Tyler Forness | November 13, 2019
Every year when it comes to playoff rankings, we talk about the non-conference schedule. While we talk about it being important, we also ignore our own opinions on that when it comes to how we rank and perceive teams when it comes to the playoff rankings. Consistently, we have some teams that are willing to schedule tough opponents every year, some who are willing to but never as a true road team, and some who refuse. Until we fix the method of scheduling in college football, we are never going to solve this.
Just this past week, we saw Ohio State ranked ahead of LSU in the playoff rankings. To me, there was only one explanation: dominance. If you look at the two schedules, Ohio State’s two best wins are at home against Cincinnati and Indiana. While both are good teams, neither one is what you would consider great. On the other hand, LSU went to Texas and won, while also beating two then top 15 teams in Florida and Auburn. With how much emphasis we are putting on out of conference schedule, why are blue blood teams getting away with constantly scheduling easy out of conference play?
Another example is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Since the Nick Saban era began, Alabama has only played one true road game out of conference= his first season in 2006. Have they played tough opponents almost every season? Yes, they have, but where is the outrage that they refuse to play a road game out of the conference?
Another example is the Florida Gators. They hadn’t played an out of conference game outside the state of Florida since 1991 until the 2017 neutral site game against Michigan and still haven’t played a true road game outside of Florida. What lightens the blowback for them is their consistent scheduling against Florida State and the less consistent Miami Hurricanes. Is it smart to try not leaving your home state? Absolutely. Is it right when it comes to the bigger picture? No.
What about the group of five schools? Outside of being in a non-power five conference, the top echelon schools have historically had issues scheduling good opponents. When Boise State was at its peak in the late 2000s, they couldn’t pay teams to play them because it was a lose/lose situation. If a top team like Michigan beat them, they beat a team they should have easily beaten, but if they lost, it would be devastating to their season. Even in today’s college football, it hasn’t changed. UCF hasn’t been able to schedule anyone for a home-and-home series, with Florida having balked and countered with a 2-for-1, having two games at The Swamp.
The biggest issue with out of conference scheduling is that schools are allowed to schedule whomever they want and these games are scheduled years in advance. In fact, Ohio State and Georgia just announced a home and home series for 2030 and 2031. If these two teams play next year, it’s fantastic and a big-time out of conference opponent. The issue here is that we have no idea what these teams will be in 2030. Can we fault teams who schedule opponents, like USC for example, who were really good when they were scheduled but aren’t as good now? We shouldn’t, but we will.
What is the solution here? The real solution is for a scheduling committee to be formed and make the schedule for two of each teams games only a year or two out instead of scheduling games upwards of 10 years out. Imagine seeing Jacob Eason go back to Athens, Georgia to play against the guy who beat him out in Jake Fromm, or Joe Burrow going back to Columbus to face the same in Justin Fields? The other game or two would be available for each university to schedule lower-level opponents, like those games, while not great for strength of schedule, are important to help fund small schools athletic departments. Not only will ratings be through the roof for these games instead of games against FCS schools, but it will provide more money for school athletic departments, larger platforms for the student-athletes and, in time, give them the opportunity to make money from their own likeness. This will never happen, however, because its the NCAA and they are thieves of joy, but we can dream.
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