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Nine-Game Conference Schedule Gives Pac-12 a College Football Playoff Advantage

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott knows one of the major factors the BCS selection committee will consider in selecting teams for the 2014 College Football Playoff will be strength of schedule.

The league's nine-game conference schedule should give it an advantage over other power conferences such as the SEC when the final four teams are selected. The notion of any conference having a possible advantage over the SEC would be considered blasphemous for many college football fans. But Scott has thinly implied just that. 

During a teleconference call with the media on June 3, Scott said, "There is going to be a new higher priority on strength of schedule. That's the strength of conference schedule, which is obviously affected by the number of conference games you play, as well as the strength of the non-conference schedule. I think it's fair to say that every conference is probably looking in the mirror and reflecting on how they stack up."

Kelly Lambert
Commissioner Slive

Scott referred to the presence of Notre Dame and other traditional BCS powers on Pac-12 schedules to bolster his opinion that the league will be well-positioned when the selection committee makes its final four decision. 

So where does that leave the SEC?

The SEC announced on May 31 it would postpone discussions of changing its scheduling practices until 2016, according to USA Today:

The earliest the league could change to a nine-game conference schedule for football is 2016. The league will retain its eight-game schedule, including the current format of six divisional opponents, one permanent cross-division rival and one rotating cross-division game, through the 2015 season.

The ACC and AAC play eight-game conference schedules, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine. The Big Ten announced on April 28 that it too will schedule nine conference games starting in 2016.

The scheduling disparity is unsettling. Scott was asked if the major conferences should all have the same number of non-conference games. 

"I believe it's going to lead to that direction," he replied. "There has not been any discussion about mandating it, heretofore."

Scott believes "there will be a natural tendency for conferences to harmonize around nine conference games and elevating the caliber of non-conference games."

If the SEC were to keep its eight-game conference schedule after 2016, would that cause Scott to consider changing the Pac-12's schedule to eight? 

"I don't think so," he replied.

"We've been scheduling nine conference games for a long time. It's something we've revisited regularly. There's a deep level of commitment in this conference that we like playing against each other. The rivalry and the frequency that we play each other is something that is really valued and cherished. 

USA TODAY Sports
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott

There is a lot more to scheduling than just [power positioning for the] College Football Playoff. There is a deep level of commitment in what we're doing in terms of the caliber of our schedules."

Last season, six SEC schools finished in the BCS' Top 10. Oregon and Stanford finished at No. 4 and 6, respectively. The SEC's strength of schedule for its top six teams was superior to Oregon's, according to Sagarin ratings. Oregon's SOS came in at No. 38 while Stanford's was No. 22. Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU all had a higher SOS ranking than Stanford's. 

USC's 2012 season certainly didn't help Stanford and Oregon's SOS. The preseason No. 1 Trojans finished 7-6. But hypothetically speaking, would all of the SEC teams finished as high in the rankings if SOS was more heavily weighed?

For at least one team, the answer is no. 

Georgia only beat three teams with a winning record in the regular season. The BCS computers—which take into account a team's SOS—had the Bulldogs ranked around No. 10. The Harris and USA Today polls, which are included in the BCS poll, had Georgia ranked No. 5. The Bulldogs ended up No. 7.

The pollsters were impressed with Georgia. The computers were not. Had SOS been more highly prioritized, Georgia would have likely finished lower in the final BCS poll. 

If the Pac-12 continues to be aggressive in its non-conference scheduling, it will likely not have the same problem. Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC have championship schedules. Of their 48 scheduled games this season, 41 are against BCS teams with only one FCS opponent: Oregon vs Nicholls State.

The Pac-12 should be represented well in the 2014 College Football Playoff. 

Who knows, maybe its SOS will deliver a knockout punch to a traditional heavyweight relying on its conference's reputation for selection to the playoff.

 

Note—all quotes were obtained first hand.  

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