As a college football fan, there are certain dates and events during the off-season that marks the approach of the upcoming season drawing closer, and the release of Phil Steele’s annual strength of schedule list happens to be one of those events. Phil takes a look at all 126 FBS schools and based off of many factors, ranks and orders the most difficult schedule to the perceived easiest. We wanted to take a look at where Phil has the 2013 Notre Dame football schedule along with the strength of schedule for each of those opponents, and determine if we agree this year. For reference, this same list had the Irish with the most difficult schedule at the beginning of 2012, and by the end of the year most outlets had the Irish schedule consistently ranked around 7th to 9th most difficult.
|Steele’s Top 20 Most Difficult Schedules in 2013|
|1. Florida||11. Missouri|
|2. Oklahoma||12. Utah|
|3. California||13. Notre Dame|
|4. Purdue||14. South Carolina|
|5. Arkansas||15. Texas|
|6. Iowa State||16. LSU|
|7. Colorado||17. TCU|
|8. Stanford||18. Auburn|
|9. Kentucky||19. Tennessee|
|10. Kansas||20. Illinois|
The Irish fall comfortably inside the top 20, at #13, and three of Notre Dame’s opponents this year also make the list, with Oklahoma coming in at #2, Purdue at #4, and finally, Stanford at #8. So where do the rest of Notre Dames opponents fall in 2013? Here is a complete list of where all the Irish opponents rank this year.
|2013 Notre Dame Opponent Strength of Schedule|
|2. Oklahoma||35. USC|
|4. Purdue||49. BYU|
|8. Stanford||61. Michigan State|
|24. Pittsburgh||65. Temple|
|29. Michigan||99. Navy|
|31. Arizona State||105. Air Force|
We now have an understanding of who the top 20 toughest schedules are, where the Irish rank on that list, and where their opponents are listed. Now we wanted to take a look at the top 3 games that each team in the top 20 play, and the top 3 games Notre Dame’s opponents will face over the course of the season.
TOP 3 GAMES – TOP 20
1. Florida - @LSU(OCT 12) Georgia (Neutral site – Nov 2nd) @ South Carolina(Nov 16th)
2. Oklahoma – @Notre Dame(Sep 28th) Texas(Neutral site – Oct 12th) @ Oklahoma State (Dec 7th)
3. California – Ohio State(Sep 14th) @Oregon(Sep 28th) @Stanford(Nov 23rd)
4. Purdue – Notre Dame(Sep 14th) Nebraska(Oct 12th) Ohio State(Nov 2nd)
5. Arkansas – Texas A&M(Sep 28th) @Florida(Oct5th) @Alabama(Oct 19th)
6. Iowa State – Texas(Oct 3rd) Oklahoma State(Oct 26th) @Oklahoma(Nov 16th)
7. Colorado – Oregon(Oct 5th) @Arizona State(Oct 12th) @UCLA(Nov 2nd)
8. Stanford – Oregon(Nov 7th) @USC(Nov 16th) Notre Dame(Nov 30th)
9. Kentucky – Florida(Sep 28th)@South Carolina(Oct 5th) Alabama(Oct 12th)
10. Kansas – Oklahoma(Oct 19th) @Texas(Nov 2nd) @Oklahoma State(Nov 9th)
11. Missouri – Florida(Oct 19th) South Carolina(Oct 26th) Texas A&M(Nov 30th)
12. Utah – Stanford(Oct 12) @USC(Oct 26th) @Oregon(Nov 16th)
13. Notre Dame – Oklahoma(Sep 28th) USC(Oct 19th) Stanford(Nov 30th)
14. South Carolina – @Georgia(Sep 7th) Florida(Nov 16th) Clemson(Nov 30th)
15. Texas – Oklahoma(Neutral Site – Oct 12th) @TCU(Oct 26th Oklahoma State(Nov 16th)
16. LSU – Florida(Oct 12th) @Alabama(Nov 9th) Texas A&M(Nov 23rd)
17. TCU – LSU(Aug 31st) @Oklahoma(Oct 5th) Texas(Oct 26th)
18. Auburn – @LSU(Sep 21st) @Texas A&M(Oct 19th) Alabama(Nov 30th)
19. Tennessee – @Oregon(Sep 14th) @Florida(Sep 21st) @Alabama(Oct 26th)
20. Illinois – Washington(Neutral Site – Sep 14th) @Nebraska(Oct 5th) Ohio State(Nov 16th)
That is a look at the top 3 games of Phil Steele’s top 20 most difficult schedules, and now a look at the top 3 games for the remaining 9 opponents on the Irish schedule. Stanford, Purdue, and Oklahoma were already listed in the previous breakdown, so we will exclude them.
24. Pittsburgh – Florida State(Sep 2nd) @Virginia Tech(Oct 12th) Notre Dame(Nov 9th)
29. Michigan – Notre Dame(Sep 7th) Nebraska(Nov 9th) Ohio State(Nov 30th)
31. Arizona State – @Stanford(Sep 21st) USC(Sep 28th) Notre Dame(Neutral Site – Oct 5th)
35. USC – @Arizona State(Sep 28th) @Notre Dame(Oct 19th) Stanford(Nov 16th)
49. BYU – Texas(Sep 7th) Boise State(Oct 25th) @Notre Dame(Nov 23rd)
61. Michigan State – @Notre Dame(Sep 21st) Michigan(Nov 2nd) @Nebraska(Nov 16th)
65. Temple – @Notre Dame(Aug 31st) Louisville(Oct 5th) @Cincinnati(Oct 11th)
99. Navy – Pittsburgh(Oct 26th) @Notre Dame(Nov 2nd) @San Jose State(Nov 22nd)
105. Air Force – Utah State(Sep 7th) @Boise State(Sep 13th) Notre Dame(Oct 26th)
It’s no surprise that the Irish are in the top 3 for every single opponent they face this year, and they should be. Finally, we want to take a look at how the top 20 is broken down by conferences.
TOP 20 TEAM STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE BY CONFERENCE
- SEC – 8 teams
- BIG 12 – 5 Teams
- PAC 12 – 4 Teams
- BIG 10 – 2 Teams
- Independent – 1 Team
Now that we have all of this information, what does it mean? Actually not a whole lot. Just as in any season, certain teams will not live up to expectations, other teams will rise from the ashes, and injuries will cripple teams in ways they never could have imagined. Schedules are made years in advanced, and unless a team is scheduling FCS schools on a regular basis, one really can’t complain or congratulate a certain fan-base, or their athletic director for the strength of their out-of-conference schedule.
If we take a true look at where the Irish fall on this list though, we actually do agree with the estimate. Although Notre Dame does play some of the bigger names in college football, schools like USC, Oklahoma, Michigan, and even Stanford to a degree, are dealing with a large amount of turnover, attrition, and lack of depth. Notre Dame fans understand this as much, if not more than the rest of college football right now. They have seen the loss of 3 wide receivers( 1 to injury), a starting quarterback, a back-up quarterback, and 5-star defensive end recruit. If you are an Irish fan, and could have projected this type of loss and turnover before the off-season started, than it would be wise to quit your job and move to Vegas instantly.
There is a large contingency of fans that wish college football would hold off until at least week 4(or later) before releasing any top 25 polls, and the same could be said about pre-season strength of schedule lists. A lot of the information that is used to forecast these lists are full of assumptions that teams, players, and incoming recruits will play up to previous or assumed expectations. That’s not to say that there isn’t some merit to Phil’s list, or any others, but one has to exercise caution when taking in the information. Most college fans know that what one thinks and hopes for, and what actually comes to fruition during the season, are rarely the same thing.