The schedule for week four of the season offers a fascinating blend of enlightened and familiarly depressing college football programming decisions. Some aspects of this schedule hit the sweet spot. Others don’t. Yet, the most conspicuous feature of the television slate for week four is that the better instances of time-slotting are — in some cases — wasted or, at the very least, not maximized.
We’ll explain soon enough, but since we do move through each week’s schedule in chronological order, we’ll start with Friday night.
Friday offers a doubleheader: Boise State-Virginia and Stanford-Oregon State. There’s a clean two-hour stagger between the two games (8 and 10 Eastern). There might have been a temptation to put Stanford-Oregon State at 9, but the 10 Eastern kickoff will enable fans and writers alike to see all of the Cardinal-Beaver second half once the Bronco-Cavalier game ends. That’s a good thing. A one-hour stagger with just two games on the docket would have felt like a missed opportunity.
Now, to Saturday, and the noon Eastern window…
BYU-Michigan is the most attractive noon Eastern game of the young season, anchoring that window on ABC. A feature-level game should always anchor a window, and since the noon window has been lacking in that regard over the previous two weeks, it’s good to see a higher-quality game in that slot.
Here’s the downside of having a feature game in a window: Other good games in that same window can and will be diminished as a result. Georgia Tech-Duke is the foremost example of this, on ESPN2. In keeping with the season-long theme of this specific weekly piece, Jackets-Devils should be moved to 11 a.m. Eastern. As an alternative, the LSU-Syracuse game on ESPN could get the same treatment. This would create a day with staggered windows — 11 a.m., 2:30, 6, and 9:30 — which would make more games accessible on the channel which chose to go this route. The whole schedule would breathe more.
One day, college football — one day.
Moving into the 3:30 Eastern window, a number of thoughts emerge. Tennessee-Florida used to be a massive game. Now, it’s still in the (new and diminished) phase of being only moderately interesting. When the SEC on CBS has a great matchup, 5 Eastern would seem to fit for Black Rock. Conversely, when CBS gets a ho-hum game, putting it at 2 Eastern would create a stagger on the other side of 3:30. This stagger would enable the noon and 3:30 CBS Sports Network games (this week, Navy-Connecticut at noon and Miami (OH)-Western Kentucky at 3:30) to breathe more.
That’s the main defect in the 3:30 window. However, there’s a welcome pair of developments in this window, with one of them being attached to a missed opportunity.
The single best part of the whole week-four TV schedule is that the sneaky-great (not sneaky-good, but GREAT) game between Texas Tech and TCU — made newly interesting by the fact that TCU has virtually none of its projected starting defense intact — gets stand-alone treatment in a staggered time window, at 4:45 Eastern on regular FOX. No other game has that start time, and moreover, from 4:15 to 5:45 Eastern, Texas Tech-TCU and California-Washington (at 5 Eastern on Pac-12 Network) are the only new games that start. This is EXACTLY how a college football schedule should be structured on a more regular basis. Texas Tech-TCU is must-see football, and we’ll get to focus on a lot of it because the schedule is conducive to giving it a longer look.
The missed opportunity concerns the Cal-Washington placement. While it’s great that Pac-12 Networks are staggering their games to offer more visibility and are presenting their content in daytime hours (instead of burying multiple games after 10 Eastern — a lot of people in the East and Central time zones go to bed at halftime of the late games out West), the selection of games this week could have been better. At 1:30 Eastern, Nicholls State-Colorado gets the P-12 Network slot. That’s frankly when Cal and Washington should have played. At 5 Eastern, Utah-Oregon should be taking the place of Cal-Washington.
Look at the night window, which we’ll move to now.
At 8 Eastern (probably with an 8:10 kickoff), the College GameDay game — also the Chris Fowler-Kirk Herbstreit game on ABC — is UCLA-Arizona. Utah-Oregon on FOX (following Texas Tech-TCU) comes on the air at 8:30. This is a real headache for Pac-12 watchers and bloggers. Two of the biggest games in the conference are basically going head to head with each other.
It’s great that Cal-Washington gets a 5 Eastern staggered start, so that Pac-12 viewers can really focus on that contest. However, that kind of exclusivity in terms of a time slot — enhancing visibility — should have belonged to Utes-Ducks once UCLA-Arizona became the ABC primetime kick. The pieces just weren’t moved around properly, and that’s a recurring bug in college football television timeslotting.
Yes, it’s a very good thing that only two games start after 9 Eastern, with one of them being the USC-Arizona State showdown at 10:30. A lot of people are going to be able to focus on that game. However, with both UCLA-Arizona and Utah-Oregon already competing for attention, a Pac-12 fan — unless s/he has three televisions or a very large computer screen to facilitate easy viewing through streaming — will have to choose one or two games over a third this Saturday evening.
That’s not right, and the sad thing is that it’s preventable.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to applaud about this schedule, specifically Texas Tech-TCU getting an exclusive slot, with the Pac-12 using time slots different from the rest of the country. Yet, even when the larger structure is right, the specific game choices for some of these slots can and do go wrong.
So it goes. We’ll see what happens in week five and beyond.