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Non-Conference Schedules Don’t Matter

By Jim Johnson
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As a fan and sportswriter, it’s great, as it has culminated in what, this weekend, will be the best opening day of college football ever. In reality, it’s a fool’s errand.

There are a lot of things that go into the ultimate decision as to the four teams that will compete for a national championship -- record, signature wins, a conference title. However, one thing, regardless of what they may tell you, that does not matter is non-conference strength of schedule.

Since the implementation of the playoff, the way programs have been piecing together their respective out-of-conference slates would indicate the contrary. Increasingly often we see various marquee programs put their seasons on the line versus other brand name schools from across the country.

As a fan and sportswriter, it’s great, as it has culminated in what, this weekend, will be the best opening day of college football ever. In reality, it’s a fool’s errand.

On Saturday, Oklahoma and Houston, UCLA and Texas A&M, LSU and Wisconsin, Georgia and North Carolina, Southern Cal and Alabama, and Clemson and Auburn, a mixture of traditional powerhouses, rising stars, and ranked teams, run the risk of kicking off 2016 with a loss, and fighting an uphill battle for the remainder of the season. Not to mention those dummies Notre Dame and Texas, on Sunday, and then Florida State and Ole Miss, on Labor Day Monday.

Why? Nothing good can come of it for any of the aforementioned teams, aside from Houston, the lone group of five program.

In 2014, the playoff’s inaugural season, the four teams were Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State.

Alabama’s non-conference schedule that year consisted of West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, and FCS Western Carolina, none of whom finished in the top 25 that year. Oregon played South Dakota, Wyoming, and a very good Michigan State team that finished fifth overall, although the Ducks won that game handily.

For FSU, it was Oklahoma State, FCS the Citadel, Notre Dame, and Florida, once again, four teams that finished unranked. The eventual champion Buckeyes played Navy, Virginia Tech (who they lost to), Kent State and Cincinnati.

That comes to a total of one team that finished the season ranked between the four eventual playoff teams’ non-conference schedules.

In 2015 the schedule got stupider, with more contenders facing off against one another. Yet, a telling phenomena shown through the bed of lies, upon which the CFP committee rests.

Of the four playoff teams last year, only Alabama was in the top ten in strength of schedule. Oklahoma was 20th. Clemson and Michigan State were 47th and 53rd, respectively. Iowa and North Carolina, both on the brink of getting in had they won their conference championship games were 62nd and 63rd. Granted, North Carolina’s admirable strategy of playing multiple FCS opponents is probably unsustainable, but it would’ve worked last year.

The point is, power five teams just need to worry about going undefeated and winning their conference, a plenty difficult task without any added obstacles. There is not a world in which an unbeaten power five conference champion misses the playoff due to the strength, or lack thereof, of its non-conference schedule.

It’s lunacy. However, it’s also giving us, the fans, an incredible season to look forward to. So, just know that these teams are being insane, but keep it on the DL. Their loss is our gain.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP