The Wolverine

October 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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OCTOBER 2022 THE WOLVERINE 65 E ntering the 2022 football season, Michigan was expected to have one of the softest nonconference schedules by facing Colorado State, Ha- waii and Connecticut. Colorado State had not won more than four games since 2017. Hawai'i experi- enced a mass exodus of talent after sev- eral players alleged that head coach Todd Graham mistreated them, allegations that led to Graham resigning in disgrace. UConn has been one of the worst FBS programs recently, posting a 4-32 record in its last three seasons and not earning more than three wins in a year since 2015. Michigan's nonconference slate went just as expected. The Wolverines crushed the Rams, Rainbow Warriors and Huskies in their first three weeks of the season. Michigan scored at least 50 points, sur- rendered no more than 10 points and won by at least 44 points in all three contests. With Michigan winning in such domi- nant fashion, there has been very little to criticize about the Wolverines' perfor- mance on the field. Instead, most of the criticism has shifted towards the quality of Michigan's opponents so far and its nonconference strength of schedule. It is fair to point out that Michigan does have one of the weakest, if not the weak- est, nonconference slates in the country. Colorado State, Hawai'i and UConn are a combined 2-10, and those two victories were against FCS programs (Duquesne and Central Connecticut State). With such putrid campaigns this sea- son, Colorado State, Hawai'i, and UConn are 121st, 128th and 126th, respectively, out of 131 FBS teams in ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) rankings. As a result, FPI lists Michigan as having the softest strength of schedule among all FBS teams. However, it is not fair to call Michi- gan's nonconference scheduling cow- ardly, as one media member (Unnec- essary Roughness' Brandon Walker) recently did. Rather, Michigan's non- conference scheduling is quite smart because non-conference strength of schedule is overrated. In a sport driven by polls and com- mittees, strength of schedule — whether overall or nonconference only — is a metric that is thrown around to attempt to evaluate teams. And there has been a perception that a team needs a solid nonconference win to put their résumé over the top. This existed when polls contributed to the BCS rank- ings. It still remains now with the playoff. This perception could not be falser, though. For a Power Five program, what really matters — what has always mattered — is the number of losses that a team has. Since 2014 when the College Football Playoff commenced, the committee has never selected one Power Five team over another with fewer losses. Not once. Not even in 2016 when a two-loss Penn State team beat Ohio State, won the Big Ten East, captured the Big Ten crown, yet still watched a one-loss OSU team get chosen for the CFP instead of them. The playoff committee has not dem- onstrated that it will value strength of schedule or strength of record more than the number in the loss column. As a result, the damage of a loss to a quality opponent for a Power Five program is much more than the benefit of beating a quality opponent. Therefore, choosing to place a strong nonconference opponent on one's schedule is not worth the risk. See Ohio State in 2021. If the Buckeyes had hosted Ohio instead of Oregon in Week 2, they would have been 11-1. Even with the loss to Michigan, the committee likely would have put OSU in the playoff field. Even over unbeaten Cincinnati because Cincy is a Group of Five school. Plus, Michigan's overall strength of schedule will be more than fine at the end of the season. Michigan will play nine conference games, whereas SEC and ACC schools will participate in only eight conference games. Even if an SEC or ACC team schedules one nonconference game against a Power Five foe, they still will have the same number of matchups against Power Five schools as Michigan. Look at Alabama, whose regular- season schedule consists of eight SEC schools and Texas, and then Utah State (117th in FPI), Louisiana-Monroe (119th in FPI) and Austin Peay (an FCS school). Yet no one is complaining about the Tide's nonconference schedule. If Michigan's goal is to make the playoff and contend for a national title for a sec- ond straight season, it makes little sense to put a 10th game against a Power Five school on the schedule when so many others are only playing nine as well. The strength of facing Ohio State and Penn State, and potentially Michigan State and Iowa, will be enough to buoy Michigan's strength of schedule. Currently, FPI proj- ects that Michigan's remaining strength of schedule is the 25th toughest. If Michigan goes 11-1, very few people will be talking about the Wolverine's nonconference opponents. They will be talking about U-M's one loss instead, and U-M should be in the playoff. And not risking a second loss in the first three weeks would be a big reason for why. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Nonconference Scheduling Was Smart Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Michigan's swarming defense held oppo- nents to 5.7 points per game through the first three contests. Sophomore defensive lineman George Rooks' fumble recovery helped the Wolverines post a 59-0 shutout against UConn. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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