Non-conference schedule: often joked as the be all end all discussion by the playoff committee. But behind every joke there’s some truth.
The Big 12 was the lone Power Five conference left out of the four-team playoff — simple math dictates someone is always outside looking in. The simple reason, the non-conference strength of schedule for 10-1 TCU and Baylor couldn’t get enough pundits to back them even after historic showings throughout the rest of the season.
Debate leading up to the ultimate selection pitted the conference co-champions together looking at who beat who and to measure. In the end, Baylor left with the consolation of being ranked above the other school down I-35 at No. 5 in the nation, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort by the committee after saying TCU was the better team considering they beat Minnesota compared to Baylor’s top non-conference opponent, Buffalo.
It was a true moment of parity.
Baylor yelled enthusiastically that beating TCU head-to-head should matter most, and it should, otherwise what’s the point of claiming a national champion by playing a game? It defeats the purpose.
Last season shows that we’ve entered a new age of college football. It’s time to confront this issue now that we have a benchmark for how the playoff committee operates. If that means
wanting needing a rival to succeed, so be it.
Of course, Baylor or any other school for that matter still controls their destiny if they finish the season undefeated. That’s the easiest path to the playoffs for a Power Five conference member as TCU coach Gary Patterson noted to A.P. affiliate Stephen Hawkins.
“Our key is to control our own destiny, and the best way to do that is to try to win them all. That’s what we’re going to try to get done. Then we’ll see how everything else falls.”
Baylor coach Art Briles agreed when discussing the playoff race last season, and his mindset has not changed.
But as Florida State was the only undefeated team by season’s end — and only Power Five two teams have finished undefeated since 2011, the odds are stacked against teams to win the entirety of their season. With a schedule as easy as Baylor’s, there’s a need for their opponents and their schedules to look blemish-free as well as I discussed alongside ESPN’s Mark Rogers, Melissa Treibwasser from Frogs O’ War and Hunter Cooke of Viva the Matadors.
Meaning Baylor should be hoping for TCU to win against Minnesota but continue their ascension as an upper-echelon Big Ten team the rest of their season. And the trend continues beyond TCU’s schedule. Oklahoma needs to show their strength against rising SEC member Tennessee. And god willing, Texas takes control of South Bend in their season opener against Notre Dame.
Like Minnesota, the hope is that those non-conference teams find success throughout the rest of the season, leaving their Big 12 opponents as their lone blemishes. It’s a hopeful and rather convoluted mindset, but it has emerged out of necessity due to the amount the voters are placing on everything out of teams’ control.
The road to the playoffs isn’t a straight and narrow path. But the hope is that one team can bend it in their favor and Baylor hopes to be the one to do it, hoping to avoid the “We beat them, but they beat us…” scenario that played out last season.
With an improved defense and an offense that doesn’t look like they’ll miss a beat with junior quarterback Seth Russell stepping in, the odds look in their favor.