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Gans: Non-conference fun (Sept. 16)

Sam Gans | Friday, September 16, 2011

Ask a sampling of random college football fans what their favorite part of the season is and you’re bound to get a wide variety of answers.

Some will say the bowl games. Others will say the final few weeks, when BCS bowl berths and conference championships are secured. And others will say October, when the conference season kicks into full gear.

But a large number, including myself, will tell you the first month. Besides the fact that September ends the eight-month misery of college football’s offseason, it’s also the portion of the schedule that features primarily out of conference matchups with teams we rarely get to see squaring off against one another.

We’ve already received some nice treats for our football appetite, including LSU vs. Oregon, Boise State vs. Georgia and Alabama vs. Penn State. But this weekend may contain the best of the bunch. Auburn at Clemson, Washington at Nebraska, Texas at UCLA, Ohio State at Miami (Ineligibowl, anyone?) and — the headliner — No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State are sure to capture the nation’s attention.

These games are so popular partly because of the aforementioned uniqueness that occurs when two powerhouses that rarely play each other meet on the gridiron, but also because they can help determine how strong each conference is. If there’s one thing college football fans enjoy more than criticizing the BCS (I personally like it, but that’s for another column), it’s debating conference supremacy.

And more than any other sport, perceived strength of conference is actually an extremely important factor in college football, largely due to the BCS system. It’s the reason why, should Alabama, Florida State, Stanford and Boise State all finish this year undefeated, the Tide will be in the national championship game, the Broncos will be left out and the debate for the second spot will be between the Seminoles and Cardinal.

So out of conference matchups are quite intriguing. But another interesting thing is happening between the conferences: they’re changing.

Texas A&M is on the move to the SEC. Oklahoma is reported to be interested in the Pac 12. Texas could become an independent.

It seems extremely likely that at some point in the near or far future, we will get four 16-team conferences. Hopefully Notre Dame will not be a part of those, but that too seems uncertain. This, along with the country’s love for out of conference matchups, creates a fun opportunity.

Why not have, should it get to that point, an inter-conference showdown? This would be similar to the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in basketball. You could have the 16 teams of the SEC matched up with the 16 teams of the Big Ten and the 16 of the ACC/Big East against the Pac 12/Big 12’s 16 teams.

Would this resolve all the debate? No, and it shouldn’t. But it’d provide some more answers. And it’d create a lot of buzz and be a lot of fun to watch, which is the reason we follow sports, after all.

Now, there are still lots of problems that would need to be resolved before this could be implemented. First, you’d have to take into account some games already scheduled years in advance. And of course, most importantly, you’d have to convince the athletic directors and university presidents to go through with the plan. This will be difficult because some teams will lose out on revenue from potential lost home games. In addition, one single loss in college football (unlike college basketball) can devastate a team’s season, so the athletic directors might want to avoid the risk.

But it would still be worth looking into. As for now, enjoy the Seminoles and Sooners in just their seventh meeting ever tomorrow.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

Contact Sam at sgans@nd.edu