Recently Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops justified the lack of a title game in the Big 12—it’s the only power-five league that doesn’t play a championship game—by saying that at least each team plays every other team in the conference on an annual basis.
According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, here’s what Stoops had to say:
Think about it: mathematically we play everybody, they [the SEC] don’t play everybody…For instance Texas A&M. They play eight conference games.
They have Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana Monroe. Boy those are all a bunch of toughies, right? We have nine conference games. So if [Texas A&M] was fortunate enough to be in the SEC championship game, they would play nine conference games at the end of the day and they have all those four ‘toughies’ to go with it.
We have nine conference games and we’re playing Tennessee. In a few years we have Ohio State, we just came off a series with Notre Dame and Florida State. So that’s like 10 conference games. If you’re playing a tough non-conference schedule to go with nine [Big 12] games, that’s a tough schedule.
If Stoops’ logic holds true—and playing nine conference games makes up for not having to play a league championship game—then the Pac-12 has the toughest schedules among the power five leagues.
More difficult than the Big 12, the ACC, the Big Ten, and yes, more difficult than the SEC.
Well, even though Pac-12 members don’t play every other member annually—the conference is too big to do that—it is the only power-five league to play a conference championship AND play nine league games each year.
As for the Big 12, as Stoops’ asserts members do play nine league games (against every other member, even the ones who struggle) but they still don’t play a league title game. This represents one fewer game against a top-tier conference opponent.
To illustrate, take Baylor, who did play every other Big 12 member last season on the way to its first conference title since 1994. But, if they would have been tasked with a league championship game—like Arizona State and Stanford did in the Pac-12—the Bears would have had to win a rematch with Oklahoma State to take the title.
Instead, they finished the regular season with a win over No. 23 Texas, sat at home with an 11-1 record and waited while the Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and SEC all pitted their two best teams against each other.
And yes, this “extra” game counted in the final BCS tally that decided which team would go where in the postseason. So while Baylor didn’t have the benefit of a potential win over a ranked opponent in a title game, it also didn’t run the risk of losing an additional game.
Using Stoops’ logic, Pac-12 members, if they are “fortunate enough” to be in the conference championship, would play ten league games. Taking his approach one step further, Pac-12 teams in the title game that also have non-conference games with big-time, power-five opponents are playing 11 conference games (in 2014 USC and Stanford have Notre Dame, Oregon has Michigan State, UCLA has Texas and Utah has Michigan).
That’s at least one step beyond the Big 12, the SEC and the ACC.
That leaves the Big Ten, which currently falls into the same category as the SEC and ACC (eight league games and a potential conference championship game), but that is all set to change. Yes, the Big Ten is slated to add an additional league game in 2016, moving from eight to nine.
This means that for now, the Pac-12 does have the toughest scheduling scheme among power-five leagues and, two seasons from now, the Big Ten will join them.
The significance of strength of schedule between conferences is critical moving forward because of the way the new College Football Playoff is designed. Basically, you’ve got five pegs and only four slots to fit them in. Or, in other words, there are five power conferences and only four slots in the playoff bracket.
Until that schematic flaw gets resolved, strength of schedule will be even more important, especially in the eyes of an all-human selection committee.