One of the big problems in college football is it's often not how good you really are but how good your competition is. The degree of scheduling difficulty across the sport is hardly uniform. Not even nearly so.
At the end of nearly every season, it's fair to raise a skeptical eye over the notion that more than a few 10-2 teams are better than some that are 11-1 or 12-0. From another perspective, many 5-7 teams are better than more than a few 8-4 ones.
This has long been an issue that frustrates Pac-12 folks. Playing a nine-game conference schedule -- which means half the conference teams will get an extra defeat -- as well as a challenging nonconference slate, means the Pac-12 has it tougher than other conferences.
Some will argue this point below, as always. They will be wrong. So just tell them so and move on. Right is right and blather is blather.
Phil Steele has taken a look at the college football schedules and he sees some winners -- Louisville! -- and losers.
One of whom is UCLA.
In nonconference action, they must travel to Nebraska, which is my pick to win the Big Ten Legends. In conference play, the Bruins have arguably the toughest back-to-back road trip of any team in the country this year. They play Stanford on Oct. 19 followed by Oregon on Oct. 26 and must also play at USC this year. Overall, the Bruins have top-25 talent, but will find it hard matching last year's nine wins.
Steele has a point. The Bruins' schedule is not only difficult, its conference slate is decidedly more difficult than the schedules of its top two South Division foes, Arizona State and USC.
While the Sun Devils have tough nonconference matchups -- Wisconsin and Notre Dame -- they don't play Oregon. Neither does USC. Advantage Sun Devils and Trojans.
Further, USC also misses Washington, while the Bruins miss Oregon State and Washington State. From today's vantage, the Trojans get the more favorable end of the Northwest pairs.
Just imagine how annoying it might be to UCLA fans if they beat USC head-to-head but the Trojans win the South because they were a single game ahead in the standings.
But Steele also includes an interesting -- and probably controversial -- point on how he does his preseason rankings. He writes, "Many analysts have UCLA in their preseason top 25, but I do not because of their tough schedule."
In other words, Steele ranks teams on how he thinks they will finish the season, not how good he actually thinks they are. Or at least that's a strong part of his thinking.
We're not criticizing Steele, for we know how often the Pac-12 blog confuses you folks with our top-25 lists, power rankings and various predictions. They often don't seem consistent.
This week, I will send my predictions to the Pac-12 office for the Pac-12's North and South Divisions. Schedule will figure strongly into how I rank conference teams. I previously sent my preseason top 25 to my bosses in Bristol. Schedule didn't figure into that at all -- other than me penalizing teams with notably weak nonconference schedules as a matter of principle.
When I do my final Pac-12 preseason power rankings, they might not perfectly align with my top-25 vote.
That's because I see each as a different sort of measuring stick, just as Steele puts together his rankings with different criteria than I -- or you -- might use.
By the way, let's tip our cap to longtime Pac-12 blog favorite Mississippi State, a notoriously soft nonconference scheduler. The Bulldogs have added Oklahoma State, a likely top-25 team, to their slate this fall. Good for them. They are now off my scheduling naughty list.