How is TCU No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings—three places ahead of Baylor at No. 7—when the Bears beat the Horned Frogs 61-58?
It’s one of, if not the most, compelling questions to come out of the first round of CFB Playoff rankings. And it goes a long way in illustrating how critical strength of schedule is in the new Playoff model.
In answering questions about TCU outranking Baylor, Playoff committee chairperson Jeff Long indicated that TCU’s “overall body of work” including its strength of schedule made the difference, according to Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News.
When you put all those factors together, we think at this time TCU has a better resume and was voted that way ahead of Baylor.
This despite the fact that the Bears beat the Horned Frogs, straight up. This isn’t the case of playing an imaginary game of which team is better—no, in this instance, there was an actual football game. A contest that was played just over a month ago.
Can the committee substantiate its claim that Baylor’s resume falls short of the mark?
The truth is, Baylor has made a deliberate decision not to schedule non-conference games with power-five teams, and it’s a tendency that dates back further than a couple of seasons.
The last time the Bears scheduled a regular-season game against a team that was in a power-five conference was six years ago in 2009, when it travelled to Wake Forest and beat the Demon Deacons 24-21.
Since then, Baylor has played 19 consecutive non-conference games against non-power teams. The Bears record over this span is 18-1; the only loss coming, ironically, to No. 4 TCU in 2010, when the Horned Frogs were still members of the Mountain West.
Is it any coincidence that Baylor posted its first winning season in 14 years in 2010, the same year it stopped playing power-five teams out of conference?
Sure, the Bears had to win plenty of Big 12 games to go 10-3 in 2011 and 11-2 last season, but easily getting off to a 3-0 start certainly didn’t hurt.
Looking at Baylor’s future scheduling, the trend continues with the only power-five opponent on the horizon a home-and-home series with Duke slated for 2017 and 2018.
Though there are plenty of questionable non-conference scheduling practices across major college football, it’s important to remember that Baylor is more of an exception than an example of the rule.
Before this season, Texas Tech had the longest drought in playing a power-five team out of conference— after playing Ole Miss in 2003, the Red Raiders waited 10 years before scheduling Arkansas this year.
Tech’s revamped approach to scheduling, which includes Arkansas again next year and a home-and-home series with Arizona State in 2016 and 2017, gives Baylor the dubious title of the power-five program that has gone the longest between big-time, non-league games.
To compare, let’s look at TCU, the team that jumped Baylor in the rankings despite losing to them.
The Horned Frogs didn’t join the Big 12 until 2012, but since then has had a power-five foe scheduled out of conference each season: In 2012 it was Virginia, in 2013 it was LSU and this season it was Minnesota.
Before that, TCU consistently scheduled big-time, non-league games to keep itself on the national radar, despite its relegation to the WAC, C-USA and finally the Mountain West.
Moving forward, the Horned Frogs have future dates scheduled with Arkansas, Ohio State and Cal. This means as long as TCU keeps winning, it will be considered a legitimate contender.
Is the higher ranking in the new CFB Playoff poll a tip of the hat in TCU’s direction, a reward for solid scheduling, or, instead does it serve as a clear warning to would-be playoff teams: Beef up your non-conference schedules, or pay the price?
If nothing else, it underscores the absolute importance of scheduling in college football. And it’s why reports like Texas A&M and UCLA scheduling a series are so crucial to the future landscape of the game.
The last time the Aggies played a power-five out of conference was in 2011, when they were still in the Big 12 and met Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. Their drought will end next season when they open up with Arizona State and will continue with UCLA in 2016 and 2017 and Clemson in 2018 and 2019.
Texas A&M knows the score, and now it’s Baylor’s turn to get on board.