One of the highlights of the early college basketball season was Duke at Wisconsin. Two top-5 teams battled it out at the Kohl Center as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. This annual event featuring marquee match-ups of teams from each conference got me thinking: Can you imagine if Oregon had to play at Alabama the first weekend of the college football season?
I understand football is a more taxing sport and hence the cupcake and creampuff non-conference slate for many teams. But rarely do we get marquee non-conference match-ups in late August or early September. For every Wisconsin vs LSU and Michigan State at Oregon, there’s a Tennessee-Chattanooga at Alabama. College football teams understand one loss can ruin a dream of the 4-team playoff and a chance at a title. But look at the teams in the final 4, 3 with 1-loss, only 1 undefeated team. You can bet Florida State would have been a higher seed had they played at Baylor and lost a close game than squeaking out wins vs the lowly teams in the ACC all year.
Basketball teams understand that losses early don’t kill their chances. They can boost RPI, Strength-of-Schedule and other metrics the tournament committee loves by scheduling tough games in November/December because they’ll most likely get in the tourney anyway. Now with a playoff system in football, especially one that mostly likely expands to 8 teams, it would benefit all teams, and fans, to play heavyweight opponents early in the year.
Some of the more memorable moments in a season can start early. Also, we’ll have a better gauge on the teams if they play true opponents, rather than FCS and weak FBS teams. Michigan State at Oregon was a huge game early this year. The result gave us a better indication of each team’s true level. Michigan State vs directional Michigan school du jour does not help the committee determine their place among the elite.
I’d love to see college football, especially powers like Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC commit to games like this. The SEC/Pac 12 football weekend would be epic Can you imagine Alabama having to travel to Eugene in late August, Auburn at USC, Ole Miss at UCLA?!
The 4-team playoff has already taken what makes “March Madness” work (limited participants, controversy, selection shows). Now they just need to create the early-season drama in the same fashion. Get it done, FBS!