AUBURN, Ala. — Every SEC team claims a tough schedule.
But one team’s schedule is tougher than all others heading into the 2016 season, according to a sophisticated set of ratings: Auburn.
The Tigers’ strength of schedule ranks first nationally, according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index‘s strength of schedule ratings. FEI is a rating system developed by Brian Fremeau that is based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Media outlets such as ESPN and several others utilize the system during the season.
A deep dive into the numbers explain why Auburn owns the toughest schedule in the country:
- Auburn is the only team in the country scheduled to face three teams ranked in the top five of the FEI ratings.
- Auburn and Southern Cal are the only teams scheduled to face five teams in the top 15.
- The strength of schedule in the SEC is unmatched. Twelve of the 15 hardest schedules are owned by SEC teams, including four SEC West teams that claim the top four spots (Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Ole Miss).
- Auburn’s schedule is, by far, the toughest in the country, according to the ratings. Auburn’s schedule strength scores a .042 compared to No. 2 Mississippi State at .062.
What do all of the numbers mean? Well, nothing until the season begins, but it does provide a better perspective on preseason prognostications while also providing a complex-but-simple simulation of the season — and it may temper fans’ expectations, too.
The computer ratings include interesting win-loss projections for elite teams, good teams and average teams against the schedules of all 128 teams in the FBS. Auburn’s journey is not favorable for the Tigers led by fourth-year coach Gus Malzahn.
An elite team would average 2.41 losses against Auburn’s schedule, a good team would average 5.22 losses and an average team would average 7.73 losses.
In other words, an average team facing Auburn’s schedule would finish with a 4-8 record, according to the FEI. A good team would finish with a 7-5 record, which is nearly on par with the Tigers’ 7-6 mark last season.
Malzahn enters a critical year for the Auburn football program, which has failed over the last two years to match the first-year success of a 12-2 record, SEC title and runner-up finish in the BCS National Championship. Auburn opened the 2015 season No. 6 in the nation but has lost nine of its last 11 SEC games, including an 0-4 mark last season at home.
Auburn also is rebuilding on offense after a sub-par season with quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Sean White sharing the reins. The Tigers will break in several new receivers while weighing whether to stick with White or Johnson, or go with newcomer John Franklin III at quarterback. Auburn also enters the upcoming season with five new assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, on the staff.
The Tigers open the season Sept. 3 against Clemson, which is ranked No. 3 by the FEI ratings, inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.