<
>

Pac-12's approach to scheduling may sink its playoff chances in 2016

Rest is important. Heck, Arianna Huffington wrote a book called "The Sleep Revolution," and more than a few adults are tearing a page from their toddler days and taking naps again.

Rests makes you your best self!

Some Power 5 conferences understand this, which is why national title contenders No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 4 Florida State and No. 5 LSU each have bye weekends before their biggest games this season. It's why Alabama plays Chattanooga the weekend before the Iron Bowl, and Tennessee plays Tennessee Tech before it winds up its season with the, er, gauntlet of Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.

The Pac-12, however, doesn't seem to understand the value of rest. The Pac-12 doesn't feature a whole lot of strategically placed bye weekends, nor does it schedule a November patsy to ease up the pressures of the season. Pac-12 teams play nine conference games and at least one strong nonconference foe -- some more than one -- and that means 10 to 11 rugged dates when losing is a distinct possibility if a team doesn't show up in peak form.

Topping this list is USC, which is playing No. 1 Alabama and No. 10 Notre Dame in addition to its conference slate, which includes four ranked teams and one other, Utah, that should be ranked.

Stanford is next with nonconference battles with Kansas State and Notre Dame. Moreover, the Cardinal's bye week comes in Week 2 before USC's visit, then it plays 11 weeks in a row. In fact, the most notable bye week among Pac-12 contenders is Washington State getting the week off before playing host to Oregon on Oct. 1.

When media sorts talk about the Pac-12 getting left out of the 2016 College Football Playoff, it's about two things. First, it is fair to say the conference doesn't seem to have an obviously elite team this season, at least from a preseason perspective. Every Pac-12 team has significant questions, including Stanford, South Division pick UCLA and preseason hot new thing, Washington, which has a notably weak nonconference slate (best foe being Rutgers).

Just as significant, though, are the schedules. It's difficult to imagine any Pac-12 contender weathering its schedule with one or fewer losses, and our general perception of the CFP is two losses is at least one too many for inclusion.

That might not end up being the case, of course. The selection committee has repeatedly said that strength of schedule matters a great deal. That could mean that an 11-2 Pac-12 champion could eclipse an 12-1 or 11-1 team from another conference, particularly if the Pac-12 features a bevy of ranked teams at season's end and the overall resume is bolstered by a strong record in key nonconference matchups.

The transitive property of college football will be in play with the committee, though they might not call it that. If Team A in one Power 5 conference beats Team B in another Power 5 conference, there's a trickle down effect, suggesting teams thereafter that lose to Team B are -- at least arguably -- inferior to Team A.

What if the Pac-12 owns nonconference wins over Texas Tech (Arizona State), Texas (California) and Texas A&M (UCLA)? In this perfectly plausible mess-with-Texas scenario, the Pac-12 could insinuate trash-talking rights into the Big 12 and SEC. Throw in a Stanford victory over Kansas State, and a 3-0 record versus the Big 12 certainly might diminish Oklahoma's expected cakewalk to the conference title.

In college football's subjective system of evaluation, everything matters, from where you start in the polls to the timing of a loss. That's why even UCLA fans should be rooting for USC to at the very least play a competitive game into the fourth quarter against Alabama on Sept. 3. No matter what the Trojans do the rest of the season, their losing, say, 20-17 to the Crimson Tide would be impossible to ignore, particularly if the Tide rolls through the SEC slate.

The simple fact is many top contenders have much easier schedules than their Pac-12 counterparts. Look at Clemson and Florida State's schedules after they play each other Oct. 29. Talk about coasting home. Michigan doesn't play a ranked team until visiting Michigan State on Oct. 29. After playing at TCU on Oct. 1, Oklahoma next plays a ranked team Nov. 12, Baylor.

This, by the way, is not intended to slight Clemson, Florida State and Oklahoma, teams that annually seek out rugged nonconference games, this year being no exception by any measure.

And, yes, the Pac-12 could solve this oft-discussed problem by, well, just winning its darn football games.

No, the thoughts here are mostly to again buttress a common preseason theme about the Pac-12.

It's difficult to imagine a Pac-12 champion with fewer than two losses, and that likely means the conference will be sitting out the CFP for a second consecutive year.