If you still aren't familiar with Bill Connelly's work, he's one of the most well-researched college football writers and one of the leaders in football analytics.
His writing happens here in the SB Nation family, while the analytics is at Football Outsiders.
Based on his meticulous analysis and research of every college football program, and using the advanced stats created by Football Outsiders, Connelly recently posted a 1-128 ranking for the upcoming 2015 season. Of note, he explained this was not an exercise in evaluating schedules and deciding what records teams would finish with, but rather a measure of how good he thinks teams should be.
He broke the landscape down into eight tiers. I took BYU's schedule and referenced it against Connelly's list, partly because I felt there were many middle-tier opponents BYU fans were discrediting.
Here's how BYU's schedule shapes up in Connelly's well-researched list:
Tier 1: Contenders
This group is an exclusive six deep, and BYU plays no Tier 1 teams in 2015.
Tier 2: Could easily be contenders with a couple of happy answers
The answer UCLA is looking for is at quarterback. If that happens, the Bruins could be really good.
Tier 3: A top-15 performance would not be surprising
26. Boise State
It's interesting that such a big chunk of opponents (one-third of the schedule, to be exact) would come from a pretty good tier of teams, especially those who could break through for a really good season. It's also interesting BYU is included in this group that ranges from 18-34. Many are skeptical if either Nebraska and Michigan will be able to put together good seasons. Connelly's estimation says they should.
Tier 4: A couple will play at a top-25 level
In my estimation, the Bearcats are the team BYU fans are overlooking the most. Cincinnati could end up really good if the cards fall right.
So already, we have half of BYU's opponents in the top 40. Pretty strong, right? That's definitely a mark of a healthy schedule if Connelly's analysis comes to fruition.
Tier 5: Top-40 is the goal
64. Utah State
66. East Carolina
This tier is full of teams who are good teams, but due to talent coming back might not have enough to post a top-25 season -- and a top-40 season would therefore be considered a successful, possibly overachieving one.
Math-wise, Utah State comes in at the exact half-way point of the 1-128 rankings. Since the difference between 64 and 66 is likely very negligible, and I'm not willing to split that hair, this tier gives BYU six opponents in the top-40 and eight (that's two-thirds) in the top half of the country.
Tier 6: Mid-major up-and-comers, P5 deadweights
BYU has no opponents in this tier
Tier 7: :-(
95. San Jose State
103. Fresno State
Connelly writes of SJSU: "San Jose State is basically a West Coast Western Michigan. The Spartans reeled in a top-60 recruiting class out of nowhere, better than Iowa's ... and now we wait to see how long it takes for a talent upgrade to actually make a difference."
Tier 8: :-( :-( :-(
The final tier consists of the worst 13 schools in the country. BYU gets one at home. And woof.
Two-thirds of BYU's schedule is beyond solid, according to Connelly, and then the final third is filled with cupcakes -- which is not terribly different than many teams. (Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Syracuse are all Power 5 teams in Tier 7, for example.)
* * *
Averaging out the 11 FBS opponents, the Cougars' average opponent ranking in Connelly's list is 55.
For a reference of someone with similar non-P5 status who plays well, Boise State's average opponent ranking is 82. In fact, BYU is Boise's only top-40 opponent, compared to BYU's six such opponents. Really makes you jones for Mountain West membership, doesn't it.
Overall, examination of Connelly's ranking gives BYU a strong schedule. Juggernauts every week? Certainly not, but BYU will face stiff competition throughout. Can't wait.