Army West Point Kevin Ward and his team (photos courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
With an abridged and unusual collegiate season in 2021, it felt great to get back to normal for the 2021-22 season. All DI teams were back in action and generally wrestled full schedules (with a few Covid-related cancellations thrown in). As the season progressed and we saw fun dual events like the Collegiate Duals, I noticed there were some teams with ridiculously loaded schedules. That spurred me to do some sort of an article about which was the toughest. Well, what happened was that the season "happened," and it got lost in the shuffle.
Now that there aren't any pesky results or rankings to worry about, we can dig deeper into whose schedule was the toughest. Of course, there are plenty of ways to judge this type of thing and I have a couple of different ways to look for this type of exercise.
Below you'll see a chart with seven columns full of numbers. Those columns are from left to right: Opponents winning percentage, Non-Conference opponents winning percentage, # of InterMat's Top-25 Dual teams faced, # of InterMat's Top-10 Dual teams faced, Conference Opponents in IM's Top-25, Non-Conference Opponents in IM's Top-25, and dual record.
For this exercise, we looked at those top 25 dual teams, plus six others that had difficult-looking schedules.
Here's what each of those columns mean, why they may be important, and why they may be misleading. I think it's important to stress why some of these numbers are misleading and you need to look at all of the information before drawing any larger conclusions.
Because of 2021-22 still being under the cloud of Covid, there were plenty of duals that were scheduled, yet never wrestled. We have given schools credit for scheduling a team, even if the dual was not wrestled. The purpose is to find who compiled the toughest schedules, so it's not their fault the dual didn't actually occur.
Also, only duals against DI schools were counted in winning percentages.
Opponents winning percentage: This is simply the winning percentage of every team on a school's schedule. Pretty straightforward, huh? Here are a few outliers that make this not a perfect metric.
Nebraska and Minnesota. The Huskers and Gophers finished the year ranked 13th and 14th, respectively, in InterMat's dual team rankings. Both were pretty strong squads. Well, Nebraska finished the year with a 6-5 record and Minnesota was 4-6. Both teams wrestled brutal schedules, so having either on your schedule made it appear weaker than say, Lock Haven (10-5) or Bucknell (12-6), which obviously wasn't the case.
That leads us to Michigan State, who had duals with both Lock Haven and Bucknell. Not coincidentally, the winning percentage of the Spartans opponents may look better than one may initially imagine.
Down at the bottom of the winning percentage column is Campbell. They had a solid out-of-conference schedule, but were hurt here by some of their SoCon foes. Which brings us to:
Non-Conference winning percentage: Some conferences are too big to wrestle each team; others see their league rivals once a year. Either way, the coaches have full control of their out-of-conference schedule. Some have decided to beef their sched up with a boatload of tough out-of-conference opponents, while others chose to lay low.
The "anyone/anytime" mantra from Army West Point is reflected in their absurd 84.33% winning percentage for out-of-conference opponents. Only Minnesota and Lehigh came within ten points of that mark. It's a good thing we mentioned Minnesota. The Gophers only had two out-of-conference duals with DI opponents (Oklahoma State and South Dakota State). Those teams finished with identical 13-4 records, so Minnesota didn't really have as high of a number of duals as others.
Now one variable we didn't consider which could have hurt Army in a normal season was "extra-countable matches." They had one of these new-fangled deals including American and Franklin & Marshall. Had these been duals, it probably would have knocked their regular winning percentage, a bit.
One other takeaway here is that the Ivy Leagues have a limited number of dates they can schedule. With that in mind, Cornell and Princeton really wanted to challenge themselves with those other dates, as both had percentage's over 72%.
# of Dual Against InterMat's top 25: Three teams managed double-digits in duals against top-25 squads. Iowa, Penn State, and Lehigh. Obviously, the Big Ten schedule helps Iowa and Penn State boost their numbers. Lehigh is the surprising one (for some). The Mountain Hawks actually cost some of their opponents as they were besieged by injuries and fell out of the top-25 themselves, late in the year.
Big Ten schools like Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin also faced nine of the top-25. Arizona State did as well, and they're the only non-Big Ten squad to have that total.
# of Duals Against InterMat's top 10: A disclaimer of this and the top-25. Some of this is luck. Had we tracked these in the middle of the season, some teams would have had more top-10/25 wins than now. Take Oklahoma State for example. Getting Oklahoma State on the schedule had always been imposing for the entire existence of collegiate wrestling. After the AJ Ferrari injury, the Cowboys hit a rough patch and fell to #12. That means that you didn't get credit for having a team like OSU on the schedule (for this component), whereas they are always an excellent program.
The only school that faced six of the final top-ten teams in dual competition was Northern Iowa. Now if you cheat ahead and look at the Panthers dual record, they finished at 7-7. So basically, UNI wrestled a tough-as-nails schedule and beat who you'd expect to beat.
The weird "only in a Covid-era" (hopefully) outlier from this and other categories is the NC State/Virginia Tech dual debacle. The forfeited win is counted on the Wolfpack's schedule, along with their actual win over the Hokies. That inflates NC State's winning percentage and gives a knock to VT's, while also boosting their number of duals scheduled against elite teams.
With that being said, Virginia Tech, along with Arizona State and Iowa, had five duals against top-ten teams.
# of Duals Against Conference Teams in the Top-25 vs Non-Conference:This is a good window into dual scheduling strategies. Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska all faced seven ranked conference foes, which is a steep number and the highest in the country. Illinois didn't see anyone outside of the conference that was ranked. Minnesota and Nebraska both had one on the schedule, while Iowa had five.
On the other end of the spectrum are Campbell and Arizona State. Campbell didn't have anyone in their conference in the top-25 (though Appalachian State was close). They went out and found five ranked opponents. Arizona State only had one in the Pac-12. They ended up with an absurd eight, ranked out-of-conference opponents. The only school that matched eight was Lehigh, which is starting to feel like a trend.
What do we make of this? I'll let you decide, as you can interpret these any way you see fit. Arizona State, Army West Point, Lehigh, and Northern Iowa were all non-B1G schools with excellent competition, while Iowa and Penn State represented for the Big Ten.
Before you make any rash judgments about scheduling, as a whole, remember that this is focusing solely on dual competition. All schools have open and/or individually bracketed tournaments on their schedules too. Some may have gone "light" dual-wise because their staff knows they've booked some challenging tournaments.