Big Ten touts plan for tougher schedules as playoff push

By Ralph D. Russo - AP College Football Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — The College Football Playoff has turned strength of schedule into a constant talking point, with each conference claiming its road to the postseason is most daunting.

Hoping to set themselves apart when playoff selection time comes around, Big Ten teams plan to play at least one nonconference game against a Power Five opponent and eliminate FCS schools from their schedules starting in 2016 when the league goes to a nine-game conference slate.

Commissioner Jim Delany touted the league’s “1910” scheduling model on Friday at Big Ten media days: one Power Five nonconference game, nine conference games, one conference championship game, zero games outside Bowl Subdivision.

The Big Ten would become the only Power Five conference to play nine league games, eliminate FCS opponents and require a Power Five nonconference game.

Delany said the scheduling guidelines are not a mandate, though he believes they will make an impression on the playoff selection committee. The Big Ten has been working on its scheduling model for several years, but this week was an opportunity for Delany to tie it all together on a big stage.

Delany said games in Notre Dame and BYU, both independents, would count as Power Five opponents and the FCS games will be weaned off Big Ten schedules so its schools would not have to break current contracts.

“But this is the template that everybody thinks is best going forward from a variety of perspectives,” Delany said.

The Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference each require their teams to play at least one Power Five nonconference opponent, but play only eight conference games and have no plan to eliminate FCS opponents.

Judging by postseason success and the number of players it sends to the NFL, the SEC has considered the strongest conference over the last 10 years. So good that its coaches claim their eight-game schedule is more challenging than the nine-game slates played by other conferences.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said recently in an interview with ESPN that the grind of an SEC schedule puts the conference at a disadvantage in the playoff.

The Big 12 plays nine conference games, but has no conference title game and its teams play FCS opponents. The conference was hurt in the playoff selection process last year when TCU and Baylor were judged against teams that played a league title game, which made the Big 12 leaders consider adding one. Baylor seemed to be hurt just as much by a particularly weak nonconference schedule that featured no Power Five opponents.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said his league is not about scheduling requirements on its members.

“Some coaches believe a tough preseason does that best,” he said at Big 12 media days. “Others believe a lighter preseason does that best. And I think we have to respect those experiences and respect the prerogatives of individual coaches. So I don’t think it means that everybody has to play three top 20 teams in their preseason. I also think it doesn’t mean that everybody has to play three that are FCS or in the bottom of FBS. So I think there’s a happy medium there.

The Pac-12 has a nine-game conference schedule and a championship game, and while its members don’t play FCS opponents as frequently as other Power Five leagues, they do play outside of the FBS. Pac-12 teams are also not required to team teams from other Power Five conferences, though most usually do.

“And this is why I’m confident standing up in front of a room like this and saying no one’s got a tougher schedule than the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 champion’s got the toughest road because there aren’t many misses that you can have within your conference,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said.

Last season, Ohio State’s schedule strength of schedule did not match that of SEC champion Alabama, but it didn’t keep the Big Ten champions from making it to the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes then won the first playoff as the fourth seed, beating Alabama in the semifinals and Oregon in the national title game.

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer

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