami (FL) (2011 ranking: 10) – The Hurricanes open the season at Boston College and kick off a tough non-conference slate the following week at Kansas State. In other non-ACC games, the Canes play Notre Dame at Soldier Field in Chicago and also host USF and Bethune-Cookman. ACC games include home contests against Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and NC State and road games at Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Duke.
  10. Kentucky (2011 ranking: 57) – UK opens at in-state rival Louisville before hosting Kent State, Western Kentucky, and later Samford in non-conference games. The Wildcats kick off SEC play at Florida and then host South Carolina and Mississippi State. The rest of their SEC slate is at Arkansas, vs. Georgia, at Missouri, vs. Vanderbilt, and at Tennessee.

An Independent school owns the toughest schedule, but the SEC has the most teams in the Top Ten with four. The Big 12 has two schools in the Top Ten, while the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 each have one.

The rest of the Top 50 of Phil Steele’s toughest schedule rankings are listed below. What do you think of Phil Steele’s rankings?


(11) Kansas, (12) Stanford, (13) South Carolina, (14) Arizona, (15) California, (16) TCU, (17) Auburn, (18) Arkansas, (19) Missouri, (20) Oklahoma, (21) Michigan State, (22) Oklahoma State, (23) Ohio State, (24) Oregon State, (25) Nebraska


(26) UCLA, (27) Arizona State, (28) Alabama, (29) LSU, (30) USC, (31) West Virginia, (32) Colorado, (33) Maryland, (34) Kansas State, (35) Duke, (36) Texas, (37) Penn State, (38) Mississippi State, (39) Wake Forest, (40) Syracuse, (41) Boston College, (42) Minnesota, (43) Washington State, (44) Virginia Tech, (45) UTEP, (46) Tennessee, (47) Vanderbilt, (48) Georgia Tech, (49) Clemson, (50) Texas Tech

Comments (32)

i wonder the same questions how teams like ohio st get so much credit when the beat toledo and ohio and kent st but didnt play cinncinati when kelly coached and they were good but somehow they still got all this credit and got beat in every tough outa confrence game

Phil Steele’s magazine is the most comprehensive and well-researched out there. He doesn’t have any trouble selling them.

I have to disagree with having Texas Tech and Duke ahead of BYU in terms of SOS. Last time I checked Texas Tech played Texas, TCU, and Oklahoma as their 3 hardest games. BYU plays Washington State, at Utah, at Boise State, at Notre Dame, and at Georgia Tech, with almost all of those predicted to be in the Top 30. Last time I checked 5 tough opponents beats 3 tough opponents. And how exactly is Tech ahead of BYU when they have Texas State, Northwestern State, and New Mexico on their schedule as their out of conference games? None of those 3 teams is expected to be even in the Top 100? Weber State is ahead of Northwestern State in terms of FCS SOS, and it could easily be debated that Idaho, San Jose State, and New Mexico State are ahead of Texas State and New Mexico. Tech shouldn’t be anywhere near the Top 50. They shouldn’t be any higher than 75.

bigddan11 your kidding right byu ahead of texas tech byu toughest team is ND and remember they went 8-5 the last 2 years and still have alot of questions on their team like at QB and an inconsisitant run game the D is solid but lost a few key defenders and they are yet to prove they are as good as the hype. Hype is just that its hype Ryan Leaf had hype and where is he now breaking in homes in Wyoming or Montana who cares but wash st Utah and Boise dont combine to equal the power of Oklahoma then you add TCU one of the top 5 most winning programs in the past decade and you add Texas who was terrible last year but has a much improved defense and offense this year with 1 more years of experience they will be a tough team with 9 or 10 wins minimum. yes BYU does play georiga tech but their qb cant even throw the ball and their defense is sub-par so no BYU schedule is good but is not top 50

also texas tech plays #11 West Virginia #19 Oklahoma State and #21 Kansas State giving them a grand total of 6 ranked teams to BYU’s 2 ranked teams

Where is Houston’s schedule rated? A record-setting QB last year and no Cougars were even drafted.

Yep, they learned that playing tough non-conference teams doesn’t pay off in the current BCS model. You can play three cupcakes and still go to the national championship game (i.e. Florida).

If a committee in the four-team playoff model looks at SOS, that will change everything.

The SOS will definitely be on the table in the annual playoff committee discussions, I believe. If so, eventually teams will start scheduling stronger OOC opponents.

Mack Brown may as well retire, he”s made a living playing cupcakes, they love to brag about all the ten win seasons, but with the sched they play any good team would win ten. I am sooo glad that sos will weigh large in the final four, as it should imo

BYU? The only ranked team they play is Boise State, and they are #24. Yes, there are some tough games on their schedule, but to even suggest they compare with the top 10 in this list is incorrect. Notre Dame alone plays #1, #4, #8, #13, and #21, not to mention some other tough games on their schedule.

Steve, I appreciate the loyalty to BYU, but even as a true blue supporter and BYU grad, you cannot disagree with Mike. True, BYU has made a lot of progress in scheduling tougher opponents, but the quality teams they play are not ranked this year and then they round out the season with high school teams. Compare that to any team listed here in the top 50 and you will find that BYU probably sits somewhere in the 60-70 range. Progress is progress, so we should still happy about the schedule. Go Cougs!

SEC Teams have a tougher 8 game schedule than most everybody’s 11 games; how is it fair to ask them to make it even tougher than that? If theirs is an 8 compared to everybody else’s 6, why make them go to a 10 before the USC’s and Oklahoma’s have to come up to an 8?

The Pac is a tougher conference top to bottom than the SEC and has been for the past 2-3 years. They may not have the #1 team but as a whole the conference is tougher. Any one of the Pac’s teams can beat another every week. Generally they don’t schedule the patsies that the SEC does out of conference. Now if the SEC played a balanced schedule you might have room to talk. How many realistic potential loses are on Alabama’s schdule this year? 3? 4? SEC wants to be the premier conference then schedule like it!

are you kidding me? almost every team plays at least 3 top 25 teams. your dumb. brush up on your college football knowledge then post a comment

Saying the ND has the # 1 toughest scheduel is joke. They play no one inthe SEC. Only a team in the SEC could have the toughest schedule, because they have to play all the other SEC teams, then in the SEC Champ game. Get real!

Your an idiot, you don’t even know your own conference. That’s the problem they don’t play everyone even in their own division. I will take nothing away from them as they have had without a doubt the best team for many years but the PAC is a stronger conference top to bottom.

Who does Ohio St. play to make them 23rd? Their only decent opponents are in the Big 10, which is one of the weaker conferences, especially this year. And they played no one ranked higher than 19th. And their non-conference schedule were complete cupcakes.

cupcakes. wait till next year they have to duke it out with Buffalo, Florida A&m, San Diego State, and Cal. Do you think that will earn Ohio State some respect

PAC homers lol. Tough conference? If the nation believed the overratedness of PAC teams maybe but like them all they get exposed as the frauds they are. Oregon is a good team, Stanford is medicre and your preseason #1 USC got sent home with their tails between their legs by a 6-7 ACC team