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Should OSU Schedule More Marquee Non-Con Matchups? That Depends on Who You Ask



They say everything is bigger in Texas. Well, that is definitely the case when it comes to their namesake school and its non-conference football scheduling. Tom Herman’s Longhorns just scheduled a future home-and-home series with the reigning national champions, Alabama.

While Texas may not be the program to follow when it comes to QB evaluation and development, it’s been maybe the most ambitious among Big 12 programs when it comes to scheduling marquee match-ups.

In fact, the ‘Horns have gone five consecutive years scheduling two Power 5-level teams including one “marquee” match-up before the start of Big 12 play. Here’s a look.

2014 – BYU, UCLA
2015 – California, Notre Dame
2016 – California, Notre Dame
2017 – Maryland, USC
2018 – Maryland, USC

And here’s a look at Oklahoma State’s “best” two non-conference games during that span.

2014 – UTSA, Florida State
2015 – UTSA, Central Michigan
2016 – Central Michigan, Pittsburgh
2017 – Tulsa, Pittsburgh
2018 – South Alabama, Boise State

UT upped the ante with Alabama for 2022 and 2023 which also involved pushing back another two-game series already scheduled with Ohio State.

As far as non-conference scheduling goes, Texas and Oklahoma State are about as comparable as the bar scenes in Austin and Stillwater.

If there’s one gripe about Mike Gundy — aside from his in-state win-loss record — it’s the seemingly weak non-conference scheduling by the Cowboys during his tenure. The complaint is well-founded but his reasoning is probably a bit misunderstood.

Should Oklahoma State schedule more marquee opponents?

If you’re a college football fan who pays a lot of hard-earned money and most likely drives farther than most (Tulsa, OKC or Fort Smith to Stillwater) to see their team play six home games per year, then the answer is probably yes. Most of us would be fired up to watch OSU have a shot to take down Clemson every other year.

Imagine that Florida State team having to play in Stillwater in 2014? How crazy would that crowd have been as J.W. Walsh was making things uncomfortable for the defending national champs? How loud would it have gotten each time Emmanuel Ogbah sacked Jameis Winston?

That would have been one of those games you tell your grand kids about. Hell, maybe the Walshing Machine pulls it out. That probably makes it more memorable than a Bedlam win to most fans.

But if you’re Mike Gundy, what is gained by scheduling a team that, in most cases, is going to make you an underdog at home in September?

The pros? Better non-conference strength of schedule, revenue, the good pub that comes with “not being scared” to roll with the big boys.

The cons? For one, losing during Weeks 1-3 really puts a damper on the rest of the slate, especially when it comes to OSU’s postseason aspirations.

Plus, the value of non-conference strength of schedule is in a constant state of flux anyway. That’s not exactly a con, but can make it much less of a pro.

If you care at all about the strength of your non-conference schedule, it’s likely based on its potential to help you when Rob Mullens does his best Kirby Hocutt impression as he talks circles around Kirk Herbstreit’s questions following that week’s CFP rankings — coming to ESPN Tuesday nights this fall. 

The problem is that non-conference strength of schedule only benefits a team like OSU if it wins those games. If you’re one of those #bluebloods that losses to another huge name you might be able to recover, but everything else still has to fall your way.

Here’s what the committee looks at when determining its “best four” teams according to the College Football Playoff website.

The selection committee ranks the teams based on the members’ evaluation of the teams’ performance on the field, using conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and comparison of results against common opponents to decide among teams that are comparable. []

If four years of evidence has taught us anything it’s that the committee has a drawer full of screwdrivers that it calls “factors” at its disposal because the fasteners required to build their bracket change from year to year.

There was the conference championship game (or lack thereof) in 2014 that allowed Ohio State to leap frog the Frogs and the Bears during championship week. Sorry, Big 12.

Then, just two short years later, when Ohio State got in over Penn State — a team that beat the Buckeyes in a head-to-head matchup (a different screwdriver), won its division and won the Big Ten — that title game tool no longer fit.

Enter strength of schedule. tOSU got an enormous amount of credit for its non-conference SOS (mainly its shellacking of the Sooners in Norman). Sorry, Penn State.

But somehow poor scheduling didn’t hurt Washington who got in despite playing the Baylor-esque non-conference slate of Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State. Maybe it takes a different screwdriver for each side of the bracket. 

This last winter, in Year 4, Alabama got in over the Buckeyes despite playing less games (no SEC title game) and having fewer “good” wins because the committee believed the Crimson Tide to be “unequivocally better”. They were, by the way.

So strength of schedule is important but it’s no more important than any other screwdriver in the drawer and I don’t see it benefiting Oklahoma State, especially in a rebuilding year like 2018. It really wouldn’t help last year’s team either, which was supposed to be one of the best to ever come through Stillwater.

Despite all of this talk about strength of schedule, one fact that goes largely ignored is that teams in the Big 12 already play more Power 5 opponents than in any other conference thanks to their round robin schedule. Add in the conference championship game and that’s another P5 opponent.

The fact is that for Oklahoma State to get into the playoff it would almost certainly have to do something it’s accomplished just once in Mike Gundy’s tenure, win the Big 12. Without that, a win over Stanford in Week 1 amounts to a fun memory.

Playing USC would be awesome for the fans. I hear Los Angeles is lovely in September. But if I’m peering out from underneath Mike Gundy’s visor I can see why Boise State or Pitt or Arizona State are a lot easier pills to swallow.

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