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College Playoff's Biggest Impact? Non-Conference Scheduling

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USA TODAY
October 16, 2013 Wednesday
FA CHASE EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 9C
499 words
Scheduling might be key under new format
Paul Myerberg, @PaulMyerberg, USA TODAY Sports

The advent of the four-team College Football Playoff, which replaces the Bowl Championship Series after this season, will shift responsibility for selecting the top teams to a committee of more than a dozen people, adding a human element to a postseason format recently dictated by polls and computer rankings.

As the playoff prepares to formally introduce its initial committee members today, several coaches across the five power conferences say a team's strength of schedule, the best measurement of the road through the regular season, should be among the committee's deciding components.

"I've always felt like we need to get something in place that just doesn't have to do with a conference champion from a weaker conference or doesn't have to do with money," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "It has to do with pitting the best teams at the end of the year against each other."

To coaches, this would force would-be contending teams to schedule marquee opponents in non-conference play. In turn, this would help create a clearer picture of which teams belong in the playoff conversation -- or, better yet, which do not.

"I don't think there's any doubt the goal of all of us is going to be to get in that four-team playoff and win it," Brown said. "So if you allow teams not to play a tough schedule and get in the four-team playoff, it's going to be encouraging people not to play great games across the country."

Strengthening non-conference schedules to match up with the new playoff format was ostensibly behind the upcoming home-and-home series between Oregon and Nebraska in 2016 and '17. Oregon also has non-conference deals with Michigan State, Virginia, Texas A&M and Ohio State through the 2021 season.

Relying on the strength of a team's schedule -- its 12- or 13-game résumé -- could help the committee ignore "a political agenda" or outside influences such as "the media or some relative statistic," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, and "instead look at who's playing against who. I would like to see them use the win-loss percentage against teams that they played, so value the opponents but also the skill level that's on the field."

Bolstering the non-conference schedule with a game against a team from another power league takes on added importance with the near-universal shift to a nine-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 and Big 12 have adopted the format; the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference have alluded to similar shifts in the near future.

Having a Bowl Subdivision standard on conference games -- having each major conference play nine league games, for example, and three out-of-conference games -- would give the committee the empirical data it would need to pick four teams.

"The one thing that I'll say, and not that everybody needs to be a former coach or whatever, is I would love for them to able to watch the games and watch the teams and have discussions amongst themselves about who does what better than who else," Stanford coach David Shaw said.

October 16, 2013

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