All Pac-12 fans and observers should be focused on two items when it comes to the new four-team playoff that will begin in 2014: 1. The makeup of the selection committee; 2. The announced importance that selection committee will put on strength of schedule.
Why is this important for the Pac-12? Because it plays a tougher schedule than other conferences.
No other conference plays a nine-game conference schedule and plays as challenging a nonconference schedule, one that includes for just about every team at least one or two opponents with a legitimate pulse.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News knows this. So he decided to evaluate the upcoming season's slate of nonconference games by conference.
Here's his methodology:
I focused on the number of games played between five conferences: the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC … the five leagues that will have automatic slots in the new playoff system.
In addition, I included in the totals below the games played by those league against Notre Dame, Boise State and Louisville.
What he found was the Pac-12 plays 13 games in 2013 against the other power conferences and the "three exceptions." The 14-team SEC plays 15, the Big Ten 12 and the 10-team Big 12 six.
Yes, all Big 12 fans should immediately hang their heads in shame.
Of course, the Big 12 also plays nine conferences games, as does the Pac-12, and this informs the second part of Wilner's analysis: The percentage of quality foes the top conferences play.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games plus three nonconference games. The Big Ten and SEC go with the eight and four model, which increases the availability of gimme wins.
Here's where the Pac-12 separates itself this fall, per Wilner:
Of the Pac-12′s 37 non-conference games (3 x 12 + USC’s exempt game at Hawaii), 35.1% qualify as A-listers.
Of the SEC’s 56 non-conference games, 26.7% are A-listers. (I’m not even going to address the number of FCS-level opponents. That’s for another discussion.)
Of the Big Ten’s 48 non-conference games, 25% are A-listers.
Of the Big 12′s 30 non-conference games -- it plays a true round-robin league schedule — a whopping 20% are A-listers.
Don't think for a moment this hasn't played a role in finagling the BCS system. The way the Pac-12 schedules has hurt it in the BCS system. It has been punished for ambition, though, of course, a large part of this is Pac-12 athletic directors not believing they can fill their stadiums for games against FCS foes or directional schools.
With the advent of the new playoff, the powers that be putting this thing together need to systematize scheduling as best they can. With 124 teams, it will never be perfect. But it's not too much to ask that every conference play the same number of conference games and at least attempt to play a solid nonconference schedule.