But success is a general term. Beating Texas and beating North Texas are two very different things. Throughout the past half-decade, some teams have done a nice job of trying to test their mettle against the upper-echelon teams, while more than a few others have worried about winning their conference games and shied away from many challenges from far-away foes.
But which BCS-conference teams really have the huevos to challenge themselves routinely in non-conference play? Let's take a look...
(NOTE: All stats include the 2005-2009 seasons, and Notre Dame was counted as a BCS opponent.)
|Team ||Non-conf |
| NC Games |
|Percent|| BCS W || BCS L ||Win % |
| Southern Cal ||21||17||81%||16||1||.941|
| Wake Forest ||22||14||64%||9||5||.643|
| Florida State ||24||15||63%||7||8||.467|
| Georgia Tech ||24||15||63%||7||8||.467|
| North Carolina ||21||13||62%||4||9||.308|
| West Virginia ||29||15||51.7%||11||4||.733|
You may look at that list and assume I decided to simply share the top 10 teams in terms of most non-conference games vs. BCS-level opponents. Indeed, the list is just 10 teams long. But that wasn't just me looking for a nice, round number. That's the complete list of all teams in BCS conferences who scheduled more than half of their out-of-conference games against other BCS-level foes. Ten. That's it.
Now, to be fair, there were a few others -- Penn State, Cal, Louisville, Clemson, Michigan State, Illinois and Washington -- who hit the 50 percent mark right on the dot. Even then, that gives us just 17 teams (out of 65) who played high-level opponents in at least half their non-conference games. Given that only the 2005 season was played under the old 11-game schedule (and that this includes bowl matchups), it seems fair to agree with the "small-market" teams of the world who don't seem to think they're getting a fair shot.
Let's look a bit more at the list above, too.
First off, you might notice that the list includes representatives from the ACC, Pac-10, SEC, Big East and Big Ten. One conference, however, is noticeably absent. Why, it's the Big 12! I guess all those matchups with Iowa State, Baylor and Colorado are intimidating enough that it's not worth going above and beyond out of conference.
Secondly, you might also notice how the numbers in the final column compare to the overall number of games played against BCS opponents. Of the top 10 teams with the most games against high-level foes out of conference, four are under .500 in those games, and Miami is right at the break-even point.
Wake Forest certainly deserves kudos for its efforts -- after all, a small school in a big conference already has its work cut out for it -- but I also don't want to go too far overboard in that praise. Seven of Wake's 14 non-conference BCS-level games were against Baylor, Syracuse and Vanderbilt -- not exactly the murderer's row of collegiate powerhouses.
So if we set aside Wake's achievements (which, I realize, is a tad unfair), we're left with four other teams who have separated themselves as both a.) playing a more difficult schedule than the rest of the country, and b.) succeeding with that schedule: Southern Cal, Georgia, Iowa and West Virginia.
Not surprisingly, all four programs have met with their share of success since 2005, and each has at least one conference title in that span.
In Southern Cal's case, you'd have to be crazy to say the Trojans haven't been one of the three or four best programs in college football in the past half-decade. They're good. But is an arduous non-conference slate really as big a deal as it appears? I'm hesitant to take anything away from the Trojans, but here's another stat I noted the other day: Since 2002, 59 percent of all the top-100 recruits signed by Pac-10 teams went to USC. That's a huge advantage that the Trojans have over the rest of their conference, which simply hasn't been balanced from top-to-bottom each year. Meanwhile, Washington, Washington State, Stanford and Arizona have combined for a grand total of just four bowl appearances in the past five seasons.
It's not that Southern Cal shouldn't be patted on the back for its solid non-conference slate, but it should also be noted that going through the Pac-10 isn't exactly a week-in, week-out battle.
The same is true to varying degrees for West Virginia and Iowa, but in Georgia's case, the numbers all say that the SEC is as grueling as it gets -- and yet it hasn't been grueling enough for the Bulldogs when it comes to scheduling. When you combine the fact that Georgia has played in the toughest conference while playing the seventh-most out-of-conference games against BCS foes (not to mention dates with ranked Boise State and Hawaii teams during that span) and it's not at all unreasonable to say that the Bulldogs have proven themselves against perhaps the most elite schedule in the nation during the last five years, and done so to the tune of a .739 overall winning percentage. Not too shabby.
Now, does saying Georgia played a few more tough games than its competition make up for the fact that Florida has two national titles in that span, while Georgia has two four-plus-loss seasons? Obviously not, but it does go to show that some of the criticism about Mark Richt's performance has been vastly overstated.
When discussing the overall percentage of games that a school schedules against BCS opponents, I included bowl games in the equation. Of course, those games aren't scheduled, and while a program deserves credit for winning them, it doesn't deserve credit for playing them. So, who's doing the best and worst jobs of scheduling tough games?
The list of the best teams isn't much different from our initial list:
|Team ||Scheduled |
| Southern Cal ||12||75%|
| Georgia Tech ||12||63%|
| Wake Forest ||12||63%|
| North Carolina ||11||58%|
| Florida State ||10||53%|
Hey, kudos to Georgia Tech, by the way. UGA fans may make fun of their nerdy compatriots, but at least they're doing their best to play the part of the tough guy.
Also, as a note, here's the complete list of teams from BCS conferences who scheduled at least 10 games against other BCS-level foes from 2005-2009 (i.e. at least two per season): Syracuse (15), Southern Cal (12), Georgia Tech (12), Wake Forest (12), North Carolina (11), Connecticut (11), Louisville (11), Florida State (10), Georgia (10), West Virginia (10), South Florida (10) and Pittsburgh (10).
Keep in mind, too, that the Big East, due to its 8-team conference, plays more non-conference games per season than anyone else.
Now let's look at the worst:
|Team || Scheduled |
| Texas Tech ||0||0%|
| Oklahoma State ||3||15.8%|
Those are the only eight teams in the country to schedule fewer than 20 percent of their non-conference games against BCS-level foes, and four of them come from the Big 12. Texas Tech, in the past five years, has failed to schedule a single non-conference game against a team from another automatic-bid conference. Embarrassing.
(And to make matters a bit worse for Texas Tech, they're the only team in the nation that has played seven games in the past five years against FCS opponents. Only five others have even played six -- Cincinnati, Rutgers, Ole Miss, Kansas State and NC State.)
Ten other teams have scheduled big-boy foes 25 percent of the time or fewer, and that list begins with a couple of SEC teams -- LSU and Alabama -- and also includes Arkansas, Mississippi and Mississippi State, so the SEC shouldn't exactly be pointing fingers either.
I'm not sure whether you want to call it a coincidence or not, but while the Big 12 and SEC have had the weakest non-conference slates during the past five years, they have also provided seven of the 10 representatives in the BCS national championship game during that span. Food for thought.
Some more numbers...
Who has fattened up on lower-tier teams the most of late? Here's the list of most wins vs. non-BCS, non-conference foes during that span:
| Boston College||18|
| South Florida||17|
Again, it's worth noting that the Big East plays more non-conference games, so it stands to reason they'd have a few teams show up on this list.
Also, there's that old Pat Hill notion of playing any team, any time, anywhere, and it's the "anywhere" part that interested me. So, who has gone on the road to play the most non-conference games during the past five years? (Note: True road games only, not neutral site games.)
|Team|| Road NC|
| Southern Cal||8||50%|
| South Florida||12||50%|
| Oregon State||7||44%|
| U Conn||10||42%|
Those eight teams are the only BCS-conference squads to have played at least 40 percent of their non-conference games on the road since 2005.
Here's the other end of the spectrum -- every BCS-conference team to play fewer than 20 percent of their non-conference games in a true road stadium:
|Team|| Road NC|
| Percent of|
| Arizona State||2||13.3%|
| Penn State||3||15.8%|
| South Carolina||3||15.8%|
| Texas A&M||3||15.8%|
(UPDATE: South Carolina has actually played four road games -- North Carolina, NC State and two against Clemson. That's a typo on my end. Many apologies to the Gamecocks.)
Now that's just embarrassing for the SEC. Of that list of 12 teams, six are from the SEC. Heck, even Texas Tech, who doesn't exactly challenge itself with top opposition, has still played six games on the road.
(To be fair, Alabama has played two neutral site games in Atlanta during that stretch -- one against Virginia Tech and one against Clemson.)
Worth noting: Auburn's only true road game in non-conference play since 2005 was its date at West Virginia in '08, which the Tigers lost. Florida has played just two true road games -- both at Florida State, and both wins. As you know, Florida hasn't left its home state for a non-conference games since the first Bush administration.
(And in case you're wondering, here's the complete list of Florida's out-of-conference competition aside from bowl games and its annual showdown with FSU: Miami, Louisiana Tech, Wyoming, Central Florida, Hawaii (in Game 1 after Colt Brennan left), Southern Miss, Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Troy (twice), Western Kentucky, The Citadel, Charleston Southern and Florida International. Oh, and FSU is 0-5 in its annual game with the Gators during the last five seasons, too.)
Among SEC teams, only four played at least five road non-conference games (i.e. one per year) during that span: Vandy (8), Mississippi State (7), Ole Miss (5) and Georgia (5).
One other interesting Georgia note: Arizona State has played just two road non-conference games since 2005, one was against Georgia. Oklahoma State has played just three BCS-level non-conference games since 2005, and two were against Georgia.
Two other fun notes to end on:
-- No team won five bowl games from 2005-2009. Nine teams won four: Rutgers, Florida, West Virginia, Georgia, California, Texas, LSU, Penn State and Southern Cal.
-- One team did manage to lose five bowl games during that stretch. Guess who... yup, Georgia Tech!