For so many years, strength of schedule numbers were kept mostly secret. Sure, the Ratings Percentage Index came out and gave us a clue as to a team's SOS, but in the sport of softball, those all-important numbers were usually hidden from public view.
The NCAA now releases that information and has been updating strength of schedule information as the season has progressed. It may be the single most important factor in NCAA Tournament consideration, and offers some insight into potential seeding and hosting.
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Fresno State is currently 10th in the nation in terms of toughest schedule, according to the NCAA. That's 10th of 294 programs. There are only five teams in the country that rank in both the Top 10 in terms of strength of schedule and the Top 25 polls conducted by ESPN.com/USA Softball and USA Today/NFCA.
Those five: UCLA, Oklahoma, Michigan, Nebraska and Fresno State. For those counting, four of the five -- everyone but the Huskers -- are former NCAA champions.
In the Mountain West, the next-best schedule, according to the NCAA, is that of San Jose State. The Spartans are off to one of their worst starts in recent history at 6-15 overall, but it has more to do with the quality of their schedule than anything else. SJSU has played the country's 48th best schedule.
Only one other Mountain West team -- the Lobos of New Mexico -- rank in the Top 100 in terms of strength of schedule. Coach Erica Beach's team is No. 98 and UNM has done a good job against it, starting the season 11-8 overall.
Conversely, we have UNLV and Nevada. Confirming what we wrote in our season scheduling preview back in January, the Wolf Pack record comes with an asterisk. Nevada is off to one of its best starts in school history at 14-3 overall, but according to the NCAA, the Pack have faced the 25th worst schedule in the country. Nevada's slate ranks 270th of 294 teams in the latest rankings.
UNLV's schedule ranks nearly as low as its in-state rivals. The Rebels are currently No. 266 of 294, and it may have to do mostly with the fact UNLV has not been greatly tested away from home. With road and neutral-site games an important factor in strength of schedule, it's interesting to note that the Rebels have played -- by far -- the fewest number of contests away from home in the Mountain West. Additionally, the Rebels have just one win outside of Las Vegas this season, and 19 of their first 24 games are at home.
Colorado State's strength of schedule, according to the NCAA, is currently 144th, San Diego State's a surprisingly low 153rd, Boise State 160th, and Utah State 196th.
The NCAA updates these SOS numbers periodically as more games are played, so it's possible the numbers have changed by the time you are reading this. The numbers are effective as of noon, March 8, 2016. To view the ever-changing SOS numbers, go to NCAA.org/rankings/ > Division I > women's softball > misc reports > toughest schedule.