Will Poor Non-Conference Schedules Bring Down Big 12's Strength of Schedule?

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Will Poor Non-Conference Schedules Bring Down Big 12's Strength of Schedule?
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Three Big 12 teams scheduled great non-conference games for the 2013 season. TCU vs. LSU, Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame and Oklahoma State vs. Mississippi State are compelling matchups. But most of the league's non-conference schedule is loaded with nothing but empty calories, which may hurt it when the final BCS rankings are released in December. 

A team that schedules cupcakes is not viewed by the BCS as an equal to one that does not. Last season's BCS standings clearly show the bias against soft scheduling.   

Brett Deering/Getty Images

The first 2012 BCS rankings were released October 14. Oregon was ranked No. 2 by Harris Interactive and USA Today, otherwise known as the human polls. The BCS computers, also known as the non-human polls, had Oregon ranked like this: 6, 6, 3, 6, 8, 6 and 10. The Ducks' strength of schedule was low because of games against Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. 

Remember Florida State's schedule last year? It had FCS teams Murray State and Savannah State on its September slate. 

The human polls had the Seminoles as a Top 10 team in the initial BCS rankings. Two of the seven non-human polls had Florida State at No. 23 and 28. The other five non-human polls did not even recognize Florida State. Those non-human rankings—or lack of rankings—pushed Florida State to a No. 13 BCS ranking. 

Unlike the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, the Big 12 does not hold a conference championship game. To make up for the lack of a conference championship game, the smart move is to schedule non-conference games more aggressively. Some schools did that this year.

Oklahoma: Louisiana Monroe, Tulsa and at Notre Dame

Iowa State: Northern Iowa, Iowa and at Tulsa

Texas: New Mexico State, at BYU, Ole Miss

TCU: LSU (in Arlington), SE Louisiana, SMU 

Other Big 12 schools went extra fluffy in scheduling non-conference opponents. 

Kansas State: North Dakota State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Massachusetts 

Baylor: Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana Monroe

Texas Tech: at SMU, Stephen F. Austin and Texas State

West Virginia: William & Mary, Georgia State and Maryland (in Baltimore)

Kansas: South Dakota, at Rice and Louisiana Tech 

Oklahoma State: Mississippi State (in Houston), Texas San Antonio and Lamar

Big 12 teams play three non-conference opponents in a regular 12-game season—the AAC, ACC, Big Ten and SEC play four—but that "extra" conference game does not excuse these soft slates. The Pac-12 plays three non-conference games in a regular season—a fourth may be added if Hawaii is scheduled. 

Should the Big 12 be more aggressive in non-conference game scheduling?

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This year Arizona State, Cal and Oregon play 11 BCS teams on their 12-game schedules. Since Hawaii is one of its opponents, USC plays 11 BCS teams on a 13-game schedule. If any of those teams were to play in the Pac-12 Championship game, they will have played 12 BCS teams before the bowl season. If USC plays in the Pac-12 Championship game and in a bowl, it will have played 15 games.

Scheduling at least one decent non-conference opponent should not be a difficult task. Weak schedule apologists argue that it is difficult to predict how good a team will be when scheduling four or more years in advance. That excuse does not hold a lot of water.

It is doubtful that FBS teams Georgia State, Massachusetts, Texas San Antonio and Texas State will be competing for the BCS Championship in five years. The transparency in scheduling those teams is obvious. They count as an FBS opponent despite having played in the FCS subdivision within the past few years.  

The Big 12 should have at least one compelling BCS team on every conference member's schedule to keep abreast of the conferences who hold championships. 

Strength of schedule is important to the BCS non-human polls. Next year strength of schedule will become even more important to the humans. The selection committee will place a heavier emphasis on it during the selection process for the College Football Playoff.

That means a team playing non-conference dogs may be left in the doghouse.

When the BCS rankings are released in mid-October, many of the schools playing non-conference cupcakes may want to rethink their future schedules. It may be cheaper to cancel a confectioner's delight game rather than lose out on a potential multimillion dollar jackpot when the selection committee passes on a team due to its weak strength of schedule.

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