Every season, schedule strength - who you are playing and who those you are playing are playing - becomes a hot topic of debate in the largely subjective process of evaluating and ranking college football teams.
Sure, that is what the current BCS formula and the computers are supposed to help sort out and add some objectivity to the complex and highly controversial assessment process. As long as the human element is part of the process, however, and don't kid yourself that it's ever go to go away completely because someone has to input the computer data, there will forever be an inherent flaw to pick apart and moan over no matter what solution is brought to bear.
Strength of schedule is expected to be one of the pivotal markers the selection committee will use in determining the teams and seeds in the new playoff format that will go into effect in college football beginning with the 2014 season. That is an area that teams in the Big 12 Conference are going to have to address over the next couple of years or forever be destined to hold the short end of the stick when it comes down to the "body of work" discussion at playoff selection time.
No one questions the difficult gauntlet that Big 12 schools have go through within the conference, which frankly is probably the only reason the Big 12 ranks as high as one of the best football conferences year in and year out, but there hardly is any risk-taking to speak of when it comes to scheduling non-conference opponents. If there was a measure for non-conference strength of schedule, the Big 12's degree of difficulty score would be among the lowest.
Let look at this coming fall's Big 12 schedule, for example: There are 10 teams in the conference, including two newcomers in TCU (from the Mountain West) and West Virginia (out of the Big East), both considered among the present-day elite teams in college football. Because of the nine-game conference format, Big 12 schools play three out-of-conference games to complete the 12-game season schedule.
Out of the 30 non-conference games scheduled as part of the upcoming 2012 season, only seven are against Bowl Championship Series teams or conferences:
- Iowa State vs. Iowa (Big Ten) @ Iowa (Sept. 8)
- Kansas State vs. Miami (Atlantic Coast) @ KSU (Sept. 8)
- Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame @ OU (Oct. 27)
- Oklahoma State vs. Arizona (Pac-12) @ Arizona (Sept. 8)
- TCU vs. Virginia (Atlantic Coast) @ TCU (Sept. 22)
- Texas vs. Mississippi (Southeastern) @ Ole Miss (Sept. 15)
- West Virginia vs. Maryland (Atlantic Coast) @ WVU (Sept. 22)
Seven games against non-conference BCS opponents for a league that boasts to be among the nation's best in football is hardly representative of the claim. To be fair, however, Big 12 schools like to play their non-con games at home, as do most of the major programs, and not many good teams want to go play a Texas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State on their home field. That is one big reason why the non-conference games so often end up against the so-called no-names.
That leaves 23 additional games to complete three games all the Big 12 teams have with teams outside of the conference. Fourteen of those contests are against non-BCS schools. The remaining nine are with much smaller schools who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, which is one level down from college football's top division. These kind of games are typically big morale boosters (don't tell that to Kansas, though, which two seasons ago lost at home to North Dakota State). They're good for the fans, but as the Sporting News reports, "not good for business."
The seven games the Big 12 has with BCS teams involve seven different conference teams. Baylor, Kansas and Texas Tech are not among them. Texas Tech's non-conference lineup includes Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico, teams which recorded a combined record of 12-23 a year ago. Not only is this the worst non-conference slate in the Big 12, it is considered the weakest among all BCS schools, according to the Sporting News.com.
In rating the 2012 non-conference schedule in the Big 12, Sporting News.com ranked the following five games as the worst of the bunch:
1. Northwestern State @ Texas Tech (Sept 1)
2. Savannah State @ Oklahoma State (Sept. 1)
3. South Dakota State @ Kansas (Sept. 1)
4. Missouri State @ Kansas State (Sept. 1)
5. Florida A&M @ Oklahoma (Sept. 8)
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