Strength of schedule is going to be a prime component for seeding the new four-team college football playoff when it debuts in 2014, so it’s reasonable to wonder if that will bring about a change in philosophy for the University of Wisconsin.
“If you want to be a player (in the national championship equation) and strength of schedule is going to be a part of it, then you really have to consider (a different approach),” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said.
That might explain why UW football coach Bret Bielema disclosed on his Twitter account this week that he’s reached out to his Notre Dame counterpart Brian Kelly about a possible series with the high-profile independent. Bielema is targeting openings for 2018 and ’19 when Michigan drops off the Irish’s schedule.
It might also explain why Alvarez disclosed this week that there were recent discussions, orchestrated by ESPN, about matching the Badgers against defending national champion and Southeastern Conference power Alabama at a neutral site.
Alvarez, who handled scheduling when he coached the Badgers from 1990 to ’05, said Bielema countered with an offer to play a home-and-home series with the Crimson Tide — no specific years were discussed — but that Alabama coach Nick Saban declined.
Alvarez said he and Bielema will meet soon to talk about future non-conference schedules and how they might be adjusted for the post-Bowl Championship Series playoff two years from now.
“Coach and I are on the same page,” Bielema wrote in a text message.
Alvarez said a proposed scheduling agreement with the Pacific-12 Conference, which is to start in 2017, and the regurgitated notion of the Big Ten adopting a nine-game league schedule were among the topics covered during a conference call with other Big Ten Conference ADs earlier this week.
The Pac-12 alliance was reportedly in jeopardy, but that was before the playoff plan, with its strength of schedule emphasis and selection committee component, was adopted by BCS presidents earlier this week.
Some Pac-12 officials became wary of the link with the Big Ten because it would have added a thick layer of difficulty to each schedule. Now that difficulty can be rewarded.
While the Pac-12 has adopted a nine-game league schedule, the Big Ten continues to dance around it.
“Some guys are in favor of nine,” Alvarez said. “Some said they’d rather go 10 than nine. I’d rather go eight than nine.
“A nine-game schedule (means) some years you’re playing five on the road. … At the end of the year, that could be a decisive factor in your record. It’s not fair.”
Like many of its big-school peers, UW has endured its share of criticism over the years for putting together soft non-league schedules. To wit, the Badgers have played a Football Championship Subdivision opponent every season since Bielema took over in 2006, including Northern Iowa on the current slate. Meanwhile, there have been only four non-conference games against power conference opponents under Bielema, including a trip to Oregon State this season.
Asked this week if he felt a change in non-conference scheduling was needed in wake of the new playoff plan, Alvarez was coy.
“Not necessarily,” he said.
Asked if he was comfortable carrying the current UW scheduling philosophy into the playoff era, Alvarez demurred.
“If we take care of our business in our league, we’ll be where we need to be,” he said. “You go undefeated in our league, you’re going to be in the top four in the country. You win our league championship, you’re going to be in the top four.”