Ann Arbor, MI. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, which ranks the difficulty of every power five team’s schedules, Michigan has the second easiest schedule in the country for the 2016 season, behind only Minnesota’s.
The five teams with the easiest ranked schedules all hail from the Big Ten, which shows the lack of confidence ESPN’s FPI has in the conference as a whole. USC, Ole Miss, and Florida State respectively have the three most difficult schedules in the nation.
Why is the Wolverines’ strength of schedule so easy? There are a few reasons. For one, Michigan’s three home, out of conference games come against some of the worst teams in the country. Last season Hawaii went 3-10, Colorado went 4-9, and UCF went 0-12. This amounts to one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the nation, which is a major reason for Michigan’s easy schedule, according to ESPN’s FPI.
— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) April 7, 2016
Another reason? Michigan’s Big Ten schedule is ranked poorly as well. 2016 road opponents, Michigan State and Iowa, which are expected to be among the best teams Michigan faces, are not even ranked in the top-30. In fact, the Wolverines will not play a team ranked in the FPI’s top 30 is their final game, at Ohio State. With only one top-30 FPI game, Michigan’s schedule was ranked second easiest in the country.
Another factor in the Wolverine’s low-ranked strength of schedule is that the two new members of the Big Ten East, Rutgers (4-8 in 2015) and Maryland (3-9), were among the worst teams in the Power Five conferences last season and are again ranked poorly this season. The Wolverines host both teams at the Big House next season, which is another major reason for the Wolverines poorly ranked strength of schedule.
While Michigan does play an easy non-conference schedule and the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten East hurt their big ten strength of schedule, it would be surprising if the Wolverines ended up with the second easiest schedule in the country when the season is over. While Michigan State and Iowa both lose major pieces, it is likely that one, or both of those teams will be a top-30 team by the time Michigan plays them.
However, with all five teams with the easiest ranked strength of schedules hailing from the Big Ten, it is apparent that the conference is not very well regarded heading into this season. It remains to be seen if Big Ten teams, like Michigan State and Iowa, who are ranked poorly heading into this season, exceed expectations.