Pac-12 schools needed to learn a hard lesson today. Pac-12 schools cannot schedule two good schools on non-conference schedules any longer. The Pac-12 cannot play nine conference games. The Pac-12 has to be just like the SEC. As Stanford finished beating USC to win the conference championship, it became exceedingly obvious the mistake the football program had made. The Pac-12 has to make team schedules weaker to get more national attention.
What does that mean? It means three “cupcake” non-conference games and only eight conference games. Alabama showed the blueprint to prove nothing and still go to the College Football Playoff this season. Charleston Southern, Middle Tennessee, and Louisiana Monroe are the type of opponents the voters want to see. Those are three of the non-conference games the school scheduled this year. Many college football fans might have been unaware that those schools even had teams.
Even though it might not make sense, the College Football Playoff voters want to see schools beat up on lower conferences and finish the season undefeated in non-conference games. They don’t really care about how good those non-conference opponents were. That’s only something the talking heads want to debate about on television. The reality is that those CFP voters want to see undefeated teams from large schools with huge fan bases. That’s what sells tickets to the championship games. It’s also something the Pac-12 might need to adjust to quickly.
When two SEC teams that have each gone 4-0 against terrible non-conference opponents meet up, it usually props them both up in the rankings for the rest of the year. Need proof? How about Tennessee. The school beat only one team with a winning record this season (Georgia) to finish 8-4. One. That’s how its done. Then when Alabama and Florida beat Tennessee, which happened, those schools get another boost “because Tennessee finished 8-4.”
Don’t get this twisted. This isn’t an anti-SEC article. The SEC is very smart. Analysts could even argue that Alabama might be the best team in the country. But did beating Charleston Southern, Middle Tennessee, and Louisiana Monroe prove it? Alabama clearly has one of the best running backs in college football, elevated even further by beating up on those three lower schools.
Every school schedules lesser opponents to have a better overall record on the season. Even Pac-12 schools schedule two lower opponents every season. These games are typically placed earlier in the schedule and almost serve as practice games to make adjustments and prepare for the grueling conference schedule. The Clemson Tigers figured out the SEC strategy. Scheduling Wofford, Appalachian State, and Louisville as the first three opponents this year will help Clemson head into the bowl season undefeated and ranked No. 1 overall.
Stanford made a critical mistake by scheduling Notre Dame as well as a Big Ten opponent (Northwestern) on its non-conference schedule. While beating up on Notre Dame certainly brought the Pac-12 Conference a lot of positive attention, the loss to Northwestern could keep the team locked out of the College Football Playoff this year. Northwestern finished 10-2 on the season, losing only to Iowa (12-1) and Michigan (9-3). That 10-2 record appears to only be good for the school and the Big Ten, though, because it is serving as a punishment to Stanford.
When the Pac-12 schedules an additional conference game every season, it adds a guaranteed six losses to the overall record. In that slot, all SEC schools are playing a lower level opponent, giving the conference a shot to go 14-0 that week. Meanwhile, the best the Pac-12 can do is go 6-6. The disparity becomes very prevalent at the end of the season each year. Despite all that, the Pac-12 Conference will be sending 1o of its 12 schools to bowl games, making it the highest percentage of any conference in college football.
Is Alabama the best team in college football? Maybe. Is Stanford the best team in college football? Maybe. How will anyone know if the SEC champion and the Pac-12 champion aren’t put on the same level? The sad answer is that the College Football Playoff could lock out Stanford simply because the school scheduled Northwestern instead of Middle Tennessee.
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