Sep. 27, 2016
How To Schedule Undefeated Season
The goal of every college football team is to go undefeated, but scheduling a undefeated season is no easy task for a Group of 5 program. Sure you can schedule a top tier Power 5 program for the payday, but do you have a realistic chance to win. The answer is no. Yes there are exceptions like Houston beating top 5 Oklahoma, but now they must win all their conference games, and beat top 5 Louisville at seasons end. This road could lead to a playoff berth, but could also lose them the access bowl to a undefeated Memphis, Navy, Toledo, or Western Michigan team.
The one and only goal for a Group of 5 program is the access bowl. This in effect is the G5's National Champion going up against a top 10 Power 5 program. The Houston playoff phenomenon began with its Peach Bowl win against FSU, and continued with its win over Oklahoma. If Houston finishes undefeated with wins over Oklahoma, Louisville, and multiple bowl eligible AAC teams, they make a strong case for playoff inclusion. But this is a Tom Herman created phenomenon unlikely to repeat itself on a regular basis for Group of 5 Programs. Houston created the perfect storm that may never come again. By all accounts after this season Coach Herman, and Houston, will be moving out of the Group of 5 and on to the Big 12 posthaste.
Realistically the access bowl is the ultimate goal for the Group of 5, and getting there should be their only concern when scheduling non conference games. There are two paths to take to the access bowl. The payday path of scheduling Power 5 teams is a financial necessity for many programs. This is where scheduling strategy comes into play. Group of 5 programs normally play at the level of a mid to lower tier Power 5 program. The better G5's have a fighting chance against a mid tier P5 program, and even odds against the lower tier. Since even the lower tier P5's have coffers full of money why not schedule them. Kent State just "played" Alabama when they should have been playing a closer to home 1-3 Northwestern for their payday. At least they would have had a punchers chance. Western Michigan scheduled smarter picking up Power 5 wins against Northwestern and Illinois. Now if they run the table in the MAC, which seems likely, and Houston slips up, they are sitting pretty for the access bowl. This is the smarter payday path to the access bowl.
For Group of 5 programs, with big boosters to foot the bill, bypassing the Power 5 would be the best way to go undefeated. Scheduling top tier Group of 5 opponents for non conference games is the more realistic way to get to the access bowl. Example- If undefeated Houston beats Louisville, but losses to undefeated Memphis the next week, Memphis goes to the conference championship game, and probably on to the access bowl with a conference championship win. All Houston's hard work knocking off Oklahoma, and Louisville would be for naught, and Memphis would get credit for Houston's wins. The same would go for a undefeated Navy team beating Houston and going undefeated in conference. The only glitch for Memphis was scheduling Ole Miss, and for Navy its annual match up with Notre Dame. This method of scheduling forces your G5 non conference opponents to be the P5 giant killers while you get their strength of schedule credit with a win. If your top tier non conference opponents go on to have good seasons or win their conferences even better for your strength of schedule criteria.
The power of a undefeated season can't be denied. Every win drives more and more fans to the game to see the streak continue. It creates a buzz around the program for recruiting purposes, and alumni donations. It instills confidence in players. Avoids humiliating defeats on the record when the CFP committee decides the access bowl representative. The Group of 5 programs that start scheduling smarter P5 payday opponents, stop scheduling FCS opponents, and start developing rivalries with non conference G5 opponents, will be the first in line for the access bowl.