We’ve heard how schedule strength will play a primary role for selection in the college football playoff. Will that encourage teams to play more ambitious non-conference schedules? It appears to be doing so at Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is one of the most egregious non-conference schedule offenders. They have played an FCS opponent every year under Bret Bielema, including juggernauts such as the Citadel, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and Austin Peay. That is in seasons where they have also played FBS “opposition,” such as San Jose State, Akron and Buffalo. The next few years could see the Badgers be much more ambitious.
They already have home and homes set up with Washington, Washington State and Virginia Tech. They have had discussions about BYU, a home and home at Notre Dame and a one-off with Alabama.
Barry Alvarez credited the playoff for the philosophy shift.
“If you want to be a player (in the national championship equation) and strength of schedule is going to be a part of it, then you really have to consider (a different approach),” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said.
Will other schools follow suit? It will be different for each major conference. The Pac 12 and Big 12 won’t feel much pressure. Those conferences will benefit from their nine-game conference schedules. The Pac 12 contender will also have a title game and a game set up against a Big Ten opponent. The Big Ten will have the Pac 12 game as the de facto ninth conference game and a title game.
The real question seems to be whether the SEC will branch out from its subsidization of the Southern and Sun Belt conferences. That will depend on how strength of schedule is tabulated.
The SEC is perceived as the toughest conference. Thus, schedule strength was considered a positive for Alabama by many last winter, despite them having just two wins against Sagarin Top 30 teams (one of those being Penn State). The three other non-conference games against Kent State, North Texas and Georgia Southern did not matter.
If the selection committee has some form of RPI to consider, that could change the scenario. The committee would realize the Tide played only two games against very good to great opponents and lost one of them. In a year where the bulk of the SEC was down, like last year, Alabama and other SEC teams would be left vulnerable.
That said, there are other factors at play. The moderate schedule strength increase might not be worth as much as a win and ensuring the cash from seven home games.
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