Last year, the brand-new nature of the College Football Playoff made it harder to look at the whole of the season in advance and point to specific reasons for concern. Nobody really knew how the CFB Playoff committee would think through its decisions. Everyone had guesses, but no one had definitive answers.
This season, it’s not exactly a piece of cake to guess what the committee is thinking, but there is at least some history to use as a point of measurement. This new situation raises a lot of legitimate questions about the chase for this season’s four playoff berths. One such question is this: “Which subtle details of the schedule — mostly rooted in timing, but split between previously existing practices and newly-altered arrangements — could sneak up on people and cause a great deal of controversy?”
There are more than five of them, but these are the five that stand out the most.
It’s the first game week of the 2015 FBS season. Many fans will be ambushed by one or more of these five schedule details, but you don’t have to be. Absorb these points and share them with your friends, so that you’re prepared in advance for a typical college football firestorm of debate and controversy:
5 – THE ACC NEEDS THE SEC EAST TO BE GOOD, FOR MORE REASONS THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
The ACC plays the SEC, mostly the East Division, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. You probably know the drill: Georgia Tech plays Georgia, Florida State plays Florida, Clemson plays South Carolina, and Louisville plays Kentucky. It is evident that if Georgia Tech, Clemson, or Florida State — perhaps with one loss — need to push themselves into the middle of the playoff conversation, they’ll need to win late-November games against SEC East opposition. Naturally, the ACC needs the SEC East to be good. What’s “ambush-worthy” about that?
This is what might sneak up on fans: The ACC, precisely because it reserves a late-November Saturday for a number of clashes with the SEC, doesn’t have as many backloaded games or schedules as the SEC and other power leagues do.
The showcase games in the ACC will all be over by the morning of Sunday, Nov. 8. Clemson and Florida State both play Georgia Tech before November, and then Clemson hosts Florida State on Nov. 7.
The ACC will then watch the next few weeks of November unfold, as Oregon plays Stanford and USC in the Pac-12; TCU and Baylor play the Oklahoma schools in the Big 12, and then each other; Alabama plays Auburn and Missouri visits Arkansas in the SEC; Ohio State plays Michigan State and Michigan.
All those games occur after Clemson-Florida State on the calendar. The ACC is ceding much of November to other power leagues. This is the bigger reason — beyond the game outcomes themselves — why the ACC needs the SEC East to be good. Those games on Nov. 28 have to mean as much as humanly possible; they need to be publicity magnets for the ACC.
4 – ARIZONA’S TIGHTROPE, AND THE WISDOM OF THE SEC
The Wildcats, as pointed out by TSS writer Michael Abelson weeks ago, play 12 straight games without a bye this season. What’s worth mentioning beyond that fact is that the Wildcats also play nine straight conference games without a bye or an interruption. This brings up a point: The SEC has recently played conference games in week one of a season. This year, the SEC will play league games in week two.
There’s pressure involved in having to play a conference game in one of the first two weeks of the season, but the SEC has used this scheduling method to gain more early-season publicity, while other conferences are playing more cupcakes. This is how the SEC dominates the news cycle and furthers its reputation, covering for other points (later in the year) when its schools play Sun Belt or FCS opponents.
The other thing the SEC achieves with early-season conference games is that it gives member schools a chance to not have to play conference games consecutively in October and early November. A team with a week-two conference game can play a breather game in the non-conference realm in late October, thereby gaining crucial rest.
It would seem to serve the Pac-12’s interests (the same is true for other power leagues) to have Arizona and other member schools play a conference game in week two. The fact that the Wildcats must play nine straight league games in nine straight weeks does not bode well for them. The art of scheduling is something the SEC has mastered, but a lot of fans probably aren’t aware of just how detailed SEC scheduling really is.
3 – THE PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME MOVES FROM FRIDAY TO SATURDAY
The crowd at last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game in Santa Clara, California, was meager and very disappointing. The league rightly moved the game to Saturday this year to boost ticket sales, but will this move hurt the Pac-12 champion?
Last year, Oregon whacked Arizona on a Friday night, one day before the other major conference championship games took place. Having a stand-alone time slot helped the Ducks become the No. 2 seed in the playoff, and that reality also helped Marcus Mariota win the Heisman.
This year, with the Pac-12 title game competing with other conference championship games, the Pac-12 champion might not get as much of a bump in the committee’s final rankings.
Speaking of those…
2 – ARMY-NAVY AND THE GROUP OF FIVE
The Navy Midshipmen play in a conference (The American) this year for the first time ever. (In this case, “ever” refers to a period of just over 120 years.) This means the Midshipmen might have to play in a conference championship game on Dec. 5. Since Navy plays Army a week later on Dec. 12, the Midshipmen could be either the Group of Five leader or the No. 2 team in the race at that time.
With their season not over, the Midshipmen could pose a problem if they’re in the top two of the Group of Five in early December. The New Year’s Six bowl which would take the top Group of Five team would obviously have to withhold an announcement on Sunday, Dec. 6, when the final playoff rankings are announced. Navy could make things very complicated before it’s all said and done.
1 – TCU AND A FAMILIAR BIG 12 ISSUE
The lack of a Big 12 Championship Game became — unsurprisingly yet lamentably — a major point of discussion last December, when Baylor and TCU got left out of the first College Football Playoff. For this reason, the Big 12 wanted Baylor and TCU to meet late in the season, in order to stick in the minds of viewers and committee voters.
However, you’ll note that TCU does not play on Saturday, Dec. 5. The Horned Frogs’ regular season will have already ended. If TCU — sitting at home on Dec. 5 — gets passed over for playoff inclusion, the decision to keep the Frogs idle on Dec. 5 will become magnified in the worst possible way. This is definitely something which could ambush a lot of college football fans three months from now.