Strength of schedule re-analysis: Road ahead still daunting for Utah and BYU, easier for Utah State
Tom Smart, Deseret News
Before the 2013 season began, all three in-state schools were being heralded as taking on their toughest football schedule in school history.
With Utah State moving up to the Mountain West Conference, Utah scheduled to play the top two teams in the Pac-12 — Oregon and Stanford — and BYU's independent schedule including trips to Wisconsin and Notre Dame, the hype seemed to fit.
When the season began, five Utah foes were ranked in the Associated Press top 25 preseason poll — No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 Stanford, No. 21 UCLA, No. 24 USC and No. 25 Oregon State. BYU had four ranked opponents — No. 14 Notre Dame, No. 15 Texas, No. 19 Boise State and No. 23 Wisconsin. Utah State, meanwhile, had two opponents ranked before the season — No. 19 Boise State and No. 24 USC.
Those numbers have changed since the start of the season. Utah still has four ranked opponents on its 2013 schedule, while BYU and Utah State have none. A lot of it has to do with Boise State, Notre Dame and USC, all 3-2, failing to live up to preseason expectations.
The Cougars own the lone victory over a top 25 team thus far. When BYU beat Texas 40-21, the Longhorns were ranked No. 15. The loss knocked Texas out of the top 25.
Do the current rankings paint a true picture of how the upcoming road will play out? Not necessarily. But for now, it gives an indication of the current direction some teams are heading.
The teams remaining on Utah's schedule have a combined record of 25-7, and all have winning records. That includes No. 2 Oregon (4-0), No. 5 Stanford (4-0), No. 12 UCLA (3-0) — who plays at Utah on Thursday — and No. 22 Arizona State (3-1).
BYU's future opponents — not including FCS team Idaho State — are not far behind with a 22-11 combined record, and none have a losing record. While Wisconsin (3-2) and Notre Dame have dropped out of the AP poll, both are still receiving votes.
For the Aggies, though, only three future opponents have a winning record, all at 3-2, and have combined to go 14-18 this season. With Boise State falling out of the top 25, Utah State may not face a ranked opponent all year. The Aggies' best chance would be to win the MWC's Mountain Division and face Fresno State, currently ranked No. 23 and 4-0 to start the year, in the league's championship game.
The Jeff Sagarin ratings, which are used as part of the BCS formula and measure strength of schedule, also indicate a rough sled ahead for the Utes. Five of Utah's next six opponents, USC being the lone exception, are ranked in the top 30 of the Sagarin ratings.
Only one Utah opponent isn't currently in the top 50 of the Sagarin ratings — No. 83 Colorado, the Utes' final game of the season.
BYU still will face five teams in the top 40 of the Sagarin ratings in its final seven games, including at No. 26 Utah State on Friday and at No. 15 Wisconsin in November.
For Utah State, though, the slate gets considerably easier following the Aggies' matchups against No. 43 BYU and No. 33 Boise State in their next two games. Beyond that, the highest a USU opponent is ranked in the Sagarin ratings is Wyoming, at No. 71. Another Aggie opponent, New Mexico, is 12 spots below Southern Utah in Sagarin's ratings, at No. 152.
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