Big 12 football needs to do a much better job of picking on someone its own size in nonconference football schedule if it really wants to be considered an elite league.
In a sport in which winning is everything and a single loss can derail a team’s national title chances, you won’t find many college football coaches bold enough to take on truly tough teams outside of their own conferences except in the prized postseason.
Pick up three wins in the nonconference part of the schedule, and that leaves you needing just three more victories in conference play to become bowl eligible.
Probably the most stubborn of all of the Big 12 coaches over the years when it comes to adding wins and confidence in the early nonconference portion of the schedule in order to work out the kinks and be better prepared for tougher conference completion is Bill Snyder of Kansas State. Yes, the Wildcats played a top-25 Auburn team last season, but you better believe that wasn’t something was all that pleased about – after all, that was scheduled before Snyder began his second go-around on the sidelines at K-State.Sep 13, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Malcolm Brown (28) runs the ball against the UCLA Bruins during the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
A glance ahead at the 2015 schedule shows that there remains a dearth of so-called showcase nonconference games among the three games Big 12 schools will play outside of the conference in the coming season. In fact, the highest-ranked Big 12 nonconference opponent in the coming season, based on the final USA Today Coaches Poll of last season, is Notre Dame, which will host Texas on opening weekend.
Seven Big 12 teams do have games scheduled in 2015 against a team from one of the major conferences, but for the most part none of these games are against teams considered to be in the upper echelon of one of those conferences. An exception to that might be be Texas Tech’s game next season against Arkansas out of the SEC. Also Oklahoma goes to Tennessee to take on a Volunteers’ team that is expected to be much improved this season.
TCU, considered by most experts to be the preseason favorite in the Big 12 next season gets off on a good foot by traveling to play at the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a bowl team last season, but then the Horned Frogs go against a couple of well overmatched opponents in Stephen F. Austin, which isn’t even a Football Bowl Subdivision school, and SMU.
Perhaps the most egregious example of schedule sandbagging is the nonconference slate for both Baylor and Oklahoma State, two of the better teams in what the Big 12 wants people to think is one of the best football conferences in the land. Neither the 2014 co-champion Bears or the Cowboys are going to earn many points for strength of schedule when you consider they play teams like SMU, Lamar and Rice (Baylor), and Central Michigan, Central Arkansas, Texas-San Antonio (Oklahoma State).
Kansas State gets back to normal as far as the 2015 schedule is concerned with a nonconference slate consisting of South Dakota, Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech.
Pretty sad, really. But it also should be pointed out that the other major conferences aren’t that much better when it comes to putting their record and ranking on the line against a quality nonconference opponent in the early part of the schedule. SEC juggernaut Alabama, for example, gets credit for engaging Wisconsin out of the Big Ten on a neutral field to open the season, but the Crimson Tide also have games scheduled against Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee and Charleston Southern during the 2015 campaign.
National champion Ohio State will put everything on the line against a Virginia Tech team that is the powerhouse it used to be, and follows that up with successive nonconference contests against Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, a real murderers’ row.
In the new College Football Playoff era, teams are going to have to be willing to step up and play the best if they want to be considered in the pool of teams that are valued as the best in the country and worthy of being one of the final four participants in a given season.
Fat chance of that happening anytime soon.