John E. Hoover: Strength of schedule could boost OU football in future years
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
1/16/13 at 8:45 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Strength of schedule should boost OU
NORMAN - Oklahoma is going to need better players, and the Sooners certainly will need better postseason coaching.
But if OU does harbor hopes of returning to the national championship race any time soon, one important component already is in place - and for at least the next decade.
Strength of schedule.
OU's practice of scheduling nonconference games against Alabama, Fresno State, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Cincinnati and TCU helped send the Sooners past the competition and into the national championship game in 2003, 2004 and 2008. With the likes of Tennessee, Ohio State, LSU and Nebraska under contract through 2022, Oklahoma will continue to enjoy a built-in advantage, whether it's computers or committees that analyze postseason contenders.
And starting in 2014, when college football expands its postseason to four teams, it should only fortify teams that choose to play a challenging nonconference slate.
Strength of schedule was a valued element of the early Bowl Championship Series standings, but its redundancy was removed because some of the BCS' computer rankings already factored it in.
Proponents of the four-team playoff say strength of schedule will be reemphasized starting in 2014.
"I would hope so," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "It should always be a factor. Absolutely, it needs to happen."
Stoops pointed to just this past season, when the BCS system elevated Northern Illinois into the top 16 of the BCS standings. That, and the fact that they ranked above the Big East champion, automatically qualified the Huskies for the 10-team field. If NIU had finished at No. 17 instead of No. 15, Oklahoma would have been in the Sugar Bowl and Northern Illinois would have been playing somewhere other than the Orange Bowl.
NIU went 12-1 and won the Mid-American Conference. But the Huskies' schedule strength this season was 195th in the nation out of 241 teams - well below many Championship Subdivision teams.
Oklahoma's schedule rank in 2012, according to the NCAA, was 19th.
Both NIU and Oklahoma lost their most challenging nonconference game - the Huskies to 4-8 Iowa, the Sooners to 12-0 Notre Dame.
Stoops emphasized he's not trying to drag Northern Illinois through the mud and doesn't want the perception out there that he regrets his team's assignment in the Cotton Bowl. He was, after all, just answering a question.
"It's way after the fact. I'm not at all complaining," Stoops said. "They (NIU) have their place - had they beat Iowa. Right? They weren't undefeated.
"I don't agree with it. I just don't. In the end, Iowa had a difficult year, and here they (NIU) lose to them and go on and play a bunch of teams that we'd all love to play. To me, that's not valuing strength of schedule enough."
The question, then, becomes whether the new postseason structure's added emphasis on scheduling actually helps. Every year, the question will be asked: Does a 12-0 team with a weak schedule get in ahead of an 11-1 team with a strong schedule?
At places like Oklahoma, that's relevant. Of the Sooners' 12 games in 2013, 11 opponents are coming off a bowl appearance.
"So it doesn't get any easier," Stoops said. "But, so be it."
Will it be enough for Sooner Nation to go 11-1 or 10-2 and not qualify for the four-team playoff field?
"People get bored with just winning the Big 12 championship," Stoops said. "You've gotta win the national championship."
It's now four full seasons since the Sooners last played for the national championship, the longest such stretch of Stoops' career, and many see 2013 as a rebuilding year that will stretch it to five. A recruiting recession may drag it out even longer. With such an impressive array of nonconference opponents over the next decade, can fan expectations be tempered?
"Do you think that's possible?" Stoops asked. "I'm not gonna tell them what to think. They'll think what they wanna think, and say what they wanna say."
Stoops said his own expectations - no matter who's on the schedule, and no matter what the postseason structure may be - will never change.
"What they always are," he said. "We're gonna do all we can to improve and compete for the Big 12 and hopefully the national. That's what we try and do every year."