It's not exactly news that Nebraska football faces a difficult schedule this fall. But just how difficult?
How about second-toughest in the nation? That's how Pro Football Focus has it pegged.
Pro Football Focus ranks the Huskers' schedule behind only Arkansas.' After Nebraska come Georgia Tech, Purdue, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Indiana, Auburn, Ole Miss and Florida State.
PFF uses its own formula to rate all the FBS teams and then uses those ratings to calculate strength of schedule.
That's similar to the approach of ESPN's FPI system, whose metrics place Nebraska's schedule well outside the top five but at a still-daunting No. 19. (See "SOS Remaining RK" at this link.)
Phil Steele's preseason magazine has Nebraska's schedule slotted at No. 10. Steele's formula is based on his 2021 power rankings with an adjustment for how many games are on the road.
A dirt-simple method is to combine opponents' win-loss records from the previous season. By this measure, the Huskers face the nation's 10th most difficult schedule. This formula has its obvious shortcomings, illustrated by the presence of Massachusetts in the No. 2 spot. (The UMass schedule is No. 88 in Steele's rankings and No. 93 in ESPN's.)
At this point, it's all mere guesswork. But even after the dust has settled next January, who's to say what constitutes degree of difficulty? On a scale of one to 10, if six opponents are an "8" and six are a "2," is that truly equal to a schedule consisting of a dozen "5s"?
Your answer might depend on your team's current place in college football's pecking order. If you're an upper-tier team looking for your best chance to go undefeated, you'd probably opt for the dozen "5s" and hope the playoff committee doesn't mind. If you're merely gunning for bowl eligibility, the lineup with half a dozen "2s" might provide your best chance, even though you'll most likely take some serious lumps against all those "8s".
Along those lines, Nebraska will face five teams that finished in the top 25 last year, which Steele notes is tied for most in the nation. On the flip side, just one other 2021 FBS opponent had a winning 2020 record — but the quirks of the COVID-affected season might have played a part in that.
However you slice it, it's safe to say that coach Scott Frost's task of returning Nebraska to postseason play for the first time since 2016 will be anything but easy.
Thanks to HuskerSuperGenius from the HuskerMax forums for providing the information from Phil Steele's magazine.