“The Scoop and Score” is a column by Eli Kleinmann about college football.
When BYU and Coastal Carolina announced they would play each other in early December less than three days in advance, many fans and experts instantly dubbed it the game of the year. Unlike almost everything else in 2020, the top-20 matchup in Conway, S.C. lived up to the hype as Coastal Carolina held BYU one yard short of the end zone and the win on the final play of the game.
Most years, it would be inconceivable that two teams could schedule a game the week of.
However, scheduling games 16 years in advance seems excessive, as Ole Miss and Virginia Tech have done. The two are slated to play each other in 2037 and the players who will take the field for those teams are still in diapers. Yet this practice is common among Power Five schools, most who have games scheduled into the 2030s.
Setting blockbuster matchups well in advance is problematic because the game is unlikely to live up to expectations. That would be a reality for almost any sport, but it is even more relevant for college athletics, which deal with an enormous amount of turnover each year, much less each decade.
In the early 2000s, when Cal was at its peak, winning eight to 10 games a season and finishing near the top of the Pac-10, the Golden Bears scheduled two games against Ohio State for 2012 and 2013. When those games finally arrived, Cal was no longer the top team they had been. In fact, Cal had a combined record of 4-20 over those two seasons.
Cal vs. Ohio State is just one instance where teams are playing at a completely different level by the time a game rolls around. It’s clear that a change is needed in order to consistently produce regular season games between top-ranked teams.
The inspiration for that change can be found in the game between BYU and Coastal Carolina that was played on a three-day notice.
Here is what the change looks like.
Each season, all 130 FBS teams leave a week open at the end of the season. Not a bye week, but a game that will be scheduled later.
Then, during the release of the first College Football Playoff ranking, typically the first week of November, the playoff committee will set the schedule for that week near the end of the season and create matchups between comparable opponents for every FBS school.
Take a moment to imagine that Saturday in mid-November. Four top-10 games, almost every ranked team plays a ranked opponent and every team is in action on one day. As a college football fan, there is almost nothing that would compare to the top programs playing each other on this “Super Saturday.”
The impact of this week in college football would extend further than just fans’ enjoyment. It would also allow the playoff committee to create matchups that will provide them with answers as to who are the best teams and who are the teams that have won because of an easier schedule.
In addition to helping the committee and providing excitement for fans, this “Super Saturday’' would address another one of college football’s biggest issues: the inability of the Group of Five teams to make the playoffs. This is currently a gripe of college football fans because even when G5 teams have gone undefeated, they have not come close to making the playoff — such as Cincinnati, which went 9-0 only to see itself ranked No. 8 in the final 2020 CFP rankings. Adding a top team to the schedule would allow the best G5 schools to gain a quality win and prove they belong in the playoff discussion.
If this “Super Saturday” existed last season, Cincinnati would have played a top team such as Ohio State. In 2017, UCF would have had its chance to prove itself against a title contender. If either of those teams had won, they would have actually had a realistic shot to make the playoff. That is something we have yet to be able to say about any G5 team because the playoff committee continues to claim that those teams do not have any quality wins to prove they are a top-four team.
In a sport that relies on tradition, this idea of putting scheduling in the hands of the playoff committee would likely upset college football fans who argue that the scheduling is too subjective and favors certain teams.
Yet it’s no different than letting the selection committee decide who makes the playoff. When the playoff is announced and the committee chair is forced to explain the rationale, one of the criteria first mentioned is “eye-test” — when members of the committee rank teams based on the way they look on the field. The fact that committee members prioritize what they see on the field over statistics proves that the whole process is subjective anyway.
If fans truly have an issue with the subjectivity that exists in college football, they need to reevaluate the entire playoff system as a whole.
The benefits of “Super Saturday’' would extend to all FBS programs, not just the playoff conversation. Regardless of how a team’s season was playing out, they would have a week where they could pick up a solid win against an FBS nonconference opponent and give fans of all teams something to be excited about.
Although there would certainly be pushback from teams and conferences, this idea is not entirely new to college sports.
From 2003-13, college basketball scheduled games midseason, dubbed as Bracket Busters, for over 100 midmajor teams that were meant to help bolster their resumes as they looked to make the NCAA Tournament. This enabled the selection committee to watch bubble teams play against each other and gain a quality victory on national television. It also provided exciting matchups at the end of the season that fans could enjoy.
While Bracket Busters was discontinued in 2013, college basketball proved this idea can be successful, and now it is time for college football to do the same.
“Super Saturday” would be a revolutionary change to college football. But it is time for that change. In 2019, the sport saw a sharp decline in attendance over the past decade and TV viewership dipped in 2020. A week of college football where the top teams clash in heavyweight bouts is exactly what is needed to spark energy back into the sport that relies so heavily on its fans.
BYU vs. Coastal Carolina lived up to its billing as the game of the year. Let’s have that game lead by example.
“The Scoop and Score” runs every other Thursday.