With a four-team playoff coming to college football next season, should the Oregon Ducks continue to schedule early non-conference tests in the future?
It's a question that has a lot of different angles.
First, this is not going to be a defense of the recent non-conference scheduling.
The Ducks have participated in home-and-home series with Michigan State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Michigan, Purdue and Boise State all since the late 90's. The team also faced LSU in a neutral-site game, and it recently wrapped up a series with Tennessee.
Though outsiders can point to lack of quality opponents on the recent non-conference slate, they must consider that the Volunteers were put on the schedule back in 2005 (when they were still a powerhouse), and that Georgia has already backed out of a series that was set for 2015-16.
Future series with Michigan State, Texas A&M, and Ohio State are already on the schedule.
Okay, so it is at least a mini-defense of the scheduling.
But the issue here isn't about the past, it's about how beneficial scheduling tough games will be moving forward.
For starters, getting a chance to play for the title won't be nearly as difficult because a team will only have to make it into the Top 4, however the quartet may be decided.
This will essentially make strength of schedule a smaller factor in the rankings because teams won't necessarily need a marquee non-conference victory to reach the playoffs.
Four teams isn't a lot, but there haven't been very many years where more than four teams deserved to play for the title.
Another factor to consider here is the strength of the Pac-12.
The conference seems to be on the rise with UCLA, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford all off to strong starts. Cal could gain clout with Sonny Dykes at the helm, and even Colorado looks a lot better this season than it did the past two years.
If you're in the SEC, it's pretty much an unwritten rule that winning the league equals a spot in the title game.
If the Pac-12 can boast four or five teams that consistently rank in the Top 25, it will surely belong in the same conversation, especially when you remember that four, not two teams will be vying for the title.
But while all of that points to teams laying off the tough scheduling, it's also about reputation. That goes along with recruiting, too.
Do you want to play for a school that avoids tough games in September, or do you want the chance to prove yourself on the big stage against top programs around the country?
Tajh Boyd of Clemson was seen as a great quarterback before this year, but beating Georgia vaulted him into the realm of the elite. In addition, it gave his squad some clout, and the perception about the Tigers has started to morph into "hey, they really might have a shot at the title this year."
That may not have happened without the victory over the Bulldogs.
The end goal is winning championships. But you also want a program that isn't afraid to regularly test itself against other college football powers.
That doesn't mean throwing three darts at the preseason Top 10 and finding a way to get them all on the schedule.
But having two to three games where the spread is greater than 30 or 40 points is a joke, if you're considered an elite program.
To answer the question, yes, Oregon should schedule non-conference tests in the future. With the Buckeyes, Aggies and Spartans all on the hook for two games each in the next 10 seasons, that won't be an issue.
The best formula for the Ducks is to schedule one big, noteworthy opponent; a second lower-tier school such as Fresno State or Nevada; and a final practice game (essentially) against whatever directional school is available.
That gives the team one game that it will win 95-100 percent of the time, a second game it should win 80 percent of the time, and a third game that is a toss-up.
Despite the fact that the chance to play for a title will be significantly increased next season with the addition of a playoff, Oregon should continue to schedule non-conference tests to maintain its image and reputation as a burgeoning college football powerhouse.
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