15 August 2011

2011 NCAA Football Outlook

The 2011 college football season is on the verge of starting. While waiting for the first game to kick off, a few issues should be addressed. The fallout from teams’ changing conference affiliations will take full effect this season. Future defections appear on the horizon, as does the trend toward “super conferences”. Another issue of concern involves the nearly universal trend toward scheduling outmanned opponents from the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division 1-AA. Finally, I present some questions for fans to ponder heading into the season.

After reviewing of schedules, some programs deserve applause for including two Football Bowl Subdivision non-conference opponents and no one from the FCS. Ohio State will play at Miami and host Colorado. East Carolina will host Virginia Tech and North Carolina plus will face South Carolina at neutral field. Marshall will play at West Virginia and will host Virginia Tech. Rice will visit Texas, Northwestern and Baylor then host Purdue. Tulsa will head to Oklahoma and host Oklahoma State. Alabama-Birmingham will travel to Florida and have a home date with Mississippi State. Ball State will play at South Florida and face Indiana on neutral field. Miami (Ohio) will travel to Missouri and Minnesota plus host Cincinnati. Colorado will host California in a previously scheduled non-conference game and play at Ohio State. Stanford will travel cross-country to Duke and will conclude the regular season at home against Notre Dame. Southern California will host Minnesota and Syracuse plus play at Notre Dame. Florida Atlantic will open season with three games on the road versus Florida, Michigan State then Auburn. Florida International will play at Louisville and host Duke. Middle Tennessee will travel to Purdue then will host Georgia Tech. North Texas will go to Alabama then host Indiana. Troy will start its season at Clemson then at Arkansas. Nevada will travel to Oregon and Texas Tech. New Mexico State will face Minnesota and Georgia, both on the road. San Jose State will start its season at Stanford then at UCLA. Notre Dame will play ten opponents from FBS conferences, with half of those on he road. Honorable mentions should be extended to Michigan and UCLA for not scheduling any FCS opponents.

On the flip side, some programs should have derision heaped upon them for their shamefully schedules. North Carolina State, Eastern Michigan, Air Force and Wyoming will each play two FCS teams. Such a slate should qualify as automatic demotion to the former Division 1-AA. Slightly less egregious lists of opponents belong to Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Mississippi State and Mississippi. Those four will face a FCS opponent but no one from the FBS in a non-conference match.

One issue for this season and in the immediate future concerns the fate of Big East Conference. Already expanded beyond its traditional realm of the former Eastern Independents by including Louisville & Cincinnati then South Florida, it feels like a marriage of convenience for its members. The conference has stretched the term “East” to the breaking point by adding Texas Christian University for 2012. At least the possible addition of Villanova would fit geographically. However, the conference already jettisoned a previous member from Philadelphia for pathetic levels of attendance and non-existent interest among the alumni and other locals.

In order for the Big East to have any semblance of viability, its members must accomplish a few tasks. First, the conference needs to convince a broadcast network to give the members a financially large contract. That could prove difficult after it lost two huge media markets when the Atlantic Coast Conference snatched Boston College & Miami. In looking for more members to secure its credibility and possibly implement a conference title game, how much more can its borders be stretched? If further expansion lies in the works, what other teams would be considered and willing to relocate? Is Notre Dame’s inclusion within the realm of possibility? Without a generous contract, the ACC may pilfer more members in pursuit of a super conference.

How likely is a repeat of the Southeastern Conference champion also winning the BCS national championship? Alabama and LSU seem most likely candidates to continue the stretch of national titles to six according to pre-season polls. That would double the number of consecutive national titles won by a conference; the Big Ten won three straight from 1940 through 1942. However, anyone could emerge. How many people predicted Auburn to sweep through the SEC undefeated then win the BCS title last season?

Will the conference title game convince the Big Ten to drop plans for nine conference games starting in 2017? The addition of a ninth game would have made sense years ago. Since Penn State joined in 1993, each Big Ten member did not play two members. The 2002 season comes to mind when both Ohio State and Iowa finished undefeated in conference; they had to settle for a split conference title since they did not play each other that year. What is the point of nine conference games now that the championship game will prevent split titles in the future? Perhaps the inability to fill bowl slots due to more losses among members will accomplish that when the expanded schedule occurs.

How will fans react to new conference title games in the Big Ten and Pacific Twelve? Will they receive it with enthusiasm with an annually sold-out stadium as in the SEC? Will they treat it with indifference and leave wide swaths of unsold seats like in the ACC’s version? The locations of the game will play a huge role in the success of the matches. Indianapolis fits the role of a centrally located site with a stadium full of amenities for the Big Ten. The Pacific Twelve must decide on one off-campus site or at least two rotating locations to host; otherwise, the game will carry only a little more luster than an ordinary regular season game.

As the concept of “super conferences” continues to gain momentum, one must ask: Will the Big Twelve manage to hold itself together? Can the new television contract dissuade Texas A&M, Oklahoma or others from defecting to the SEC as was considered last yr? Would the conference consider adding two replacements to revive conference title game? If so, which programs appeal in terms of huge fan bases, geography and large media market size? Would Texas Christian renege on its decision to move to the Big East? Could some members of the Western Division of Conference USA or the Mountain West Conference receive invitations to join?


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