Not all scheduling criteria are created equal

Earlier this week, Alabama and Wisconsin announced a home-and-home series for games in 2024 and 2025.

The Crimson Tide travels to Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 14, 2025, and the Badgers will make their trek to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 13, 2025.

As a college football fan, the only thing that would make this matchup better for me would have been if Alabama traveled to Wisconsin in November. However, I’ll gladly settle for a bowl-type regular-season matchup between Power 5 teams.

Who knows if Nick Saban will still be in Tuscaloosa come game time, but the matchup is sure to bring out the best in both fan bases. The SEC, college football’s current juggernaut, versus college football’s most tradition-rich conference in the Big Ten.

While both conferences mirror one another, their standing in college football has recently diverged. According to some, scheduling inconsistencies are partially to blame.

Strength of schedule was a major talking point during the days of the old BCS system. Many believed a shift to the College Football Playoff would help stem some of the inconsistencies it brought about. But as we enter Year 6 of the new format, scheduling — or lack thereof — has managed to again seep into the selection process, much to the chagrin of many fan bases.

While it’s true teams can’t do much about reconfiguring their league schedules, there’s wiggle room when it comes to their non-conference slate of games.

According to “Stadium’s” Andy Wittry, since the inception of the College Football Playoff, invitees — except 2018 Notre Dame — have gone a combined 69-1 in games against non-conference opponents. Ohio State dropped its Week 2 contest against Virginia Tech in 2014 but rattled off 13 straight en route to winning the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.

However, not all conference scheduling criteria are created equal. The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 each play nine-game league schedules. The SEC and ACC don’t as both conferences play eight league games a year.

That was a big topic at Big Ten Media Days this year, and everyone from outgoing commissioner Jim Delany to Penn State coach James Franklin offered their opinion. Even first-year Ohio State coach Ryan Day shared his thoughts when I asked him.

It’s simple mathematics: more league conference games equal more chances for blemishes. Oklahoma has found a way to make it work. The Sooners have played in three College Football Playoffs. The Big Ten, however, has recently hit a playoff wall, as it’s been excluded from the last two College Football Playoffs. Purdue dashed the league’s best hopes last year with its upset over then-No.2 Ohio State.

The Pac-12 has been lackluster nationally as of late and really hasn’t had a dog in the fight, and has appeared in just two College Football playoffs. Oregon made it to the national championship in 2014 and Washington went in 2016.

Even from his position as a lame-duck commissioner, Delany maintained the Big Ten will not retreat to an eight-game league schedule — an admirable stand despite recent results.

As Wittry’s calculations suggest, if a team hopes to secure an invitation to the College Football Playoff, it better go undefeated in non-conference games. Kudos to Wisconsin for adding to the load by scheduling a home-and-home series against Alabama.

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