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The BS of SOS

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An Excerpt from CFB #1 Digital Preview Magazine

The Contrarian SOS

Extra: SOS rankings by their results (click)

The buzz phrase that was hyped with the announcement of the new Playoff Committee was SOS. For some reason, as driven by a biased media wanting better games to televise to generate revenue to recoop their investment in major conferences networks, we are being lead to believe that tougher scheduling is going to be a major factor in the playoffs. I am not buying what they are selling. Decades of human and programmer behavior trends in the AP, BCS and other top 25 polls have already shown us the pattern of predictable selection of top teams in college football.

The Trends
Instead of hundred or thousands of voters we now have 13. While the decision process is being streamlined, they will not be able to watch even a fraction of the games. They will be relying more on perception and stats they are given to consider their selections. Regardless, they are very likely to follow the general patterns of all voters before them. Wins are king and tie breakers go to the strongest conferences. To segment teams on anything but wins as a starting point is to admit that the conferences are unbalanced in talent and power. Undefeated teams take priority ranking. If your team is 13-0, it is in regardless of schedule. 12-1 conference champs will also be auto-bids in my opinion. The tricky seeds will be 11-1 Big 12 champs, 11-1 Notre Dame and 11-1 or 11-2 teams that did not win their conference title. Except in a rare event, 10 wins is not getting you into the playoff no matter how tough the schedule.

The Frenzy
You are going to see a plethora of strength of schedule (SOS) stats and ranking systems. Each will be claiming to be the best in order to get recognition and use by the playoff committee. They are all biased and only as useful as the committee is told make them or allows them to be considered. With just the 65 major teams, there are 181,172,140 different ways they could schedule against each other in non-conference play. Of those 181+ million combinations, we 50-70 of these 65 teams head to head in out of conference scheduling. To create a valid and balanced SOS from such a tiny sample of games is nearly impossible. To get into the playoffs, I feel that playing SOS roulette is a huge risk.

The Risk Takers
A lot of programs are going to fall for this SOS mentality. As fans, we will get to see better match ups on TV in September and TV generated revenue will rise. However, those that fall for this trick are playing elimination games in weeks one through four. For some it is a macho kind of posturing in the belief to be the best you need to beat the best. I agree with that stance, in the playoffs. To win a national title your last three games are very likely going to be conference championship, semi-final, and final all against elite teams. You will be the best by beating the best in the last three games. Your odds of a national title are zero if you cannot get in the playoffs.


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The Double Standards
There are two double standards that have not been addressed in this so-called SOS mania. The first is the downside the top teams all face. They cannot play themselves. Look at Florida State. There is one elite team in the ACC and they never get to play them. Their SOS takes a hit simply by being at the top. This goes the same for any other elite team, especially those outside of the SEC that have fewer opportunities to prove themselves against more talented teams. The other is advanced scheduling problems. Ohio State is a perfect example and their head to head match up with Cal. When they put this schedule together years ago, this looked like a great out of conference game and a bump to the perceived strength of the Buckeyes SOS. Now that Cal has tanked to the bottom of the PAC-12, that is not the case. While the Buckeyes made an effort to be aggressive in non-conference scheduling, they could get penalized for doing what the media asked of them and schedule a tougher slate.

What They All Lack
Every SOS rank has some kind of combination of statistical analysis to justify the creators ranking system; however, they all lack a physical component in their rankings. As I showed in my national Pace of Play Summary Report, there is a strong indication that the size and speed of the players has a tremendous effect on injury rates. The SEC, with the largest overall size per play, yet runs the fewest plays per game, has the highest injury rate in the country. By contrast, the starts lost to injury in the mid-majors is nearly 70% less than the Power 5 conferences from 2009-2012. While it is fun to see mid-majors beat disinterested major conference teams in bowls and occasionally in out of conference games, the lack of emphasis on the physical wear and tear of games in SOS ranks needs to be addressed.

Example How It Hurts
In 2011, Oregon gave us a great example of what a tougher SOS schedule can do. They played LSU in Dallas and it very likely cost them a spot in the title game. They did go on to win their conference and finish 11-2. Losing to the SEC champ killed them. Had they played Louisiana Tech and won, they would have been 12-1 and having not lost to LSU already would have been the likely selection over 11-1 Alabama who just lost to LSU. I see teams already falling into the SOS trap. UCLA just announced several head to head games including LSU. They do not need the extra strength in their schedule. It adds additional odds to them losing a game and compounds the wear and tear on an already tough 12 game season. I have no doubt there will be an OOC game that cost a team, that chose to throw the dice in September, a spot in the national CFB playoffs.

The Tie Breakers
I do believe that the Playoff Committee will have to call the ball on the fourth spot when there are not four 12-1 or 13-0 conference champions. A 12-0 Big 12 team or undefeated Notre Dame is very likely an auto-bid but the lack of the 13th game makes them very vulnerable at 11-1 to getting picked of by 11-1 teams from the SEC and the PAC-12. This gets back to scheduling strategy. Every time a team schedules a tougher game the odds of a loss increase. With each loss a team places itself more in the hands of the playoff committee. An undefeated power 5 team is in the playoffs. Period.

The Mid Majors
If SOS matters in the slightest bit, you will never see a mid-major in the playoffs. Never. The toughest mid major schedule absolutely pales in the face of the major conference teams. You can point to UCF, Boise, Hawaii and Northern Illinois as teams with great mid-major seasons but they absolutely do not face the physical and emotional stress of a major conference team. As I have outlined in my National Pace of Play report, it is the size and speed that is a key element missing from all SOS rankings. The injury rates in the Major conferences are nearly three times higher than the mid-majors. In a time in which fans of major teams complain of weak out of conference scheduling, most mid-major schedules look like a giant weak OOC schedule.

The Reality
We will all be told that there are no automatic bids. Technically, that is true and technically your doctor will tell you that you could die from a common cold. Undefeated major teams are automatically in the playoffs regardless of schedule. The SEC champion is also an auto bid. 12-1 PAC-12, Big Ten and ACC teams are auto bids too. It will get greasy for 11-1 teams especially those in the less talented conferences. The lean order will be by conference power and currently that is the SEC, PAC12, ACC, Big 12 and then the Big Ten. The one area I am most unsure of is Notre Dame and an 11-1 Big 12 champ. I feel both the Irish and the Big 12 teams, unless undefeated, will need to find a 13th game in the schedule to not be left out. I would like to say mid-majors will never get in over the next 12 years of the four team playoffs, but the committee will likely feel bad not giving a 13-0 team a shot so I will set the mid-major playoff appearances over/under at one. If this decades established ranking behavior changes, then there are other forces at work beyond our control to place the four teams selected by someone not on the committee but controlling it.

NOT enough? How about the SOS rankings by their results (click)





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  3. Thomas Brown

    August 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    It says 2 comments before I reply Dave Bartoo, but I do not see them ?

    SoS is key to Florida State having to only beat # 2 Auburn and # 9 Clemson last season to win their national championship, sir.

    At the end of the season, the last 3 games will be very hard on the teams involved, and require them to have depth.

    The complaint about the BCS was that it was a 2-team play-off. I said when it started, that it should’ve been + 1 and I consistently pointed-out that it would be + 1.

    Here we are + 1

    SoS takes care of itself in + 1

    I do not know if now we can play more.

    NFL teams play 16 games.

    The top teams in college now play 15-game seasons starting this 2014-2015 season.

    Everyone should be encouraged to play tough games.

    Then, someone smart points out the obvious, as you just did again Dave Bartoo.

    Love your articles !

    If you play tough games, you have injuries – wear and tear. And, you might lose; in fact, it is far more likely you will lose.

    The University of Georgia Bulldogs would have to win 9 games 2014-2015 against very good teams to win it all.

    The Polls have always rewarded teams for playing in weak conferences.

    ALWAYS !

    If you have a winning record against teams who end up that season in the Top 25 of the AP or Coaches’ Polls, you have done extremely well.

    If you have a Winning Record against teams who end up that season in the Top 10, you absolutely belong in the 4-team play-offs.

    If you have not played any Top 10 teams at Selection Time, revert to your point Dave Bartoo that the Won/Loss Record is all that matters and you get in !

    Is UGA and is Mark Richt going to beat :

    # 16 Clemson

    # 9 South Carolina

    # 5 Auburn

    # 2 Alabama in The SEC Championship Game

    # 3 in the play-offs

    # 1 in the play-offs



    Georgie tek


    Because some school only has to beat 2 teams to be NC, as FSU last year, this year, we have + 1

    Is it perfect ? Heck no. But, it is exponentially better than what we have ever had before !

    FSU would’ve had to have beat Auburn and Alabama. I don’t think they actually beat the better of just those 2.

    We will see how the committee deals with the Top 2 SEC teams this season. Ranking the Pac-12 in a list # 1, # 2, does not begin to make the point that the Pac-12 NEVER did win a BCS National Championship while The SEC had 9 and 10 if the BCS had to guts to do what all of us have done and Award NC 2004 to Auburn.


  4. TaySC

    August 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Overall a very nice writeup and I agree with a lot of your points.

    I do, however, feel that you contradict yourself some when it comes to the SoS argument. You mention how the SEC Champ and Pac 12 Champ are locks for the 4 team playoffs. Why? Basically because of their SoS within their own conferences, even if they do not play a tough OOC schedule. You then mention how teams like Notre Dame and the Big 12 teams would need to find a 13th game or at the very least go undefeated if they stick to 12. Why? Because they have to play the same amount of games and be able to at least remotely compete with the big/top conferences SoS to stop those major conferences from getting 2 bids over them.

    In the end I do think some teams are rushing a bit and scheduling a heavyweight OOC opponent, but shouldn’t they? Isn’t that what fans want? Isn’t that what will help put more money into pockets? Of course the loser of those early OOC games has likely set themselves up to where they need to win out to stand a shot at the playoffs, but how about the winner? The winner of the game likely has set themselves up to make the playoffs as long as they continue to win.

    I have always been a proponent for tough SoS’s and while things are certainly debatable at times, some teams can certainly pass the eye test whereas other teams just haven’t been really tested and shouldn’t be rewarded for playing cupcake schedules.

    • Dave Bartoo

      August 9, 2014 at 11:21 am

      When I talk about SOS, I am referring to the ‘others’ out there in college football. Mine is weighted to the strength of the conference as 8-9 games for each team are in-conference. The weighting of conference strength has been the hidden SOS of the BCS in the previous 18 years. Fan want a tough SOS as it gives great entertainment value, but the tougher the schedule, the less likely a team can make the playoffs. Short term fan benefit, long term detriment.

  5. Carl

    August 19, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Dave, I am trying to understand what you are saying here: it sounds like you are saying that if a team wants to maximize their chances of making the 4 team playoff, then they should schedule easy out of conference games. That seems very defensible, and you give examples to back it up (such as Oregon losing to LSU).

    However, I have heard you say on the radio that SOS is not a good indicator of how good a team is. This seems ludicrous to me. A 12-0 Alabama is thought to be superior to a 12-0 Boise State because their 12-0 was achieved against a more difficult schedule. Because there is a limited amount of games, many teams earn the same record. How do we differentiate between them? It seems to me that a team who has played a lot of good teams and ends up at a certain record is better than a team that beats up on weaker teams and ends up at that same record.

    Am I missing something? I can see your point about it not being wise to schedule difficult games early, but if you are saying that quality of opponents tells us nothing about a team (in conjunction with their record against those opponents), I disagree.

    • Dave Bartoo

      August 19, 2014 at 11:23 pm

      So then how would you go about proving or disproving your assumption? Take the best available SOS rankings and then……. In this case I did (b) before I wrote (a). You just read (a) and responded.

      • Carl

        August 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm

        My assumption that SOS is indicative? I would look at teams who play each other early on in the season who end up with the same record at the end of the season. I would then see if the team with the stronger SOS (meaning the value of their wins was greater) won the game more often than not.

        I think bowl games are a poor barometer for measuring something like this because they can be so different from the rest of the season, and motivation can vary for the two teams (as you allude to in your article).

        I mean, maybe if you explain what exactly you did when you did (b), I might understand your point better. I just can’t believe that a team who schedules an easier road and completes it is just as good as a team that schedules a more difficult road and completes that. If Colorado schedules a preseason of Portland State, Sacramento State, and Eastern Washington, and goes 3-0, and Oregon Schedules a preseason of Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida State, and they also go 3-0, would you really say, “I guess those teams are equal, it be a coin flip if they played each other.”? And if you thought that Oregon was the better team based on those three games, how would you justify it without using SOS?

        • Dave Bartoo

          August 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

          There are so few head to head games that we are not going to find a good sample of your paragraph 1 suggestions. What if we just looked at bowl games that involved motivated teams? National Title games? Great bowls of the last decade?

          Your ‘what if’ scenario makes for common sense but is a situation that will likely never exist. While a team can, to some extent, control thier OOC sked, they cannot control their conf sked like the teams in the weaker Big Ten West. The last two natioanl champs had SOS ranks in the 40s and 50s.

  6. Evan Trombley

    August 21, 2014 at 7:06 am

    For 90% of the major programs, the goal is to put butts in the seats for revenue NOT trying to get into the four team playoff.

    Take out the SEC and its only three spots left.

    You make a good point about scheduling for the 10%, but again, most AD’s want intruiging matchups to get fans off their couches and into their stadiums

    • Dave Bartoo

      August 21, 2014 at 7:49 am

      Agreed 100% Evan and thus SOS is also useless for the other not top 10 schools.

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  8. Kenneth Miller

    November 29, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I like your article but here is another point for SOS. Name value is far too important . A 12-0 Toledo will not get the same respect as 10-2 LSU because LSU will get the benefit of the doubt and Toledo won’t. If FAU and Florida playes name value will skew our thought on the win. If FAU won we would say Florida had a bad game and would beat them any other time. A Florida win would just mean they are superior to FAU. The problem with the playoffs is that it keeps the traditional teams happy and make smal brand teams impossible to win a tittle with years of sustained winning. Honestly the BCS was more fair to everybody than the CFP

    • Dave Bartoo

      November 30, 2016 at 7:36 am

      I am on the other side of that fence. Toledo 12-0 has a much easier path especially with physicality. Starts lost to injury are 3x less in G5 than P5. Its a key stat missing from all SOS is the physical grind. That being said, SOS does not quantify quality of team. Until they use one that does, its just a beauty contest.

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