Them Tigers ain't played nobody, PAWWWWWLLLL!
There's always a built-in excuse to discount Les Miles success, and this year's model is that LSU has played a weak schedule. And for a program that once played two Power 5 conference champions, both away from the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium, this year's schedule is a disappointment.
Western Kentucky might be the strongest team LSU plays out of conference this season which, frankly, is unacceptable for this program. Miles has largely opted out of the race to the bottom in scheduling, traditionally scheduling at least one tough out of conference game. This year lacked a marquee OOC matchup, and that is fundamentally disappointing as a fan.
This has given strength to the cudgel that LSU is not really that good of a team, but an illusion of its schedule. And while by its normal standards, LSU has played an easy schedule this season, that fact primarily demonstrates how high the standard for "normal" is around these parts. This is a normal schedule by the terms of a normal college football team, we're just so used to playing insanely difficult ones that we think a normal schedule is a tremendously easy one.
There is no definitive ranking for strength of schedule, but the traditional NCAA method is to take your opponent's winning percentage multiplied by the opponent's opponents winning percentage. By this metric, LSU has the 28th toughest schedule in the country.
Not 2011 by any means, but again, hardly an embarrassment. That's a top quartile schedule, if only just barely. But that's hardly the SOS of a team that is an illusion of its easy schedule.
But, hey, I can hear you thinking right now, isn't the NCAA method pretty worthless? We're in the middle of the advanced stat revolution, and you're using a model from the 1980s? And you're partially right. I'm not thrilled with how the NCAA ranks schedule, but I'm not sure anyone else has it right either. The best way to determine SOS is to look at a bunch of rankings and see how they all treat the schedule.
Every major strength of schedule rating save one has LSU with a top quartile schedule. And while S&P is definitely cooler on our schedule strength, it is not that far off the pack, still rating LSU's schedule in the upper part of the second quartile. None of these methods rate LSU as having a bad schedule, and almost all of them rate it as being a strength, not something we have to apologize for.
Now, this is largely an academic exercise anyway. LSU's schedule is about to get tougher, and just because of Western Kentucky. LSU will then play Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. That's quite a finishing kick, and it will bump LSU's schedule strength even higher. If we're fortunate enough at the end of the year to be in a position in which we're comparing resumes, schedule strength will be nothing but an asset for LSU.
Sometimes, we spend so long waiting for the "real" season to begin, we fail to realize the season is already half over. Stats and results at this point are incredibly unlikely to be a mirage of schedule. You are who you are at this point of the year.
And what is LSU? The front runner to win the SEC.