The College Football Playoff has made scheduling more important than ever. A schedule deemed too easy could keep a team out of the playoff (see Baylor in 2014), and a schedule considered too difficult could result in multiple losses and limit a team's national championship aspirations.
So which teams are expected to play the hardest and easiest schedules in 2016?
There are many ways to evaluate schedule strength; the traditional method sums opponents' records from the previous season to determine the toughest schedules heading into the following year.
Although this measure of SOS is a decent starting point, it has some major flaws. First, opponents' records in the previous season are not predictive of how strong teams will be going forward. For example, Michigan went 5-7 and missed a bowl in 2014, but many expected the Wolverines to improve under Jim Harbaugh in 2015. ESPN's FPI expected Michigan to be the second-most improved Power 5 school entering 2015, and it doubled its win total from the previous season.
Another flaw of the traditional method is that not all teams with the same records are created equal. Would you rather play Appalachian State or Oklahoma next season? Both were 11-2 in 2015, but an average FBS team would have a 51 percent chance to beat the Mountaineers at a neutral site in 2016, and a 6 percent chance to beat the Sooners, according to ESPN's FPI.
Finally, the traditional method fails to account for other factors such as game site, distance traveled and rest. For example, beating the 35th-ranked team (or Penn State, according to preseason FPI) on the road is about as difficult as beating the 15th-ranked team (Notre Dame) at home.
Further, playing a game after a cross-country flight or facing a team that is coming off a bye only adds to the difficulty.
FPI's projected SOS ranks are designed to account for all of these factors to produce the truest measure of schedule strength entering the 2016 season. Opponent strength is measured with preseason FPI, which incorporates past efficiencies, returning starters, talent on the roster (with recruiting ranks) and coaching tenure. For more on what goes into preseason FPI and why, read here.
The difficulty to each game is judged using opponent strength (using preseason FPI), game site, distance traveled and rest differential, which all impact a team's chance to win. To formulate the SOS rankings, a team's entire schedule is rolled up for each game to produce an expected winning percentage for an average FBS team against its schedule; examples of an average FBS team for 2016 would include Virginia (64th in FPI) and Minnesota (65th).
The teams with the toughest projected schedules will be the ones with the lowest expected winning percentage from the perspective of an average FBS team.
FPI strength of schedule rankings are available here, but let's break down the 10 toughest projected schedules for the 2016 season.