In 2015, the College Football Playoff Committee (Committee) seemingly paid no attention to strength of schedule (SOS.) The Committee, by design or lack thereof, has no standard metric to judge a team’s SOS. Accordingly, overall wins in 2015 trumped any evaluation of the quality of a team’s victories against both out of conference (OOC) and in-conference opponents.
11-1 Oklahoma with a bad loss to a bad Texas team made the Playoff field instead of a Stanford team that finished 11-2. The Cardinal suffered an opening road game loss at AP final No. 23 Northwestern, and a home-game loss to top 25 Oregon.
However, Stanford had a far better out of conference win over 10-2 Notre Dame than did the Sooners who won an OT game at 8-4 Tennessee. Had The Cardinal played and soundly defeated UNLV at home in Game 1 instead of tripping to Evanston, Illinois, to play Northwestern this SOS challenged Committee likely has the Pac-12 champ in its Final Four? And unlike the Oklahoma and Michigan State teams that appeared to be under the influence of New Year’s Eve residuals, Stanford would have showed up.
In fairness, the Pac-12’s OOC results in 2015 was sorry at best, with but two significant wins: Utah defeating Michigan in Salt Lake City and Stanford’s home win over the Golden Domers. In a Playoff system that has but four spots for five Power 5 conference champions and with many conference games played after east coast fans have journeyed to the Land of Nod, it is important that the Pac-12 show up OOC. The Pac-12, year after year, plays the toughest OOC schedule. But with the Committee largely ignoring degree of difficulty, it is only wins and not the effort that counts.
Listed below, in inverse order, are what I consider to be the Pac-12’s 11 most nationally significant OOC contests in 2016, and my way-too-early predictions for the outcome of said games.
Utah vs BYU– 9/10/16 – The latest edition of The Holy War featured the Utes taking a huge lead against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl and then holding on for dear life to eke out a close win. I think this game is a toss-up, but with the game in Salt Lake City, I think Utah scores back-to-back close wins. Great to see this big time rivalry game being played again!
- Cal vs Hawaii - 8/27/16 – Sydney, Australia – This game makes the list because it is the 2016 college football’s opener and is being contested Down Under. If nothing else, Cal will cop the award for “The Team Traveling The Farthest In 2016.” It is approximately 14,884 miles round trip from Berkley to Sydney. More miles than the Florida Gator football team has traveled since the Gators first put toe to pigskin.
85,300 Aussies are expected to be in attendance at ANZ Stadium that was built in 2000 for the Olympic games. After a Long Road Trip, the Golden Bears will find the end of a rainbow.
Stanford vs K State– 9/2/16 – A far easier opener for The Cardinal than tripping to Northwestern. Unlike last season, Stanford wins its opener against these purple Wildcats.
- ASU vs Texas Tech - A rematch of the Sun Devils’ beat down at the hands of the Red Raiders in the 2013 Holiday Bowl. I don’t think ASU has the cojones to take down Tech and its QB Mahomes?
- Oregon vs Virginia - 9/7/16 – Kudos to the Ducks for playing two Power 5 teams OOC. I do not believe I am being too cavalier in predicting that the Ducks will break a new Bronco.
- Cal vs Texas– 9/17/16 – Cal scraped by Texas last season in Austin when a big Bevo comeback was thwarted by a missed point after. I see this as a transition season for the Golden Bears, and I also see Texas making significant improvement under Coach Strong. Longhorns gore the Golden Bears.
- USC vs Notre Dame – 11/26/16 – The good news, coach Helton, you got the gig! The bad news, according to the FPI and all other rankings, your Trojans have the toughest schedule in the nation in 2016. Notre Dame was two plays away from the Playoff last season, and the Golden Domers look to make another run in 2016. This Trojan horse will not baffle Notre Dame.
- Oregon at Nebraska– 9/17/16 – Brady Hoke, you must make miserable The Life of Riley! When last seen, the 5-7 Cornhuskers run game was thoroughly shucking UCLA’s Baby Blue Bruins by the Bay. The Oregon run D must jam the gears of the reaper in Lincoln.
I see the D holding up, the excellent 2015 O-line recruiting paying off, a big game out of ‘Rolls’ Royce Freeman and the Ducks flying home with a hard-fought and nationally significant win against an old coaching nemesis.
Stanford at Notre Dame – 10/15/16 – There is a new QB down on The Farm. Not the case in South Bend with the Domers starting an ace pitcher in either Zaire or Kizer. But I see ‘White Magic’ Christian McCaffery showing off on national TV while playing in the daylight for a change and the Cardinal coming away with another very close win.
- UCLA at Texas A+M– 9/3/16 - QB Chosen Rosen tees it up against former mentor and new Aggies OC Noel Mazzone.
Oklahoma transfer QB Trevor Knight, after taking down St. Nick Saban, being hit on by Katy Perry and then oxymoronically riding the Sooners bench, is starting for what has been the QB revolving door Aggies. This is the toughest prediction of all of these games. A+M wins, I think, but only because this game is in College Station.
- USC vs Alabama– 9/3/16 – Irving, Texas. The eyes of Texas and the nation will be on the Pac-12’s LA schools battling the SEC in the Lone Star State on the same Saturday in September. I think the SC skill players keep this close for awhile, but the overall depth and talent of The Tide wins out.
Nine Others to Keep an Eye On: CU vs Colorado St. – Winner (W) Ralphie; Cal at San Diego St. – W – Aztecs; Oregon St. vs Boise St. – W – Blue Turfers (Never Ever Schedule Boise!); Arizona vs BYU – W – Cougs; UCLA at BYU – W – Bruins; UW vs Rutgers – W – Huskies; Wazou at Boise – W – Boise (Never Ever Schedule Boise!); Oregon St. at Minnesota – W – Beavers and CU at Michigan – W – Wolverines.
In total, I see The Conference of Champions going 11 – 9 in these big OOC games. Not too bad considering the quality of the competition, but will it be anywhere near enough for the Committee to righteously respond to the Pac-12’s SOS?
As the Zen Master said: ‘We’ll see?’