Big 12 & WVU Strength of Schedules
With yesterday’s official announcement of West Virginia’s home-and-home series with North Carolina State in 2018 (in Raleigh) and 2019 (in Morgantown), Tuesday’s official release of the first ever meeting between WVU and the Tennessee Volunteers to take place at Bank of America Stadium on September 1, 2018 and last week’s announced season opening game with Virginia Tech at Fed-Ex Field in Washington, DC in 2017 West Virginia University Athletic Director Oliver Luck has made it clear that the Mountaineers are upgrading their out-of-conference (OOC) football schedules.
In scheduling these three teams Luck has not only upgraded the Mountaineers’ OOC schedules as compared to more recent seasons but he has also provided regional games that are within easy driving distance for most WVU fans – a luxury not afforded to most of those fans with the Mountaineers being a member of the Big 12 conference. In addition, the Virginia Tech 2017 contest at Fed-Ex Field and the 2018 game against Tennessee give the Mountaineers exposures in NFL stadiums, which is a recruiting advantage, plus very attractive financial paydays. Large concentrations of WVU alumni reside in the Raleigh-Cary-Durham and Charlotte regions of North Carolina, affording those portions of the WVU fan base with a terrific opportunity to watch the Mountaineers close to home.
In addition to the above reasoning, WVU is upgrading its schedules in anticipation of strength of schedule (SOS) being a key component of the as-yet-unannounced formula to be utilized by the new College Football Playoff Selection Committee. What are other “Power 5” conferences doing relative to SOS upgrades to their OOC schedules? One way to at least partially answer that question is to look at the scheduling of FCS schools.
Big Ten. In February of 2013 the Big Ten conference announced its intention to no longer schedule FCS schools, although that plan will not be fully realized until the 2016 season, as Indiana faces Southern Illinois, Maryland hosts Richmond and other Big Ten-FCS match-ups occur in 2015. The Big Ten’s stance has been the strongest of any of the Power 5 conferences on the subject so far.
SEC. The Southeastern Conference seems to be divided on scheduling FCS schools, with Alabama’s Nick Saban suggesting that not just the SEC but all of the Power 5 conferences should stop the practice and Florida’s Will Muschamp stating publicly that the Gators will move away from scheduling FCS opponents. On the other hand, LSU’s Les Miles and Georgia’s Mark Richt have stated that they are in favor of continuing the practice.
PAC 12. While not articulating a clear stance on the subject as a conference, Stanford’s David Shaw and other PAC 12 coaches (Oregon’s Mark Helfrich, Washington State’s Mike Leach and UCLA’s Jim Mora) have publicly chastised the SEC for not playing a nine-game conference schedule, suggesting that SEC OOC schedules are “soft”. Hypocritically, 8 PAC 12 teams will play FCS schools in 2014. (It should also be noted that the PAC 12 is 2-6 versus the SEC the last four years.)
ACC. All 14 ACC teams have FCS teams on their schedules in 2014; seven of those 14 opponents are located in the same state as their ACC opponent. Nearly all the rest of the ACC’s FCS opponents are located in bordering states, so it is clear that ACC schools see benefits from playing close-to-home FCS opponents and don’t appear ready to end the practice anytime soon. Further, no ACC coach has come out publicly in favor of discontinuing playing FCS schools.
While looking at FCS schools on a team’s schedule the strength of the FBS opponents also must be taken into consideration. There are several mediocre to poor FBS schools that are hardly to be considered as “heavyweights” when it comes to scheduling quality teams. (A case in point is 2013 WVU home game opponent Georgia State, one of the weaker opponents to visit Morgantown in recent memory.) Historically bad FBS schools are hardly an upgrade over FCS schools, particularly the better FCS schools such as the North Dakota State team that defeated Kansas State last year and went on to win the FCS championship game and the Towson squad that lost the FCS title game to North Dakota State that will hope to upset WVU in September in Morgantown.
What is the Big 12’s position on playing FCS schools and what do future OOC opponents look like in the Big 12 schools’ futures? Let’s examine each school’s OOC schedules and find out. The below five-year lookahead schedules for each respective Big 12 team were pulled from each team’s athletics website as of Thursday, 24 July 2014, and from the websites www.fbsschedules.com and www.nationalchamps.net/NCAA/future_schedules. BlueGoldSports.com makes no claim to the absolute validity of the information on those two sites, but has used their information for the purposes of this analysis. Home games are in black, away games are in red, neutral games are in blue and FCS schools are in italics in the below tables.
|2015||SMU, Lamar, Rice||Northern Iowa, Iowa, Toledo|
|2016||Northwestern State, SMU, Rice||Northern Iowa, Iowa, San Jose State|
|2017||SMU, UT-San Antonio (UT-SA), Duke||Northern Iowa, Iowa, San Jose State|
|2018||UT-SA, Duke, SMU||South Dakota St., Iowa, Akron|
|2019||SMU, UT-SA, Rice||Northern Iowa, Iowa, Akron|
|2015||South Dakota St., Memphis, Rutgers||South Dakota, UT-SA, La. Tech|
|2016||Ohio, Memphis, Hawaii||TBD, Charlotte, TBD|
|2017||Hawaii, Central Michigan, Ohio||TBD, Central Arkansas, TBD|
|2018||TBD, Central Michigan, Rutgers||TBD, TBD, UT-SA|
|2019||TBD, Houston, TBD||TBD, Bowling Green, TBD|
|2015||Akron, Tennessee, Tulsa||Central Mich., Central Ark., UT-SA|
|2016||La.-Monroe, TBD, Ohio State||Central Mich., Pitt, McNeese State|
|2017||TBD, TBD, Ohio State||Pitt, Tulsa, Rice, South Alabama|
|2018||TBD, UCLA, Army||Central Mich., South Alabama, Boise St.|
|2019||TBD, UCLA, TBD|
|2015||Minnesota, Stephen F. Austin, SMU||Notre Dame, Rice, California|
|2016||South Dakota St., Arkansas, SMU||Notre Dame, UTEP, California|
|2017||TBD, Arkansas, SMU||Maryland, UCF, Southern Cal|
|2018||TBD, Ohio State, SMU||Maryland, TBD, Southern Cal|
|2019||TBD, SMU, Ohio State||Notre Dame, TBD, TBD|
|Year||Texas Tech||West Virginia|
|2015||Sam Houston St., UTEP, Arkansas||Liberty, Maryland, Georgia Southern|
|2016||Stephen F. Austin, Ariz. St., TBD||Youngstown State, BYU, TBD|
|2017||TBD, Ariz. St., Houston||Virginia Tech, East Carolina, TBD|
|2018||TBD, Houston, TBD||Tennessee, TBD, N. C. State|
|2019||TBD, TBD, TBD||N. C. State, TBD, TBD|
Clearly, the various Big 12 teams are taking different approaches to scheduling FCS schools and with regard to the quality of FBS opponents being scheduled. We’ll assign a letter grade to each school based on an assessment of their OOC schedules below.
Baylor ( C ). Games with SMU, Rice and Texas-San Antonio make up most of Baylor’s OOC slate through 2019 with an FCS opponent to be played in 2015 and 2016, respectively
Iowa State ( C ). In addition to its annual battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy with in-state rival the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Cyclones are hosting in-state FCS school Northern Iowa four times in the next five years, reflecting the ACC philosophy of scheduling in-state or nearby FCS schools. Their FBS opponents will make no one shudder.
Kansas ( D ). Rutgers is the only decent OOC opponent that the Jayhawks will play through 2019 unless a high quality opponent fills the open slot in 2018 and one of the two slots in 2019.
Kansas State ( D ). The Wildcats have the most unfilled dates of any Big 12 school over the next five years, but the ones that are on the schedules are mediocre on a good day, along with two FCS schools.
Oklahoma ( A ). Obviously the Sooners are afraid of no one, scheduling Tennessee, Ohio State and UCLA and no FCS schools. The Sooners will have no worries if SOS is highly weighted by future CFB Playoff Selection Committees.
Oklahoma State ( D ). Other than a home-and-home series with Pitt – and any self-respecting WVU fan would question the stature of the Panthers as a “heavyweight” – the Cowboys have as watered down an OOC schedule as any Big 12 team. Mike Gundy might find his Pokes on the outside looking in if SOS is a deciding factor between getting into the playoff or not.
TCU ( B ). The Horned Forgs have a respectable future slate, with Minnesota, an improving Arkansas program and the Buckeyes on future schedules.
Texas ( A ). Like Oklahoma, the Longhorns are taking on true CFB “heavyweights” such as Notre Dame and Southern Cal. Like Oklahoma, the ‘Horns are in good shape as far as SOS is concerned.
Texas Tech ( B ). A 2015 road game with Arkansas and a home-and-home with Arizona State are on tap for the Red Raiders, along with two FCS schools.
West Virginia ( B ). The match-ups identified the last couple of weeks give the Mountaineers a solid OOC schedule over the next several years. Many of the marquee opponents (BYU, Va. Tech, Tennessee) are being played at neutral sites. The Mountaineers are more than holding their own versus their Big 12 brethren in terms of OOC scheduling and if the program takes an upward trajectory the next few seasons SOS won’t keep WVU out of the CFB Playoff.
Many open slots remain on several Big 12 teams’ future schedules. As the dynamics of the CFB Playoff unfold and the criteria by which teams are selected becomes clearer it will be interesting to follow how the schools react in terms of scheduling future OOC opponents.
Mark Fought is BGS’ Data Analyst and can be followed on Twitter @MntnrMark.