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Despite some clunkers along the way, whom among you who call yourselves Big Ten fans did not enjoy this past weekend's games?
Yes, Ohio State escaped a close call against Michigan State, 17-16. Purdue had a shootout victory over Marshall, 51-41. Northwestern moved to 5-0 with a 44-29 victory over Indiana. Nebraska rallied against Wisconsin, 30-27.
Yes, even with some clunkers like Iowa thrashing Minnesota 31-13, or Penn State stomping Illinois 35-7, these games were just better to watch. Yes, I will concede Big Ten fans will always be better in tune with conference play, but what can The Big Ten and Jim Delany do to make non-conference play even more compelling?
These thoughts come to mind as Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith made the revelation last week that Ohio State will look to improve upon its non-conference schedule over the next few seasons, possibly beginning in 2017. As college football moves to a playoff system with the 2014 season, a strength of schedule component will likely be a factor in determining which teams will be a part of the playoff's final four teams.
With Big Ten teams insisting upon playing an eight game conference schedule, how can Big Ten teams schedule games that will keep them in the running for a coveted playoff spot? How to ensure a strong strength of schedule?
1. Determine Policy Of No FCS Opponents For Big Ten Teams: Yes, I realize Ohio State is scheduled to play Florida A&M in 2013. Yes, I know Michigan fans are looking forward to a repeat Appalachian State visit in 2014.
With strength of schedule probably being a consideration for playoff seeding, Big Ten teams cannot schedule opponents that will be used against them by a committee. Does that sound harsh, arrogant, and/or condescending? Probably. Necessary consideration? Yes.
2. Limit Each Big Ten To One MAC Opponent: With the news that Ohio State would be adjusting its scheduling philosophies, Gene Smith mentioned that Ohio State would be limiting, if not outright eliminating, MAC opponents. My first thoughts? Good. My later thoughts - try to schedule this game for the first game of the season.
Considering how both MAC and Big Ten teams have comparable geographic footprints, it would make complete sense to try to use the first game of the season as almost a preseason scrimmage. Could there be MAC teams that would defeat Big Ten teams, as Ohio University defeated Penn State, Ball State over Indiana, or Central Michigan over Iowa? Certainly.
Thinking from an Ohio State fan's perspective, I believe the financial benefits of keeping the money within the state of Ohio are a worthwhile consideration. Akron, Kent State, Miami University, Ohio University, and Toledo could all be set up on a rotational basis, beginning in 2017, as the designated Ohio State home opener. If these teams could somehow set up a game at a larger stadium, like when Toledo "hosted" Ohio State in Cleveland in 2009, I would be all in favor of it. Can you imagine Miami University "hosting" Ohio State in Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, how beneficial that would be for Ohio State recruiting purposes across the state of Ohio?
3. Set Up The Big Ten/ACC Challenge For Football: With The Big Ten and Pac-12 unable to come up with an agreement for a regularly scheduled game, why not look to the ACC for a non-conference opponent? It has worked so well for college basketball, after all.
Again, from an Ohio State fan's perspective, there are many teams relatively close to Ohio State's recruiting focus that would be tremendously attractive ~ Maryland. Georgia Tech. Virginia.
You may notice I have not mentioned North Carolina or Virginia Tech, as Ohio State has games scheduled with these opponents in the next few years. Boston College has been an Ohio State visitor in the past, as have the Miami Hurricanes.
Will any of these ideas come into play for Big Ten non-conference scheduling? Perhaps not, but these suggestions are one fan's ideas on how The Big Ten can look better as college football will begin its playoff system in subsequent seasons.