Even though establishing standards for non-conference play has made strides in scheduling equality, it’s not the ultimate answer.
One of the lingering issues is that each of the five Power leagues builds its schedule on a different number of conference games. Where the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 all play nine league opponents each year, as of now, the ACC and SEC face only eight.
What it means (in a perfect world where all Power teams actually play one Power opponent out of conference) is that 60% of the field is playing an extra Power school (in the form of a conference game) while the other 40% plays one fewer.
It’s an even bigger deal when you’ve got five Power conferences trying to squeeze into a four-slot CFB Playoff bracket.
Take a look at the Power conferences ranked by the average number of Power opponents they’ll face in 2016.
For the sake of comparison, we’ve counted BYU and Notre Dame (and only BYU and Notre Dame) as additional Power opponents across the board.
5. SEC – 9.07
Coming in dead last, the SEC will collectively play fewer Power teams than any of the other leagues.
All but one member of the conference will play just nine Power schools in 2016. That amounts to 13 teams, or 52% of the only 25 Power programs who are set to face fewer than 10 Power foes this season.
The exception is Georgia, who has eight SEC games plus North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
4. ACC – 9.43
The other Power league that currently plays only eight conference games, the ACC outranks the SEC because it has seven members (Clemson, Florida State, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt and Virginia Tech) with 10 power opponents on their 2016 slates.
Though these teams get extra credit for having scheduled two Power foes out of conference, in truth they’ll play the same number of Power teams that they would if they were in the Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 and played just one.
It illustrates the bigger picture—strength of schedules across conferences is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
At the other end of the spectrum is Boston College, with only eight Power games this season, the fewest of any Power team.
3. Big Ten – 9.93
In the middle of the scale is the Big Ten, the first of the three Power leagues that schedule nine league games. Its average is boosted by having only two members below the 10-Power game mark—Maryland and Purdue.
At the top of the heap is Michigan State with 11 Power games, adding Notre Dame and BYU to its conference slate. The Spartans are one of only seven Power-league members with more than 10 Power foes in 2016.
2. Big 12 – 10.00
Coming in second, every Big 12 school has double-digit Power foes with the exception of Baylor and Kansas with nine each, or zero Power teams out of conference. Before condemning the Bears and Jayhawks, keep in mind that they’ll play the same number of Power teams as all but one member of the SEC and half of the ACC.
Again, what’s impressive here, compared to say North Carolina (with Georgia and Illinois out of ACC play) is that Texas and West Virginia have nine league games (all obviously Power foes) plus two non-conference Power opponents. That leaves just one game for an FCS or non-Power FBS school.
The Tar Heels have eight ACC games plus the additional two Power foes out of conference. That leaves two openings for FCS/non-Power schools.
It amounts to a significant opportunity to pick up an additional win.
1. Pac 12 – 10.25
The conference that will collectively play the most Power opponents in 2016 is the Pac-12, also the only league with just one member under the double-digit mark. That’s Washington State, which will only play Power opponents from within its own league schedule. Again, since they start with nine conference games as opposed to eight, the Cougars’ lack of a non-Pac 12 Power opponent isn’t as dubious as a team from the SEC or ACC.
The Pac-12 has a whopping four members who will square off with 11 Power foes this season — Oregon (Virginia and Nebraska), Stanford (Kansas State and Notre Dame), UCLA (Texas A&M and BYU) and USC (Alabama and Notre Dame).
That means the Pac-12 is home to four (or 57%) of the only seven teams who have more than 10 Power opponents scheduled in 2016.
You have to ask yourself—how big of a coincidence would it be if the Pac-12 is ultimately the conference left out of this year’s CFB Playoff?
And, if anyone else is thinking, “What about Notre Dame?” Well, just like 93% of the SEC and 50% of the ACC, the Irish will play just nine Power schools in 2016.