Phil Steele’s 2013 College Football Strength of Schedule Rankings

By Kevin Kelley -

Phil Steele has published his 2013 college football strength of schedule rankings. The Florida Gators have the toughest schedule in 2013, while the Old Dominion Monarchs have the easiest.

It should be noted that Old Dominion is classified as an FCS team for scheduling purposes in 2013, but FBS for statistics. If you don’t count ODU, then Georgia State has the easiest schedule in his rankings.

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 2012, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had the toughest schedule according to Steele’s rankings. They finished the season 12-1, losing only to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.

The easiest preseason schedule in 2012? The UTSA Roadrunners, who finished 8-4 overall and 3-3 in the WAC.

Phil Steele’s 10 toughest schedules for 2013

1. Florida (2012 ranking: 5) – Florida tops Phil Steele’s list and it’s hard to argue with him, although I ranked them 5th in my column for USA TODAY Sports. For the first time in 10 years, the Gators travel to face the Miami Hurricanes. Arkansas and Vanderbilt visit while games against LSU, Georgia (at Jacksonville) and South Carolina are on the road. A visit from arch-rival Florida State ends the season.

2. Oklahoma (2012 ranking: 20) – OU’s non-conference slate is highlighted by a visit from Tulsa and a trip to Notre Dame. In Big 12 play, the Sooners get Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas (at the Cotton Bowl) on the road and TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia at home.

3. California (2012 ranking: 31) – Cal faces two Big Ten and possible Top 25 teams on their non-conference slate — Northwestern and Ohio State. The Golden Bears host Pac-12 foes Arizona, Oregon State, and USC and travel to Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA.

4. Purdue (2012 ranking: 49) – Purdue has one of the tougher non-conference schedules, which includes a trip to Cincinnati and visits from Notre Dame and Northern Illinois. The Boilermakers get Nebraska and Ohio State at home, but play at Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin.

5. Arkansas (2012 ranking: 18) – The Razorbacks open at home vs. a tough UL Lafayette squad and later travel to Rutgers. In the SEC, the Hogs have a brutal four-game stretch vs. Texas A&M, at Florida, vs. South Carolina, and at Alabama. Arkansas also plays at Ole Miss and LSU.

6. Iowa State (2012 ranking: 3) – The Cyclones host in-state rival Iowa and later travel to Tulsa. Big 12 home games include Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas. The Cyclones travel to Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

7. Colorado (2012 ranking: 32) – The Buffaloes have a light non-conference schedule, which kicks off with their annual battle against Colorado State in Denver. Colorado has a tough Pac-12 slate, which features home games vs. Oregon, Arizona, California, and USC and road games vs. Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington, and Utah.

8. Stanford (2012 ranking: 12) – The Cardinal open the season against a good San Jose State squad followed by a trip to Army. Stanford hosts Pac-12 games against Arizona State, Washington, UCLA, Oregon, and California and visits Washington State, Utah, Oregon State, and USC. A visit from Notre Dame looms in the regular-season finale.

9. Kentucky (2012 ranking: 10) – Kentucky’s schedule, which was first in my rankings, begins with Western Kentucky in Nashville. Two weeks later, the Wildcats host bitter rival Louisville. Their SEC slate is even tougher with likely preseason Top 10 teams Alabama and Florida at home and Georgia and South Carolina on the road.

10. Kansas (2012 ranking: 11) – The biggest challenge on Kansas’ 2013 non-conference schedule is Louisiana Tech. In conference play, the Jayhawks host Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, and Kansas State and travel to TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State.

An SEC school owns the toughest schedule according to Steele. The SEC also has three teams in his Top 10, which is tied with the Big 12 and Pac-12. The Big Ten is the only other conference with a team in the Top 10 (Purdue).

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


(11) Missouri, (12) Utah, (13) Notre Dame, (14) South Carolina, (15) Texas, (16) LSU, (17) TCU, (18) Auburn, (19) Tennessee, (20) Illinois, (21) UCLA, (22) Baylor, (23) Georgia, (24) Pittsburgh, (25) Kansas State


(26) Washington State, (27) Virginia, (28) Texas A&M, (29) Michigan, (30) Texas Tech, (31) Arizona State, (32) Oklahoma State, (33) Mississippi State, (34) Ole Miss, (35) USC, (36) Boston College, (37) Oregon State, (38) Indiana, (39) Vanderbilt, (40) Alabama, (41) Georgia Tech, (42) North Carolina, (43) Iowa, (44) West Virginia, (45) Northwestern, (46) Syracuse, (47) USF, (48) Wake Forest, (49) BYU, (50) Washington


(51) Penn State, (52) Arizona, (53) Minnesota, (54) SMU, (55) Clemson, (56) Nevada, (57) NC State, (58) Oregon, (59) Virginia Tech, (60) Miami, FL, (61) Michigan State, (62) Maryland, (63) Connecticut, (64) Florida State, (65) Temple, (66) Nebraska, (67) Ohio State, (68) Memphis, (69) Wisconsin, (70) Idaho, (71) Akron, (72) Colorado State, (73) Tulsa, (74) Buffalo, (75) San Diego State


(76) Hawaii, (77) Duke, (78) UTSA, (79) Kent State, (80) Toledo, (81) San Jose State, (82) UMass, (83) Eastern Michigan, (84) Miami, OH, (85) Rutgers, (86) Houston, (87) North Texas, (88) UCF, (89) Southern Miss, (90) Central Michigan, (91) Boise State, (92) Wyoming, (93) Utah State, (94) Tulane, (95) UAB, (96) East Carolina, (97) Western Michigan, (98) Louisville, (99) Navy, (100) New Mexico


(101) Cincinnati, (102) FIU, (103) UTEP, (104) Florida Atlantic, (105) Air Force, (106) UNLV, (107) Fresno State, (108) Troy, (109) ULM, (110) South Alabama, (111) Marshall, (112) Arkansas State, (113) New Mexico State, (114) Rice, (115) Bowling Green, (116) Ball State, (117) Army, (118) Western Kentucky, (119) Middle Tennessee, (120) Louisiana Tech, (121) UL Lafayette, (122) Ohio, (123) Texas State, (124) Northern Illinois, (125) Georgia State, (126) Old Dominion

Comments (92)

Thank you for putting BYU at 49. I’m sick of hearing about their incredible schedule this year.

For an independent schedule it is solid, 2nd highest of the 6 independents this year and has a number of impressive schools on it. But yeah it aint a SEC, Big 12, or PAC 12 schedule.

Don’t read too much into any preseason rankings or SOS. We all know some schools will be surprising good and some will be surprising bad. End of Season SOS will mean a lot more!

It’s an incredible schedule, don’t know if we’ve ever had better.

It’s no SEC schedule, but it’s no MWC or WAC schedule either.

Phil has Texas at #4, Notre Dame at #10, Wisconsin at #20, and Boise St. at #33 in his 2013 pre-season top 40. Houston, Nevada, and MTSU are way down his list.

I expect Utah St. and Georgia Tech to hit the top 40 and Boise St. to reach the top 20. The final schedule ranking will be in the top-25 – as will BYU.

Just look at 48 and you’ll see why this is not correct. Who does Wake Forest play other than FS, I guess Army might take them. BYU’s schedule is very solid with only a couple of mediocre games vs Mid Tenn and Idaho State, otherwise @ Virginia, Texas, ND, Wisconsin, Boise State, Utah, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston and Nevada.

BYU has an amazing schedule – here are two matchups that almost any team can chalk in as an ‘L’ in advance:

ND has Has only been beaten 5 times at home in November in the last 17 years (Inclding a number of really bad seasons) …and 3 of those were in OT or 2OT.

Boise St. Has the best record in NCAA football as of late – averaging only 1 loss per season for the last 5 seasons.

This not including Texas, WIsconsin, Utah, and a grab-bag of Mid-majors.

byU at 49 and that is their toughest schedule ever? It really doesn’t bode well for them that they are 0-1 against arguably the third worst team on their schedule. It’s going to be a long season.

2nd highest of independents? That is a stretch to have something to crow about!! LOL!

Not a MWC schedule? Maybe not, but Nevada isn’t close behind at 56.

Come on Tennessee had to play on the road at the #2 and the #1 team. The score might not have been pretty but tennessee should defiantly be in the top ten. Tennessee has 4 straight road games against ranked opponents, it’s only a wonder why the volunteers are 0-3 in road games in this season. I’m not sure who this “expert” is but I do not think he knows much about football.

It’s always confusing when someone (in this case Steele) lists an FCS transition team down as an FBS team. Thanks for clarifying.

As to his ranking of SOS, you really would have to look at his SOS rankings side-by-side with his preseason rankings to properly evaluate them. If his preseason rankings are off, his SOS rankings will be off as well.

I am a huge fan of Phil but I really think he was off when he wrote this. … having Ariz State at 31 when the play Wisconsin and Notre Dame in non-conference is just inexplicable. Sorry Phil…

It’s toughest schedule, not toughest out of conference schedule.
Huge difference.

I agree, BYU always plays an easy schedule, and this one just mediocre. But it is a tuff one for a sissy team like them.

Speaking of sissy teams, what about Alabama. Nick Saban cried after he lost games in 2010 so the SEC set him and Alabama up with easy schedules from then on. Why? Time for Alabama to show they have balls and play the likes of Florida, Georgia or South Carolina.

Alabama and nick duck Sabin have one of the easiest schedules in the sec grab some balls Sabin and play someone besides Lsu ever heard of Florida Georgia South Carolina last I looked there in the sec also oh yea you don’t play them

if bama played s.c fla. or geo. they would be out of the running 4 sec east because they all would wind up with 2 losses vandy would win the east u all whiney baby mofos

We play at Stanford,Minnesota and host Navy plus a rugged MWC schedule and ranked only 82nd? I think Phil is a little off this year

I thin it’s funny that the only thing really making Utah’s schedule weaker than Colorado’s is that Colorado has to play Utah, and Utah plays Colorado.

Hawaii will travel 32,000 miles this year without going back home between home games on uncharted flights. Is that calculated in the formula for strength of schedule?

shawn said
Arkansas has the toughs schedule in the SEC right now because they play six teams on the top twenty five this year

baylor’s got a pretty tough schedule, I mean people knock the bigXII but it’s right there along with the sec as far as talent goes

because it’s a conspiracy theory, i mean with haarp controlling the weather, the muggy/wet climate of the SEC is altered to the likings of each coach, ….thus certain all terain cleats are improvised into the scenario, which in all reality gives the SEC team the heads up in the intergalactic time warp like on mario level 1 stage 3 on the 1st tunnel of a group of 3….so what im really saying is the SEC is scandelous, mischevious, and i mean why they spendin all that money on uniforms and stadiums when street/drainage systems need work on….THank you pharmaceutical companies for expanding my intellectual horizons, without you and your pills I wouldn’t be the person I am today!

yeahhh, the cleats make us win, thats stupid, SEC is best because we have the best coaches and recruits……..cough….jealous??….cough

I don’t see how tennessee isn’t in the top 5. They play a western ky team coached by bobby Petrino, then travel to Oregon and Florida, both in the top 10. Next they play a small ooc school, only to be followed by visits from Georgia and South Carolina, then a trip to Alabama. So, that 5 top 10 teams in 6 weeks, and three of them away from k’town. Lol, come on Phil!

I hate preseason rankings! The teams haven’t played one down yet and they’re already ranked?! All the rankings are based off of history–the past, which has zero to do with who they actually are. Of course the sports writers are just doing their job providing hype out of hypnosis. At this point, who’s to say that a group of young men from the South are any better than a team on the West Coast or anywhere else for that matter. I want to get rid of preseason rankings for a lot of reasons and I wish there were no rankings until week 4! As the Tour de France is not about a bike race but a marketing spectacle for France’s tourism wallet, so is college football–it’s there to make money (off of “amateurs”) for the universities, the NCAA and the networks. Hence the ridiculous preseason rankings.

If you don’t like preseason rankings, don’t read them.

As or universities making money off amateurs, a significant amount of that money goes to support other amateurs. Water polo, women’s hoops, track & field, and other non revenue sports depend on the money from football. Most athletic departments operate in the red.

How can you put OU in the top ten??? They have 3 open dates and really dont play anyone that is any good!!!

All. These sec and Alabama need to wake up to reality.Alabama and the rest of the sec teams schedules are never easy because the sec is the toughest football conference.Alabama blew out Michigan,penn state,Notre dame,Virginia tech twice,Clemson, and Texas.Alabama also beat Texas a&m in rematch,blew out rematch.Any comment about Alabama not playing Georgia,Florida,or South Carolina in the regular season is senseless because they would play them in sec title game.Alabama and the sec plays the supposed powers in other conferences and usually DOMINATES.Examples UG-GT,UF-FLA.ST,ALABAMA-big ten,big 12,&acc,heck last time Vanderbilt played the vaunted Notre dame they gave Notre dame all they could handle and Vanderbilt is a sec cellar dwellerThe sec has won 7 going on 8 national titles for a reason because it is the best football conference period.

KY has 5 preseason top 10 teams on their schedule and is ranked as the 8th toughest? Not to mention 3 other teams receiving top 25 votes.

incorrect, florida and Georgia aren’t even ranked and south carolina is 11, you only think that is amazing because y’all haven’t been ranked in a while…

Phil, I can’t give this list any credibility. The VOLS play five top ten teams in 6 weeks with three of them on the road and you think OU has a tough schedule playing the nobodies in the small 12 that get whipped every bowl season. What a joke!

stop crying you woman, OU’s schedule is a joke really look at the reecords from last year of the teams on their schedule. you sec fans are arrogant cry babies!

eh-em read your reply one more time, as you state “look at the records from last year” last year is over we are almost through with this year and onto the next. I believe that you are just scraping the bottom of the bucket for comebacks, “woman”. so stop crying

I think Northwestern should be higher, they have Cal and Syracuse on their non conference and then they have 7 top 30 teams in 5 weeks, 4 who are in the Ap preseason top 25

U of Dub Muddy
I always get a kick out of Nebraskas ranking and then looking at their SOS, or actually lack of it year after year after year. A few years ago they played a team they have beat 34 years IN A ROW and that team beat them. Now you want the classiest fans in the NATION…think Nebraska. Years ago when the Huskies beat them at home…the home team fans gave them a standing applause. That’s the way it should be…not spttting on you and throwing things at you like swoosh U. Mud Man

Alabama always ducking the best in sec tough to be considered # 1 when your schedule is ranked 40 th and Ohio state ranked 4 th with a 67 ranked schedule its easy to see why these 2 teams are ranked in top 5 they don’t play no body at least Alabama plays Lsu who lost 20 players to the nfl and are rebuilding on defense

Tennessee plays the toughest schedule right behind Kentucky this year. Both play 5 top ten teams. Phil missed big hear.

The articl didn’t even mention that OU plays ULM first – consider this – ULM beat Arkansas last year, was leading Auburn in the fourth quarter before losing in OT and only lost to Baylor by 5. They also return about 19 starters. Geez! Tulsa won 10 games and the Liberty Bowl last year. That leaves Notre Dame and the Big Twelve…I think you need to do your homework!

Uh, Tennessee plays 5 teams in the top 10 of the coaches’ poll this year. Of those, they play away games at Oregon, Alabama, and Florida. You can’t be serious that Florida has a tougher schedule than that.

Phil Steele is just a biased homer. His rankings versus Pat Forde’s are around 20 points higher for schools in non-qualifying conferences.

Tennessee faces 5 top ten teams (3 away) in a 6 game stretch…. that deserves a little bit higher ranking than 19th don’t you think..?

forgot to mention, that no one has played 5 top 10s in a 6 game stretch since the mid 1940’s…. THE MID 40’s.

I am not a fan of any team but a huge fan of college football. This is not a plea for any team but more a request for Phil (whom I see as one of the most knowledgeable CF pundits) to help create a better system. In a sport that every year bases it’s whole season on the first entry into the loss column for every team I would suggest you alter your thoughts of strength of schedule. Depth of schedule means far less than the highest peak of competition the schedule offers. My suggestion is that it is not authentic to championship pursuit to rank schedules based upon the quality of all the teams you play but more appropriately to put much more if not all the weight on the best one or two teams you face. I wish that the strength of schedule ranking could be altered to be a better predictor of actual potential for an undefeated or one loss season. It seems ridiculous to rank the degree of challenge that any schedule presents ahead of any of the teams that play Alabama especially those who play them in Tuscaloosa. If at the end of the day Notre Dame would not have played in the championship game last year had they had some small run of bad luck at the end of the Stanford game, why does it matter that the average level of the teams that they play is higher than anyone else’s. The stark truth was exposed when they had to play the elite team. If we had to bet our house and car on the game would anyone have picked Notre Dame to go undefeated through an SEC schedule? This year it is already clear that the most brilliant coaches in the country understand the importance of taking a job that has the best resources and the schedule that reflects a good average competitive level but never pairs you with another titan elite (read Notre Dame moving to an ACC schedule and Ohio State playing a comical non conference schedule). I think way too much conversation is focused on the “my conference is better than yours” argument. That allows the most important scheduling conversation to be ignored. If we continue to reward teams that avoid playing any elite teams as determined by resources, recruits, and facilities, than the system is flawed from the beginning. If the system was truly attentive to what is best for the competitive greatness that college football can have, teams like Ohio State and Notre Dame would be ineligible for National Championship consideration due a schedule that is built on smoke and mirrors. Phil- please help!!!!

come on man, the sec is the worst handing out bye’s like there cortisone shots, Alablama gets a bye 2 weeks in to prepare for lil johnny douche’ and a bye before Lsu, Lsu with a bye before alablama and a@m also. A@m gets a bye before Lsu but not alablama The weaker teams in the sec don’t get the same luxury they play a tougher schedule than the top tier tems

Vanderbilt dropped off of OSU’s schedule at the last minute, so we had to take what we could get as replacement. We scheduled California in 2004 when they were ranked in the top 25. Ohio State books non-conference games up to ten years in advance. Right now, we have Virginia Tech lined up for next year along with Cincinnati, Oklahoma the next, Oregon is scheduled for 2020-21, North Carolina, and I hear we’re looking at another major game for 2016. I’m sick of the schedule BS. Notre Dame played one of the most difficult schedules in the country last year, with wins over Stanford and Oklahoma, yet they got creamed by Alabama. Schedules are not that important. It is how you play in the major games that really counts. Ohio State has the most BCS wins of any other team at 6-3 and is 1-2 in BCS National Championships. We can compete with any team in college football.

Tennessee has by far the toughest strength of schedule. They play 4 legitimate top 10 ranked schools.

Boo Hoo! It could not happen to a “nicer” bunch than the Vols. I hope they lose them all by 50!!

has anyone looked at notre dames schedule? im pretty sure other than temple they have no cupcakes like other schools do, how is there schedule not at least top 10? if any other school including bama played their schedule i guarantee they would not go undefeated playing big conference schools every week with no breaks til the end of the season

You are right, ASU’s schedule is tough in conference as well – includes #5 Stanford, #19 washington, #16 ucla, not to mention oregon state and u of a who usually are not push overs….. in my eyes they should be in the top 15 for sure! I think it tougher to play (5) – 10 thru 25 ranked teams then two top 5 teams… have to keep the momentum going and anyone can beat you anytime…..

LSU plays six ranked teams, Bama, TCU, Florida, Georgia, A&M & Ole Miss, half the season against ranked teams and they are rated as having the 16th toughest schedule?

Ohio State should not be given any consideration for a national championship with their schedule. There are Ohio high school teams who play tougher competition. What a joke that they are given the same consideration as teams in the SEC and Pac 10. Bring on the tournament format.

Alablama should not be considered for the National Championship either with the easiest schedule in the Sec, what a joke

the sec is comprised of 14 schools blama,uga,LSU, the best the sec has to offer this yr a@m,fla,usc,ole miss overrated…7 other teams that are bottom feeders.. all these bye’s blama needs before they play ranked teams LSU gets the same treatment and a@m got it this year too, but did all the other sec teams get this treatment noooooooo does the pac 12, big 12, big 10, acc, do this noooooooo fuch the sec and slive catering to alablama

If you put a@m florida south Carolina or ole miss into this year’s Big Ten they all would be favored in every game they play including on the road with the exception of Ohio State. You call them over rated because you see them play against other SEC teams. The talent on those teams you call bottom feeders is so far and away above the rosters on teams in the Big 10 you can not make any comparisons. Put Northwestern or Michigan into the SEC and they would end the season with at least 3 losses. Their national perception is based upon winning in the Big Ten which is a house of cards. Michigan struggled on the road versus Connecticut who just got blown out by Buffalo and lost to Towson. Their best chance to win all year was when the wolverines came to town. Ohio State is undefeated for two years because they have avoided playing any team that is even close to the elite of college football. Alabama has already this year beaten a@m, Ole Miss, and Vatech. Could Ohio State play at least one of them?

Some of these teams don’t play a single ranked opponent. What idiot came up with this?

This weekends game was more confirmation that the national championship game has a small likelihood of paring the two most deserving teams. Ohio State continues to look good but not great but has the best schedule with literally no challenging games worthy of an elite program. Any team who boasts victories over Northwestern and Michigan as it’s claim to an opportunity to play for a championship should not meet anyone’s version of a minimum threshold. Georgia has one loss and should be way ahead of Ohio State due to the quality of opponents they have faced. It is a shame that Stanford and Oregon will be penalized in comparison to Ohio State simply because they play each other. When a team’s best defense is, “We can only beat the teams that are on our schedule.” you can be sure they do not belong. My worry is that this phenomenon will not be fixed by the final four structure in 2014. I am sure I don’t know enough about it but from what I have read it still does not have a sufficient deterrent built into the system to stop coaches and athletic directors from doing exactly what Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly, and many others are doing (steer clear of other schools with elite funding structure and play only opponents who have lower tier of the top 25 rankings but inferior talent level on their rosters). With the current system, who could blame them. Someone please save this wonderful game.

B.S Georgia should be ahead of everyone in the sec except maybe LSU & FLA. blama got the easiest schedule of all sec teams,This is a problem when blama gets the bye’s before A@m and before LSU , LSU gets this kind of treatment too, now A@M gets one, what about all the other teams. Slive and Satan are a good team. ND plays a tougher schedule than just about every team in FBS every year there schedules speak for themselves

I am not following everything that you said but I totally agree with you about the problems that placement of byes create. I think there has to be some national influence on scheduling in general because there are so many ways that the most powerful programs are able to gain advantages. I totally disagree with your thoughts about Notre Dame’s schedule. They never play any of the elite teams in the country so they can not be considered in the discussion of the toughest schedule. To make matters worse they have now left behind the games they have with the Big 10 and replaced them with the ACC. That is going from bad to worse. I just hope this changes when the tournament arrives.

If football rankings mean nothing to you, as you have demonstrated, you should NOT be writing at all.This is very dangerous.

Yeah, thats for letting every know that you dont know crap about football. UGA at 23 and they have faced 4 ranked teams in the first 6 games, not to mention the first 4 games where against three top 10 opponents.

All of these guys like BIG 12 bro, the thing is they all suck. Every time they play an SEC team in a bowl or regular season they get killed. The only reason yall are high in the actual rankings are because you don’t play anyone. And whats with Stanford being at 4???? I mean they lost to utah, who is 4 and 5 (1 and 4 in conference) plus their conference isnt good, AU should be ahead of Oregon and Stanford. Doesn’t even make sense

You have Missouri way to hight, they play no one in non conference and have a week sec schedule

Yeah, FSU #64. Playing 3 division I-AA schools and playing no one except for Auburn at the end of the year.