A recurring theme in the defense of Randy Edsall and his 2-6 record has been that this year's schedule is significantly more challenging than last. I've heard this claim repeated ad nauseum, but have not seen any hard evidence to justify it. So is this claim true? And if so, is this a valid excuse for the poor performance thus far? Follow me over the jump.
First, let's compare overall statistics. The average rating of teams that Maryland faced in 2010 was 68.58 (higher is better), good for an average rank of 73.62 in the country. Compare this to 2011, where the average rating has been 73.29 for an average of 56.25 in the country. On the surface, it appears Maryland faces better opponents this year.
While those ratings are nice, they are incomplete without looking at the context of the schedule. In 2010, the average schedule rating for Maryland's opponents was 69.04 (average rank of 60.92 nationally, lower being better). To contrast, the average schedule rating for this year has been 67.23 (average rank of 73.00 nationally). This means our opponents this year have faced an easier schedule than those we faced last year.
Here's the takeaway: Maryland's opponents have been stronger this year, but this apparent strength has been mitigated because they have beaten up on significantly weaker competition.
To return to my first question, the answer is superficially yes, the schedule this year is discernibly more difficult than last year. However, it is not as big of a difference as some posters on this board would have you believe.
As for the second question, well I just don't know the answer to that. My guess is that it's certainly a contributing factor, but if we were able to control for all variables, my gut says that last year's team would have performed better against this schedule.
And yes, this is just a meaningless exercise, so feel free to rip this apart.