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Cross-Conference Challenges Would Be A Welcome Addition to College Football

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The complete slate for the 2012 SEC-Big East Challenge was released Friday morning. Check out Raphielle Johnson’s breakdown on NBC Sports. Series such as this and the ACC-Big Ten Challenge guarantee college basketball (and in turn, ESPN) marquee match-ups to showcase.

Football’s championship structure has been a deterrent from such annual contests. Sure, there are a handful of great out-of-conference games. Jerry Jones will pay out the nose to attract a Week 1 contest to Cowboys Stadium. Chick-Fil-A has seemingly bribed teams into dates, using tasty chicken sandwiches and waffle fries as bait. That’s all well and good, and this isn’t meant as a lamentation of non-conference schedules as a whole.

However, there is room for improvement. Take defending SEC champion LSU. While LSU played at West Virginia and Oregon on a neutral field last season, the Tigers face North Texas, Towson and Idaho in 2012. LSU’s fourth OOC game is against a good Washington team, but even so its a fourth home game. That’s right: the Tigers never leaves Baton Rouge for any of their four non-conference games. An annual match-up against a similar Big 12 opponent would eliminate seasons that so dramatically lacking in spark, and every other season, ensure a team must leave its comfort zone.

Imagine a Saturday in say, late September, when you’re guaranteed to see five or six truly marquee out-of-conference games. Heavyweights of the premiere conferences clash on the same day, in a showdown for league bragging rights. Even the lower level programs can get in on the action and be part of something bigger for at least one Saturday.

With the college football landscape changing, now would be the time to implement something akin to what the ACC/Big Ten, Big East/SEC and even Missouri Valley/Mountain West have introduced to basketball. The Pac-12 and Big Ten are already on board, this past December having announced such a partnership that kicks off in 2017.

The new SEC-Big 12 postseason alliance seems like something of a counter to the Rose Bowl, so why not remain in lockstep with the Pac-12/Big Ten arrangement and introduce another regular season series? It’s not as if the SEC would be sacrificing much from an intra-conference standpoint. On Friday, the league introduced its scheduling format for the new 14-team landscape, and adding a Big 12 game would not exactly be a deterrent from Alabama regularly seeing South Carolina (they play once every six years).

The Pac-12 and Big Ten pair up nicely due to each having 12 members. The SEC’s 14 and Big 12’s 10, not so much. The solution here is simple: the bottom four finishers from the SEC (two per division) are excluded, and can either use the week for a bye or play each other in league. If DeLoss Dodds’ vague suggestion of an alliance between the Big 12 and Notre Dame had any legs, add the Irish to the mix. Then, the bottom three for the SEC are out and can play out the week as needed.

A possible drawback is that if an Alabama is contracted to play Oklahoma two years, then Texas the next, the Crimson Tide might be less likely to schedule a home-and-home outside of its challenge conference (in this case, the Big 12). Therefore, series like UA vs. Penn State or Boise State vs. Oregon are in jeopardy.

A way around this is to reward those who schedule with chutzpah. Where as now going undefeated with a non-conference slate that includes Sun Belt, MAC and FCS (Alabama in 2011) is more rewarding, create an RPI-like system that would give more respect to a slate like Oregon’s in 2009 (at Boise State, top 25 Utah and Big Ten Purdue). Less fear of a blemish, coupled with the rewards for scheduling up (seen both monetarily and in playoff points) would yield better match-ups.