Fan bases across the nation will reconvene in less than three weeks for the 146th season of college football. However, before you can play football you must schedule the games, and the 2015 schedule is full of quirks from the charming to the infuriating. As we barrel towards the season, let’s take a look at 10 things that stand out from this year’s slate. They include everything from nonsensical amounts of travel to something that hasn’t happened in 101 years.
1 – THE MAC STRIKES GOLD IN NON-CONFERENCE PLAY
As the eternal thorn in the side of the Power 5 leagues, the MAC has developed a reputation for putting together quality football teams and turning dreams into nightmares across the country. This year the scheduling gods are rewarding the league with a quartet of home non-conference games against Power 5 teams, including a national title contender.
Akron hosts Pittsburgh in week two and Toledo hosts Iowa State in week three, but both Central and Western Michigan hit the jackpot in week one. On opening night, the Chippewas welcome Oklahoma State to Mount Pleasant in a nationally-televised affair. Western Michigan, a preseason MAC champion pick by many, hosts Michigan State on Sept. 4. Underestimate P.J. Fleck and his Broncos at your own peril. That game has the potential to be lightning.
2 – THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
When Oklahoma State takes the field against Central Michigan, it will be the first time since 1992 that the Pokes play a game in Michigan. Back then, when Mike Gundy was coaching the QBs in Stillwater, Oklahoma State lost to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, 35-3. Not to be outdone, Illinois travels to Chapel Hill to play North Carolina in week three. It is the Illini’s first trip to the state of North Carolina since losing 34-14 to the Tar Heels in 1987.
Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines take it one step further. Michigan’s season opener at Utah is Blue’s first regular season game anywhere in the mountain time zone since a 20-13 win over Colorado in Boulder in 1996.
3 – NO REST FOR THE WEARY: GOODBYE TO BYE WEEKS
With the season starting on Labor Day weekend, rather than the end of August like the last two seasons, numerous teams go from having two bye weeks to just one. Five teams, though, get the short end of the stick and have no bye weeks at all. Florida International, Miami University, Colorado, Hawaii, and Arizona all play straight from Labor Day to the weekend before Thanksgiving. Hawaii and Colorado play each other during week one and play 13 consecutive games; Arizona, FIU, and Miami all play 12 straight weeks.
4 – LOGGING MILES: HAWAII’S HEADACHE
If the schedule wasn’t bad enough for Hawaii, then the travel must be. The Rainbow Warriors cumulatively travel 40,100 miles for road-return trips, which include journeys to Ohio State and Wisconsin. Idaho, the team with the second-longest amount of travel this season, travels only 18,600 miles.
5 – GOLDEN FLASH WHIPLASH: KENT GETS BENT BY A WICKED NOVEMBER
There are teams that have no bye weeks. There are teams that have insane travel. Then there is Kent State.
Due to the MAC’s television deal with ESPN, league games are strung throughout the week in November, and no team gets affected by that dynamic more than Kent State. The Golden Flashes’ last five games are all on different days of the week (Saturday, BYE, Thursday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday) and feature the most vicious stretch of football faced by any team in the country: three games in 13 days. Kent will host Buffalo on Nov. 5, travel to Ohio University on Nov. 10, and finish the stretch by hosting Central Michigan on Nov. 18.
6 – TEXAS A&M: STAYING CLOSE TO HOME
Texas A&M is the polar opposite of Hawaii. The Aggies play only three true road games and leave the state of Texas once, Oct. 24 at Ole Miss, before November. A&M will have to travel a total of only 3,300 miles to its games outside of College Station this year. Neutral-site games versus Arizona State and Arkansas in Houston and Dallas, respectively, keep the Aggies from straining too much on the road.
7 – THE SEC HOMECOMING SPECIAL
The SEC, as a league, is playing only eight true non-conference road games. While the league schedule is certainly a grind, and a spate of neutral-site games for league schools do offer a high level of quality, the SEC’s non-conference slate — on balance — leaves a lot to be desired. Nine teams play the “homecoming special” in November against far inferior competition.
The scheduling is on full display Nov. 21: Charleston Southern at Alabama, Idaho at Auburn, Florida Atlantic at Florida, UNC Charlotte at Kentucky, and The Citadel at South Carolina. Five SEC teams play FCS teams Oct. 3 or later. The rest of the country plays only one FCS team after Oct. 3 (Chattanooga at Florida State on Nov. 21).
8 – THE IRISH BREAK TRADITION
Notre Dame’s scheduling alliance with the ACC has meant the slow deterioration of decades-old rivalries with teams from the Big Ten. This season marks the first time since 1914 that the Irish haven’t played a team that’s currently in the Big Ten. That Notre Dame team, coached by Jesse Harper, went 6-2 and shut out four of its opponents, including a 56-0 win over Alma and a 103-0 win over Rose Poly.
9 – THE ACC: LIVING THE FCS LIFESTYLE
FBS teams playing FCS opponents is commonplace across college football, but an FBS team playing two FCS teams in a season is a rarity. While that seldom-seen practice makes two of 12 games easier, it also makes the other 10 games that much more urgent.
Boston College and North Carolina each play two FCS teams this season. The Eagles open the season hosting Maine and Howard, while the Tar Heels host North Caorlina A&T in week two and Delaware in week four. One game against FCS competition can be counted towards bowl eligibility, but not the other. Due to the additional FCS game, both B.C. and UNC will have to win seven games to qualify for bowl eligibility, rather than the normal total of six.
10 – BOWL SCHEDULING: BOXING DAY MADNESS AND MORE
When it comes to bowl season, there is no day bigger than New Year’s Day. For years, including the BCS era, New Year’s Day regularly featured six games. (It had five last year under the revised New Year’s Six-College Football Playoff schedule.)
This year, for the first time ever, six bowl games fall on Dec. 26. Previously, New Year’s and Jan. 2 (in instances when New Year’s fell on a Monday) were the only days to ever feature six games. This year’s Boxing Day slate features the St. Petersburg Bowl, Sun Bowl, Heart of Dallas Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Independence Bowl, and the Foster Farms Bowl.