Will Playoff Make Nonconf. Rivalries Like Notre Dame-Stanford More Relevant?

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Will Playoff Make Nonconf. Rivalries Like Notre Dame-Stanford More Relevant?
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The College Football Playoff will shape the sport's future, and a key cornerstone could take a cue from college football's past. 

Prominent nonconference rivalries are taking center stage this week, including Stanford's tilt with Notre Dame. Both are ranked in the BCS standings—Stanford at No. 8, Notre Dame at No. 25. One of the two has played in a BCS bowl in each of the last three seasons, including both last year. Stanford has an opportunity to make it four straight years with a win in next week's Pac-12 Championship Game.

This is a marquee matchup, and with both programs trending in a positive direction, will continue to be in the initial years of the College Football Playoff era. 

"It's great for us, I think it's great for Notre Dame and I think it's great for college football," Stanford head coach David Shaw said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.

The Notre Dame-Stanford rivalry has truly taken off only in the last 16 years, but it's rooted in some of the most rich traditions of college football. Knute Rockne was the Fighting Irish's head coach when the two programs first met in 1925, and Pop Warner led Stanford as The Bootleg's David Lombardi notes on Twitter.  

It's a nice nod to the game's past while also mapping out its next phase of evolution. The College Football Playoff promises to change how programs approach the season in their effort to win over selection committee support.  

"I would like to see the component of strength of schedule so we can go back to seeing great teams playing each other out of conference across the country," Texas head coach Mack Brown told USA Today's Paul Myerberg

Brown touches on a very important aspect of the prominent, nonconference game. Strength of schedule is one of the key components expected to shape the College Football Playoff. That benefits programs like Stanford and Notre Dame, since few face slates as rigorous as theirs. The Cardinal and Fighting Irish both rank in the top 30 of the Sagarin Ratings for strength of schedule. Comparatively, none of the BCS Top Five has a schedule ranked better than No. 39. 

Big-time games also beget big-time performances, as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed in his weekly press conference, per UND.com

"Stanford forces that out of you, because [its top 10-ranking] gets your attention," Kelly said. 

Shaw sees it the same way. 

"This will be another one of those games that goes right down to the end," he said.

More of these pairings aren't just good for teams looking to bolster their playoff resumes. It's also a win for college football fans. Consider the Clemson-Georgia rivalry, which went dormant a decade ago. The programs renewed it this season, and it produced one of the most exciting affairs of the 2013 season. 

The two meet again to kickoff 2014 in Athens, Ga. 

Last year on the week Stanford knocked Oregon from the BCS Championship race, Alabama beat up on Football Championship Subdivision cellar-dweller, Western Carolina. Uniformity in conference scheduling looks like one of the changes the College Football Playoff will prompt. The SEC appears to be headed toward a nine-game schedule, as B/R SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee examined.

The Big Ten is implementing a nine-game schedule in 2016, joining the Big 12 and Pac-12. 

Whether a nine-game conference slate will eliminate the all-too-prevalent SEC-FCS matchups in late November remains to be seen. The additional in-conference date could simply move those lopsided games to September, but fewer available dates means less room for filler. 

Might Notre Dame and Stanford having a guaranteed, high-profile date every season become a trend in the changing landscape? 

"I would hope so," Shaw said. "It’s positive for all of us to play really hard, physical games late in November."

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