With the new college football playoff set to debut this winter, teams around the country are beginning to schedule tougher non-conference opponents to coincide with their grueling conference slates.
After all, victories in conference games will get you in the discussion for one of the four vaunted spots in the new playoff bracket. Victories in the non-conference slate will gain admittance.
Iowa City should hope that Gary Barta was huddled around his television set like the rest of us Saturday, watching Wisconsin battle LSU in primetime. The only way Iowa will ever get one of the four, sacred invites is through scheduling, and defeating, stout non-conference opponents.
With all apologies to Northern Iowa, Ball State, Iowa State and Pitt, there is no sizzle in that slate. I’m not about to suggest that the Cyclones be dropped from the Hawkeye schedule, but as a program that has one winning season since 2008, Iowa State does not aid the Hawkeyes in getting any national notoriety.
Realistically, anybody even in the conversation for one of those four spots will either be undefeated or sport a lone blemish. The 2013 AP Poll entering bowl season had Florida State (13-0), Auburn (12-1), Alabama (13-1) and Michigan State (12-1) finishing in the top four. Spots five through thirteen comprised of teams with either one or two losses.
Without the BCS formula spitting out the best teams in the country, this season a thirteen-person panel must weigh close victories against tough losses. Anybody who believes that strength of schedule won’t be apart of the discussion is foolish.
For Iowa, it would not be smart to be outclassed on national television. Iowa lacks the talent to travel below the Mason-Dixon Line to knock off the Georgia Bulldogs between the hedges. They just do.
But, scheduling teams that revolve in a similar sphere—the Virginia Techs, Washingtons and Kansas States of the world—will put Iowa in a more favorable national conversation.
If a national championship is the goal, the margin for error is razor thin. Non-conference games are no longer glorified preseason contests, they may hold the key between getting past the velvet rope and standing awkwardly on the outside looking in.