Phil Steele confirms what we already knew

Arkansas has the toughest schedule in the nation this year. It was close to, if not already that way…but dropping the non-conference opponents and adding Georgia and Florida made it a slam-dunk.

The only question I have is if it is historically the hardest EVER? Someone ought to retro-rank teams using ESPN’s FPI and compare the most difficult schedules for each year. I can’t imagine a more difficult one (by rankings) than what we have this year. We face 6 of the top 13 teams in the AP pre-season poll , and ALL 10 are ranked in the top 57 of ESPN’s FPI rankings. I can’t imagine that’s ever happened before.

Take a look at all of the SEC teams clustered at the top of this SOS ranking:

IMO the only rankings that matter are the ones at the end of the season.

You won’t know until the end of the year. And, you can’t get the same matching data from ESPN for very long. ESPN hasn’t existed long enough to have data from the 50s when the SWC was among the nation’s best leagues.

A good baseline test at the end of the season would be whether this year’s Arkansas schedule was as hard as Texas A&M’s last season when the Aggies played the national champion (LSU), national runner-up (Clemson) and two 12-win teams (Alabama and Georgia). That’s not to mention a good Auburn team that won nine games.

Even then it would be a difficult comparison given the differences with how unique the schedules are this year.

The major difference is that Texas A&M played Arkansas last year. That flips any comparison. Arkansas is not playing anyone comparable to last year’s Arkansas team.

Understand and agree…end of year rankings > pre-season rankings. But we’re discussing this in the pre-season, so we don’t have that information yet. So I’ll still say that I’ll bet no other team in history has had a schedule that included 6 of the top 13 (preseason) teams in the country.

Second thing - with this particular schedule, it’s VERY unlikely the EOY ranking will vary too much. One reason is the “incestuous” nature of the SEC and who is clustered at the top of the FPI SOS rankings. With SEC teams ONLY playing within themselves, it is guaranteed that they will all say ranked very high (in SOS). No teams outside of the SEC play any SEC teams, so cannot “gain” on the SEC teams, who will only bolster their own SOS rankings playing each other.

Yet another reason why this season is unusual. By my count…about reason # 2,438…with more to come.

Also, Clay, I’m sure you’re right that they can’t go back 150 years with the FPI…but I’ll bet they could the last 50 years or so…probably longer than that. The records exist to calculate FPI for that block of time. And even though FPI may not be something that can be estimated for all seasons, there are other metrics used for SOS…some better than others…like W/L record of opponents, that could be used.

As I’ve said here many times, I always assume Arkansas has “the hardest” (or, close enough to it that the difference doesn’t really matter) schedule in the country. I’ve used the analogy of a golf tournament before. The winner doesn’t have to shoot the best (lowest) round in any of the 4 days to win the tournament; he just needs to have the best aggregate. He might shoot a 69 on day 1 while someone else shoots 66. But if the winner shoots a 68 on Day 2 (still not low round of the day) while the other guy (from day 1) balloons to a 77 on day 2, he’s ahead of that first day leader.

In similar fashion, Arkansas need never have to have THE hardest schedule in a given year (though, we have) to have had the hardest schedule over any 5 or 10 year “rolling” period of time. That’s what I figured out somewhere around Y2K. It used to really gall me when these know-nothing national “journalists” would ridicule our non-conference schedule in a given year, TOTALLY ignoring the fact that overall, our SOS was - say - #7 in the country. So I did some research and figured out that, year in and year out (since we joined the SEC), our schedule is THE most difficult of any team in the nation.

A few years later, this article came out (scroll down to the third table) and confirmed it with hard research. Our schedule hasn’t gotten any easier since then.

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I’ve said for years that every game in the SEC for us is essentially a New Year’s Bowl Game.

What we need this year is to win ONE SEC game to be rewarded a non-conf bowl game against a patsy (in comparison).

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