Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tougher Schedules, Tougher For Everyone

By Jean Neuberger

It's always been up for debate.

Strength of schedule has always been a major issue in college football. It was up for debate during the Bowl Alliance system, when we finally started picking 1 vs. 2 games. It became a hotter topic during the BCS era and it's grown exponentially more since the start of the College Football Playoff.

Sure, Ohio State got in the playoff (and won it) due to their conference title blowout of Wisconsin. Had it been a 21-20 game, rather than 59-0 though, one would have to believe that Buckeye supporters would've instantly targeted Baylor's pathetic excuse of a non-conference slate as reason to get that coveted fourth spot.

Some conferences have centered on a nine-game conference slate to bolster their playoff resume. Others, like the SEC and ACC, are centered on an eight-game slate with a guaranteed Power 5 non-conference opponent. And, during this year's Big Ten football media days, the conference announced it will play nine conference games, a conference title game and a Power 5 non-conference opponent, while shunning all FCS opponents in the future (sorry, North Dakota State and Illinois State).

The Big Ten's announcement was a threat; a message to the selection committee that their champion shouldn't be left behind. It also serves as another serious shot of the eventual changing of the guard.

There seems to be no doubt that, as other conferences have a champion shut out of the CFP, there is going to be immediate changes with most trying to one-up the latest trend. The Big 12 is going to expand soon, get their championship game and then likely will match the Big Ten in their scheduling. Baylor's non-conference slate this year is SMU, Lamar, and Rice. When you hear Art Briles talking about a future neutral site game with Arkansas, you know the message doesn't need to resonate. It's being handled.

The SEC will push to nine games, eventually. But they're not going to do it until the CFP has an eight-team format. The league credits itself on its murderers row of a conference slate, so they won't make things any tougher for themselves unless they have to. However, given the league isn't going to exactly plummet anytime soon, they'll stay at eight, until the playoff expands. Once they feel secure that the SEC champ will be in the playoff, they'll make similar moves to toughen their scheduling out of conference.

Which leaves one question: as the Power 5 starts to feast more on each other, what happens to the current mid-majors who benefit from the massive checks they receive from heading on the road?

The answer, according to Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, is to play more games against mid-major opponents and work at grabbing the one major bowl slot that's awarded to a non-Power 5 team.

"The Sun Belt's goal is to be the best conference of our four peer conferences," Benson said.

But there's no question that the loss of money is going to hit the mid-majors pretty hard, which puts those conference and their teams in some troubling positions. Boise might find its way to the Fiesta Bowl again, but with the severe lack of quality Power 5 opposition, how do they get a shot at the title? Benson's comments, though valid, signify a concession of defeat in the new system, at least for titles. Isn't that what teams should play for though?

Maybe it's time for the divisions to formally split. For now, it appears that the big boys are only going to get bigger.

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