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Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Breaking Down the Conference Schedule
Yesterday I said that I was going to make my preseason picks for the standings and for the all-conference team. In preparing to do so, I got a little sidetracked. I decided to take a look at how the uneven scheduling would affect different teams' chances.

As many of you know, the Big Ten does not follow the traditional round-robin conference format, where each team plays a home and away game with each other team. Instead, they play home and away with six teams and just one game with the four remaining teams, for a total of 16 conference games. This creates an imbalance in the schedule (e.g., Michigan State plays Illinois once this year, while Iowa faces the Illini twice). I went a little crazy and tried to create a simple, unscientific model to see which teams have the easiest/hardest conference schedule.

I started by assigning each team a value. I used the predicted standings from Big Ten Media Day and gave the best team (Illinois) 11 points, second best 10 points, and so on. Then I added total values for all the conference games a team would play. The higher the team's score, the more difficult their schedule. To illustrate, Iowa's scoring went like this:

Michigan(8) x 2 = 16
Ohio State(4) x 2 = 8
Minnesota(2) x 2 = 4
Illinois(11) x 2 = 22
Purdue(3) x 2 = 6
Northwestern(5) x 2 = 10
Indiana(6) x 1 = 6
Michigan State(10) x 1 = 10
Wisconsin(9) x 1 = 9
Penn State(1) x 1 = 1

Total = 92

Here are the results, starting with the easiest schedules.

Schedule Difficulty
Michigan State84
Iowa 92
Ohio State98
Penn State105

1. The fewest points any team could score (where the top team plays the 2-5 teams only once) is 76.
2. The most points any team could score (where the last place team plays the 7-10 teams only once) is 116.
3. Starting higher in the original standings makes one's schedule inherently easier, because that team does not have to play itself. For example, Illinois is more likely to have an easier schedule than Penn State because Illinois does not have to play itself, but gets at least one game against Penn State.
4. I did not take into account whether games were played at home or on the road.

Does all this work really accomplish anything? Before sifting through all the numbers, I think we could see that Iowa was lucky to only play Michigan State and Wisconsin once each this year. This shows up in their relatively low schedule difficulty number. It helps me, anyway, to have a little chart (attempting) to measure schedule difficulty instead of trying to compare each team's individual schedule. Hope you get some use out of it too.

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