To say College Football Playoff semifinalist Washington played a poor non-conference schedule is accurate with it ranking No. 127 out of 128 FBS teams. To say the Huskies scheduled poorly is somewhat off base.
When then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian scheduled the home-and-home with Rutgers in March 2014, the Scarlet Knights were coming off 9-4 seasons in 2011 and 2012 and a 6-7 record in 2013 with a Pinstripe Bowl loss to Notre Dame. Rutgers was in a three-year stretch of going to a bowl with consecutive victories over Arkansas in the 2011 and 2012 regular seasons.
Chris Petersen replaced Sarkisian as head coach in 2014 after the series with Rutgers was arranged. The Huskies throttled the 2-9 Scarlet Knights 48-13 in their first game this season. They open at Rutgers next season. When Washington and Rutgers finalized the series in 2014, the Scarlet Knights were already accepted into the Big Ten and were about to begin play in that conference that season. The Huskies were not ducking anything when it came to scheduling Rutgers. The Huskies filled out their schedule with an FCS team (Portland State) and a non-competitive Idaho team from the Western Athletic Conference (at the time) that will drop to the FCS level in 2018.
Using this postseason as a lesson, the Power 5 – with its own autonomy – should mandate a couple of changes to the schedules of its participating schools, otherwise the CFP will continue to be criticized and looked upon as a farce.
First, make it a rule to schedule at least one Power 5 non-conference opponent. Baylor, Boston College, Kansas, Maryland and Washington State did not play a team from a Power 5 conference (other than their own) this season. They should have immediately been eliminated from CFP contention from the start.
Second, make it mandatory to schedule a game against a team from the FBS independents (Army, BYU, Massachusetts and Notre Dame) and Group of Five conferences – teams from the Mountain West, Mid-American Conference, American Athletic Conference, Conference USA and Sun Belt.
Finally, make it acceptable for a Power 5 team to schedule at least one game against an FCS opponent. The Big Ten does not allow scheduling of an FCS team, which is to the other extreme, eliminating the opportunity for smaller schools to gain from the experience financially and the chance for athletes from those schools to be part of a big-time college football atmosphere for at least one game.
The schedules of the Power 5 teams are also further unbalanced with the Big Ten forbidding the scheduling of FBC teams. The SEC, on the other hand, had the dubious distinction of being the Power 5 conference with the most games scheduled against FCS opponents this season. The SEC and ACC each played 14 FCS teams.
The SEC also had the most in 2014. This was the fifth consecutive season SEC schools have scheduled at least 13 games against FCS opponents.
One of the metrics the CFP committee should consider is the power rating of a Power 5 opponent when a school arranges the matchup. Otherwise, teams can hide behind playing perennial struggling Power 5 programs claim they played a team from a top conference in their non-conference schedule.
A playoff is supposed to reflect a true champion coming from a group of teams with similar regulations across the board, such as the NFL with its playoff setup. That’s not the case with today’s College Football Playoff. Until that is fixed, the system is flawed.
Javier Morales has worked as a sports journalist for more than 25 years. He reported for The Arizona Daily Star for 13 years. He was the Star’s beat reporter for the Arizona men’s basketball program when the Wildcats won the national title in 1996-97. A 2010 Arizona Press Club award winner, Morales operates the blog site AllSportsTucson.com.