Forty Names, Games, Teams, and Little Things That Make Headlines in College Football (complete circle of sucking sold separately in the Pac-12):
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Planning Outside of Conferences – How Weak is Too Weak to Make the Playoffs?
At the Big Ten media day in July Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh (21) was asked about a non-conference plan with no Power 5 opponents. The Group of 5’s opposition was about as weak as the FBS hierarchy could get: Colorado State, Hawaii and Connecticut.
The reporter who popped the question to Harbaugh subsequently observed that the “feedback” from fans indicated they wanted a better caliber of opponents coming to the big house for non-league games. Harbaugh’s response: “Well, you can share that feedback with me at some point [athletic director] Guard Manuel (22)and you can discuss it.”
There’s no telling if that conversation ever happened, but here’s the feedback Michigan received on its schedule from College Football Playoff Selection Committee members: They’re not impressed. Committee Chair Boo Corrigan (23) has mentioned it as “a factor” in discussing the Wolverines’ place in the rankings – first No. 5, then No. 3 – in each of the first two weeks.
If Michigan keeps winning, it won’t be a problem. Go 13-0 and beat Ohio State and the playoff berth will take care of itself. But if the Wolverines don’t beat the Buckeyes on Nov. 26 in Columbus, an 11-1 record that won’t nonconference meat will be has become a bone of contention.
This all harks back to decisions Michigan made in 2018-19 to lighten its off-league schedule and maximize home games. A two-game contract signed to play in 2014 Virginia Tech (24) for ’20–21, ’18 was bought by Michigan for $375,000. A year later, the Wolverines paid $1.5 million to get out of a two-game deal University (25) for ’22–23. (Hawai’i, the Bruins’ backup, gets a Michigan-record $1.9 million guarantee to play the game in Ann Arbor.)
Those buyouts gave Michigan what it wanted: at least seven home games per season. The non-conference schedule change was spurred by the Big Ten’s 2016 move from eight league games to nine, which necessitated playing five Big Ten opponents on the road every two seasons. Something had to go from the reduced noncon roster, and Michigan decided it would be street games.
Michigan’s last non-league road game was at Notre Dame in 2018. Since then, the non-conference plan has been ’19 Middle Tennessee, Army and Notre Dame; none in ’20; western Michigan, Washington and northern Illinois in ’21; and Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn this year. Next year it’s East Carolina, UNLV and Bowling Green. Everything in the big house. (Things change in ’24 with a game in Texas and in ’25 with a game in Oklahoma.)
In terms of maximizing turnover and minimizing losses, this all makes sense. But the strength of the schedule component in CFP deliberation doesn’t favor the current Michigan team in terms of the games it decides to schedule. This could have been mitigated by UCLA playing on schedule this season. (Michigan officials declined to comment to SI on the cancellation of the Bruins series.)
The Wolverines have the worst schedule of any in the Sagarin Ratings top 25, with a list checking in at No. 71. Significantly, UCLA is second-worst at No. 62, as the Bruins also played a non-Power 5 list after losing the Michigan game. The Wolverines’ roster strength will certainly improve over the next two weeks with games against Illinois and Ohio State, but there would be some playoff danger for a one-loss team opting for the No. 124 (UConn), 138 (Colorado State) ruled. and 165 (Hawaii).
This gets controversial because it’s college football and everything is controversial, but also because teams from the SEC (26) and Acc (27) only have eight league games and many end up planning only one Power 5 non-conference opponent – thus ending up with the same number of P5 games as their brethren in the Big Ten (28), Large 12 (29) and Pac-12 (30).
The average number of P5 opponents played per conference during the 2022 regular season: SEC 9.07; Big Ten 9.79; ACC 9.5; Large 12 10.0; Pac-12 10.0. (West Virginia, Colorado and Stanford are the only three schools in the country that play 11 Power 5 opponents in the regular season. All probably wish they had scheduled at least one game less ambitiously.)
When it comes to a CFP resume contest for one or more places between, say, 11-1 Michigan, 11-1 Tennessee, 12-1 Clemson, 12-1 TCU, and 12-1 USC—or a combination thereof—here are some numbers to note.
Michigan would have an 8-1 record against nine P5 opponents: Ohio State (No. 2 Sagarin), Penn State (No. 7), Iowa (No. 24), Illinois (No. 37), Michigan State (No. 46). ), Maryland (No. 52), Nebraska (No. 76), Indiana (No. 94) and Rutgers (No. 95). Average Sagarin rank: 48.1.
Tennessee would have an 8-1 record against nine P5 opponents: Georgia (No. 1), Alabama (No. 3), LSU (No. 10), Florida (No. 21), Pittsburgh (No. 42), Kentucky ( #43), South Carolina (#57), Missouri (#63), and Vanderbilt (#98). Average Sagarin rank: 37.6.
Clemson would have a 10-1 record against 11 Power 5 opponents: Notre Dame (No. 15), Florida State (No. 16), Louisville (No. 29), North Carolina (No. 36), Wake Forest (No 38), NC State (#45), South Carolina (#57), Syracuse (#58), Miami (#74), Boston College (#106), and Georgia Tech (#110). Average Sagarin Rank: 53.1.
TCU would have a 10-1 record against 11 Power 5 opponents: Kansas State (No. 11), Texas (No. 12), Baylor (No. 18), Oklahoma (No. 22), Oklahoma State (No. 23), Iowa State (No. 28), Texas Tech (No. 34), Kansas (No. 44), West Virginia (No. 50), Colorado (No. 129), and a Big 12 title game opponent who is still determining must become. Right now, it would be a rematch with Kansas State, giving TCU’s P5 opponents an average Sagarin rank of 34.7.
USC would have a 10-1 record against 11 Power 5 opponents: Utah (No. 6), Notre Dame (No. 15), Oregon State (No. 19), UCLA (No. 25), Washington State (No. 32). ), Arizona (#56), Arizona State (#59), California (#65), Stanford (#84), Colorado (#129), and a Pac-12 title game opponent to be determined. That would probably be the winner of Saturday’s Utah-Oregon game, so let’s say it’s the Ducks (#8). Average Sagarin rank: 45.3.
A lot can happen in the next few weeks. But for Michigan in particular, a win can ease many concerns about a buyout made three years ago and its potential impact on a playoff bid.
MORE DASH: Playoff Image | A&M’s implosion