Should Teams Schedule Challenging Non-Conference Opponents at the Beginning of the Year?
Four years into the playoff system, it is clear that to get into the CFP you must be undefeated or have one loss, and a small chance if a two loss team has things go its way and is backed up with a loaded resume. Since 2015, Alabama, a playoff team every year, has scheduled a ranked non-SEC school in its non conference schedule. Not only does this give a team a huge boost in confidence and national attention from the start, it also gives a marquee win that a team can sit on and keep in their back pocket the entire year. Now of course if a team wins the game(s), it seems like a genius decision, but a loss is much more controversial.
To start, you already have a loss and as we know you can really only do this once in a season, so in order to go to the CFP you will probably have to win out, which of course is not easy. However, to me, this loss almost helps the team in a way going forward. One, this loss will in no way affect your chances of getting a division or conference championship title as only in-conference games are counted. As we have seen, a conference championship will put you at second to none odds to make the playoff. Second, a loss fires up a team. While an early season loss may draw criticism and doubts, it can fire up the team and motivate them even more as they now are playing a with a chip on their shoulder, knowing only their actions on the field can erase it.
Third, strength of schedule. The committee has proven with their unwillingness to give undefeated UCF any respect because of their schedule. They want to see you play those big games and it can be a big difference maker between you and another team whose loss(es) may he significantly worse than yours. Ultimately, I believe that it is in the best interest of teams to play at least one challenging out-of-conference game and am hoping that sooner rather than later we can adopt the NFL system where a certain ranked team in one conference would play that corresponding team in another, adding plenty of marquee matchups in September.