Oct 16, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; New chairman of the playoff committee Jeff Long speaks to the media at the College Football Playoff Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Strength of Schedule Needs to be Major Criteria for College Football Playoff

The debate has already begun, and we haven’t even watched a single down of football for the 2014 season. There have been some prognosticators who are making the claim the new College Football Playoff will cause more controversy than the BCS. While it is a bit nerve racking to await seeing how the 13 member selection committee will handle the first year of handpicking the four teams for the playoff, can’t we agree it’s just nice to have the debate with an actual playoff system in place?

Quite a few questions have orbited around the heads of college football fans. For instance, we know, thanks to a document obtained by USA Today, the order in which the committee is expected to break ties. Strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and (conference) championships won. But a deeper inquiry remains; should whether or not a team won its conference title even factor into the decision making?

On the gold plated surface, yes conference championships should matter greatly when deciding which teams will duke it out in the playoff, however, there lies a flaw underneath the pretty conference champ argument. With four out the five major conferences housing at least 12 members, not every conference champ from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, SEC and Pac-12 will have played equally tough schedules.

Look at the SEC last season. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports detailed the imbalance with the conference scheduling, pointing first to Alabama drawing 5-7 Tennessee and 2-10 Kentucky, while avoiding (not in a cynical way) Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia. Take it a step further over to the Pac-12 champion, Stanford Cardinal, who played six games against ranked teams within conference, and compare that to Big-10 champs, Michigan State, who played just two ranked teams within their conference.

Jan 1, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) throws a pass against the Michigan State Spartans in the 100th Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 1, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) throws a pass against the Michigan State Spartans in the 100th Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If the selection committee was picking between Stanford and Michigan State last season, what would they have made their choice on? At the time the decision making for the playoff would have been taking place the Spartans had only one loss, while the Cardinal had two. But Stanford had the far tougher schedule. Remember, both were conference champs. Stanford had the best claim based on SOS, but would the committee have seen it that way?

Now, take a look at if the choice was between Alabama and Baylor. Bama didn’t win the SEC title in 2013, but played against three ranked conference foes, winning two, while the Bears faced just two ranked teams within the Big-12 and only beat one. The Tide would have a stronger argument for a spot in the final four, despite Baylor winning the Big 12.

As it stands now, the best way to pick teams for the playoff is on SOS alone, not conference title winners.

Moving forward, more teams will have to beef up their non-conference schedules. The SEC and ACC already have a jump start for their future scheduling, with both conferences requiring each team to play at least one power conference opponent each season starting within the next few years.

If SOS becomes the primary selection tool for the committee, there could be a lot of rescheduling taking place over the next few years. To make things easier the Big-10, Big-12 and Pac-12 should make the same requirement as the SEC and ACC has.

There could be a lot of moving parts with some teams’ schedules. Take the Colorado Buffaloes for example. Their non-conference schedule is already booked through 2019. The Oregon Ducks non-conference schedule is set though 2017. This isn’t the case for every team, but you get the picture.

Unless conference scheduling gets more balanced, the key, and focus to the College Football Playoff should be strength of schedule.

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Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Feature Michigan State Spartans

  • Travis Blancett

    Great article in regards to almost everything.

    One thing I would like to mention though, you say the SEC and ACC already have a jump start on OOC scheduling. Only one required OOC game against a Power 5 with an 8 game conference schedule and that is supposed to impress us? If your conference wants to stick with 8 conference games, that’s fine, that’s your business. But acting like one required game is really going out of your way and making it so tough on teams that play a 12 game regular season schedule is humorous. Teams that play 8 conference games SHOULD already be scheduling a Power 5 team without a requirement, it’s a shame that some weren’t. If you want to impress us and show the fans you want to really challenge yourself and play the best the country has to offer, you’d make it 2 mandatory OOC games against Power 5 teams to go along with your 8 conference games. For the conferences with 9 conference games, I wouldn’t necessarily say they should have to make a mandatory rule because that would put them at 10 games against P5 schools while the ACC and SEC only require 9… But for the hell of it I would hope that the conferences playing 9 games will do it anyway and show those other conferences that yeah we can play more conference games than you and still schedule a quality opponent outside the conference. We can prove we will try to make our schedule tougher than you try to do. At least we try right?

    • Zach Pugh

      Hey, Travis. I agree. Teams shouldn’t have to be required, but cupcake scheduling has been so common, and abused, teams need to know that you can’t get away with it if you want to be considered for the playoff. I don’t like the idea of forcing, but the out of conference scheduling needs to be priority.

    • stevechas

      The rule wasn’t passed to impress, it was passed to force some members to upgrade. There are some real stinker OOC schedules this year.
      I would like to see 9 conference games as well. I’d like to see Alabama play SCAR, Florida and Georgia more often.

  • unclejesse40

    I have been saying this for a while now but it makes sense to me for the Big 12 to add one more team and stick at 11 (Big 12 fan here). But still going with the play everyone in a season structure. Yes I am aware that it would probably mean one less home game every other year but say you added BYU to the mix, any team in the Big 12 would have a strong enough strength of schedule to make a four team playoff if you simply win the conference. It seems like with the strength of schedule being so important now, some of the schools in these now bigger conferences might regret adding teams. If one year you have a softer SOS and it keeps you out of the playoffs some teams and fans are going to be ticked off because it was ultimately out of their control.

    I personally am a fan of 20 team conferences that are split into two divisions. Every team within the division plays each other every year. At the end of the year you have a conference championship game (first round of the playoffs) between the two divisions within the conference. The winner advances to a formal playoff where the number 1 rated team plays the last ranked team in the opening rounds. I know with the current structure this could never happen but its fun to dream.

    • Zach Pugh

      With the current NCAA structure, I don’t think the Big 12 necessarily needs to expand. Not too long ago I thought the conference needed to expand to survive, but that was before the TV deal and upgraded stadiums came into the mix. The nice thing about the B12 is every team plays eachother. No top tier conference games are avoided.

      • unclejesse40

        I agree that they don’t need to expand but I think if they are going to BYU makes probably the most sense at this time. Not only are they a good sports school but they have a national following much like Notre Dame, because its the biggest Mormon school in the country. I think that makes the entire conference richer because more eyes watching the game nationally means bigger and better tv contracts. I now personally don’t want to see us go back to 12 teams, I like the play everyone structure, but think it is still possible with 11 schools.

  • http://batman-news.com guest

    The only thing i agree with is we need more equality when it comes to schedules… will never happen when conferences have different number of teams and play different number of conference games… until that is fixed, it is impossible to compare teams.

    • Zach Pugh

      That’s the only reason I bring up all p5 conferences being required to schedule at least one opposing p5. I understand that doesn’t always mean top tier games would be guaranteed, but it’s a step in a better direction.