Sports Illustrated had a preview of college football schedules Thursday, and that got me started on today's topic. The joy (or pain) of college football is the lack of overlap among football schedules, meaning that one can justify numerous different rankings of the teams. If you like to debate who is the best, this is ideal and highly amusing. If you like to see things settled on the field, well you are probably disappointed.
One ironic piece of recent development is that despite saying that a playoff would keep kids out of class (in Jaunary when there are no classes) the NCAA has approved the permanent addition of a 12th game to the college football schedule. With an 11 game schedule and a 3 game non-conference schedule, good teams often scheduled a home game with one BCS school and a road game with another BCS school (each as part of a home-and-home series). And teams used the 3rd game to schedule a cupcake opponent at home. One hope was that the additional game would now allow teams the flexibility to schedule more BCS non-conference matchups such as the neutral site Missouri - Illinois series which is slated to become a near-permanent rivalry starting this year.
Since the NCAA has determined that teams still only need 6 victories to reach a bowl game, teams seemingly have no need to schedule yet another cupcake for the 12th game. And yet, that's exactly what many have done. Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Arizona, and Arkansas have not scheduled a single game against a BCS non-conference opponent this year. In theory, if these teams win the games they are "supposed to win", they will only need to go 2-6 to be Bowl Eligible.
Two things work against teams setting tougher schedules. First, now that the smaller Division 1 schools (think MAC, Sun Belt) are required to have at least 5 home games a year in order not to fall to Division 1AA status, they are now negotiating more 2-for-1 and 3-for-1 contracts with the BCS schools. With BCS schools playing more road games at the cupcakes, they've been less inclined to play additional road games against BCS schools.
Second, the NCAA system continues to reward teams for wins, regardless of quality. It used to be true that teams could only count a win against a Division 1AA team in one out of 4 years for Bowl eligibility, but the rule has been changed so that teams can count a win gainst a Division 1AA team every year. And while a tougher schedule can help in the BCS standings, one loss is frequently too many, so why take the risk?
Overall for the BCS conferences, the teams have scheduled an average of 1.32 non-conference games against other BCS schools or Notre Dame.
Average Number of BCS/ND Non-Conference Games
The Pac 10 may look low, but they also admirably increased the schedule to include 9 conference games. Meanwhile, with only 8 Big East teams, Big East teams play only 7 conference games. (And this ignores the fact that most Big East teams are not traditional BCS powerhouses.)
Average Number of BCS/ND Conference and Non-Conference Games
Regardless, there are 48 non-conference games to keep track of when the season begins.