Bring back the good ol' days of nonconference schedules

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Maybe I'm getting older, but it seemed like September used to be such a good month for nonconference games in college football.

Because of that, I really enjoyed the story my colleague, Pat Forde, wrote about how nonconference schedules have changed so much over the years.

Forde went back to 1978, 1988, 1998 and last season to compare the nonconference schedules across the country. The number of prime nonconference games has dropped precipitously during the most recent seasons of his study.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told Forde why it's more difficult to get a quality schedule these days. And for his part, Castiglione and the Sooners play as challenging a nonconference schedule as any Big 12 team.

"[Scheduling] is the most challenging it's ever been," Castiglione said. "I'm concerned, because I just don't see the strength-of-schedule philosophy being shared by as many people as we would hope if we're really concerned with the health of college football."

Two Big 12 teams have taken advantage of judicious scheduling to soar in the national title picture in each of the past two seasons.

Kansas rose as high as No. 2 in 2007 after playing Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International. And Texas Tech employed a similar strategy, rising to No. 2 last year with a schedule that masqueraded as a taffy pull after games against Eastern Washington, Nevada, SMU and Massachusetts.

"Everyone should schedule in a way that helps their own school," Castiglione said [to Forde]. "Having said that, there are some things on the horizon that make some of us wonder if it's a disincentive to scheduling harder nonconference games."

Such as?

"The premium on going undefeated."

But it's amazing to consider how tough some of the schedules used to be. Look at the Big 12 teams to see what I remember so fondly back in the day in Forde's 10-season intervals.

1978: At Georgia (L), at Kentucky (L), at Ohio State (L)
1988: UNLV (W), at Kansas (W), at Iowa State (W)
1998: At Oregon State(L), North Carolina State (W), at Notre Dame (L)
2008: Wake Forest (L), Northwestern St. (W), Washington State (W), at Connecticut (L)

1978: Oregon (W), Miami (Fla.) (W), San Jose State (W), Northwestern (W)
1988: Fresno State (W), at Iowa (W), Oregon State (W), at Colorado State (W)
1998: Colorado State (at Denver) (W), Fresno State (W), Utah State (W)
2008: Colorado State (at Denver) (W), Eastern Washington (W), West Virginia (W), Florida State (at Jacksonville) (L)

1978: at Rice (W), San Diego State (W), at Iowa (W), Drake (W)
1988: Tulane (W), Baylor (L), at Iowa (L), Northern Iowa (W)
1998: TCU (L), at Iowa (W), Ball State (W)
2008: South Dakota State (W), Kent State (W), at Iowa (L), at UNLV (L)

1978: Texas A&M (L), at Washington (L), UCLA (W), Miami (Fla.) (L)
1988: Baylor (L), at Auburn (L), at California (L), New Mexico State (L)
1998: Illinois State (W), at UAB (W), North Texas (W)
2008: Florida International (W), Louisiana Tech (W), at South Florida (L), Sam Houston State (W)

1978: at Arizona (L), Auburn (L), at Tulsa (L), Air Force (W)
1988: at Tulsa (L), Iowa (L), at Tulane (L), Louisiana Tech (L)
1998: Indiana State (W), Northern Illinois (W), Louisiana-Monroe (W)
2008: North Texas (W), Montana State (W), at Louisville (L), Louisiana-Lafayette (W)

1978: at Notre Dame (W), Alabama (L), Mississippi (W), Illinois (W)
1988: Utah State (W), Houston (L), Indiana (T), at Miami (L)
1998: Bowling Green (W), at Ohio State (L), Northwestern State (W)
2008: Illinois (at St. Louis) (W), Southeast Missouri State (W), Nevada (W), Buffalo (W)

1978: Alabama (at Birmingham) (L), California (W), Hawaii (W), at Indiana (W)
1988: Texas A&M (at East Rutherford, N.J./Kickoff Classic) (W), Utah State (W), at UCLA (L), Arizona State (W), UNLV (W)
1998: Louisiana Tech (W), UAB (W), at California (W), Washington (W)
2008: Western Michigan (W), San Jose State (W), New Mexico State (W), Virginia Tech (L)

1978: at Stanford (W), West Virginia (W), Rice (W), Texas (at Dallas) (W)
1988: at North Carolina (W), Arizona (W), at USC (L), Texas (at Dallas) (W)
1998: North Texas (W), at TCU (W), California (L)
2008: Tennessee-Chattanooga (W), Cincinnati (W), at Washington (W), TCU (W)

1978: at Wichita State (L), at Florida State (L), Arkansas (L), North Texas (at Irving, Texas) (L)
1988: Miami (Ohio) (W), Texas A&M (W), Tulsa (W), Texas Tech (at Tokyo, Japan) (W)
1998: at Tulsa (L), Mississippi State (W), Louisiana-Lafayette (W)
2008: Washington State (at Seattle) (W), Houston (W), Missouri State (W), Troy (W)

1978: Wyoming (W), Oklahoma (at Dallas) (L), North Texas (W)
1988: at BYU (L), New Mexico (W), North Texas (W), Oklahoma (at Dallas) (L)
1998: New Mexico State (W), at UCLA (L), Rice (W)
2008: Florida Atlantic (W), at UTEP (W), Rice (W), Arkansas (W)

1978: at Kansas (W), at Boston College (W), Memphis (W)
1988: Nebraska (at East Rutherford, N.J./Kickoff Classic) (L), at LSU (L), at Oklahoma State (L), Louisiana Tech (W), Alabama (L)
1998: Florida State (at East Rutherford, N.J./Kickoff Classic) (L), Louisiana Tech (W), at Southern Mississippi (W), North Texas (W)
2008: Arkansas State (L), at New Mexico (W), Miami (L), Army (W)

1978: at USC (L), Arizona (W), at New Mexico (W)
1988: North Texas (L), at Arizona (L), Lamar (W), Oklahoma State (at Tokyo, Japan) (L)
1998: UTEP (W), at North Texas (W), Fresno State (W)
2008: Eastern Washington (W), at Nevada (W), SMU (W), Massachusetts (W)

As far as gauntlets go, you don't see too many people matching what Missouri did in 1978 when the Tigers played Notre Dame, Alabama, Mississippi and Illinois as a prelude for the Big Eight.

Or you don't see many teams attempting as challenging a schedule as Texas A&M in 1988 when the Aggies played Nebraska in the Kickoff Classic, had home games against Alabama and Louisiana Tech and road games against LSU and Oklahoma State -- with Barry Sanders, I might add.

Football is much different today. It's one of the reasons that the month of September is so barren in terms of top games anymore.

I miss them and I bet others do, too.