Florida State Seminoles QB Deondre Francois (Photo via Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports)
These first few weeks of college football used to be unwatchable. Now a trend towards scheduling big time out of conference foes has arisen.
For instance, the Alabama Crimson Tide just open up the season against the Florida State Seminoles at a neutral site. Two national championship favorites, two-storied programs, two rabid fan bases. This game had legendary written on all the headlines before the opening kick. And legendary it was, with Alabama eventually claiming victory in a true slugfest.
But was it worth it?
Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois, Heisman hopeful and star of the team, is hurt. Worse still, the injury ends his season forcing Florida State to start a true freshman quarterback.
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Would Francois have been hurt playing a lesser opponent?
And did playing Alabama help the Seminoles? Alabama? No, it didn’t. Look at Washington last year. Their weak out of conference schedule doesn’t impact their title hopes at all.
At the end of the day, dominant teams have incentives to just go out and find wins in the non-conference schedule. That is because being undefeated in a Power5 conference guarantees a seat at the table.
The committee could prove me wrong on that point but, the least likely scenario is an undefeated champion being left out. So, is it still worth it to schedule these games? Yes, because despite the risks the decision makers who control scheduling have a lot of reasons to keep rolling out these headliner games.
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Tough schedules are pretty much necessary
Barring an undefeated season, which seems to just be getting harder since parity is increasing, teams must schedule hard to have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
TCU and Baylor in 2014 have already proven that. Weak non-conference matchups hurt both teams dearly in 2014 keeping both out of the title hunt.
Branding and co-champion shenanigans also factor in but say TCU or Baylor had played a big brand, solid Power5 football team and won. We would likely be wondering when Urban Meyer will win a title as Ohio State, not praising him for winning one with a third-string quarterback.
Baylor played the worst of the worst to start the season 3-0, leaving them as an afterthought in the playoff discussion when they were downed by West Virginia. Washington this past year took a weaker schedule and waltzed into the playoffs. But they benefited from the Big12 champion having two losses.
If Oklahoma had beaten Houston, one could basically guarantee we would have seen the Sooners making another playoff appearance.
Conferences have pushed for mandating their teams to play tougher matchups to boost conference prestige. Perception of conference weakness hurt TCU and Baylor badly in 2014 and has scarred the Big12 for the last several years. On the other side, the SEC used this perception to its advantage for years which has shown a significant impact on the committee.
These games also generate an incredible amount of money as the attendance will always he high consistently leading to sellouts and millions will tune in to watch. Therefore, making ESPN richer and the schools as well.
As always, money talks in collegiate athletics.
Michael Macon is a contributing writer for The JR Report.