If it was up to Bill Snyder, Kansas State would not have opened its football season at Stanford last week. Nor would the Wildcats have future games lined up with Pac-12 and SEC teams as far away as 2029.
That he had little say on both matters illustrates how much the art of college football scheduling has changed since Snyder became coach in 1989.
The days of coaches having autonomy when it comes to scheduling are over. The Big 12, like most major conferences, now has rules that force its teams to play at least one nonconference game against a power-conference opponent each year. Combine that with the rising costs of guarantee games, in which the visiting team receives money instead of a rematch at its stadium, and you’re left with an intricate process.
“That is just kind of the nature of the conference wanting everyone to play power-five schools,” Snyder said. “We have fallen in line with that.”
Snyder prefers to play nonconference games at home against soft competition, allowing K-State fans to attend extra games while giving K-State reserves the chance to play at the end of blowouts. Entering Big 12 play undefeated is another perk.
This season, K-State opened on the road against a top-10 team. Next season, it will make a trip to Vanderbilt. In 2019, it will visit Mississippi State. Next decade, it will play Arizona, Colorado and Washington State. Quite the contrast from the 1990s or even a year ago, when K-State played South Dakota, Texas-San Antonio and Louisiana Tech.
Snyder understands the conference’s new scheduling rules, and says they make sense. Still, he opposes them.
“We are a program that needs every guy we’ve got,” Snyder said. “Somebody is going to get banged up during the course of the season. You would like to have someone come on the field to take his place that has had some nonconference experience. When you play a team like Stanford in your first game — in all reality — that is not going to take place.”
K-State isn’t the only team in the Big 12 adjusting its schedule.
Baylor, which mimicked Snyder’s scheduling philosophy under Art Briles, has future games lined up with Duke, Mississippi, BYU and Utah. Kansas agreed to a home-and-home series with Illinois. Texas Tech will play Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and North Carolina State.
“It’s good for your program,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I think fans want those types of games. You play your big-time conference games every year, but they want an exciting out-of-conference game. It’s a good measuring stick to see where you’re at and prepare you before you get to the heart of your conference schedule. ... Hopefully that helps us build as a program.”
Of the league’s 30 nonconference games this season, 13 will be played against FBS teams outside the five power conferences, nine will be played against power-conference teams, and eight will be played against FCS competition.
Baylor and Kansas dodged power-conference foes, as their schedules were set before the Big 12’s new rules went into effect, but in future years most nonconference schedules will look the same – one marquee opponent, one mid-major and one FCS.
Of course, some will challenge themselves at a higher level.
New scheduling rules had little impact on Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma-Houston was one of the most talked-about games last weekend, and Notre Dame at Texas was the most watched opening-week game on ABC or ESPN in the past 11 years. The Longhorns will also play California. The Sooners will play Ohio State.
Future dream matchups include Texas against USC, LSU, Ohio State and Michigan. We will see Oklahoma take on Nebraska, UCLA, LSU and Michigan.
“We’ve always just believed if you’re going to be a top-tier program and one of the better teams in the country, you should play like teams and challenge yourself,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “It’s what college football fans all around the country want to see.”
A strong schedule helped Oklahoma overcome a loss to Texas and make college football’s playoff a year ago.
“It made a difference,” Stoops said. “We went to Tennessee and won. Had we had a lesser opponent and if it was someone no one cared about, we may not have. Who knows?”
In time, the Big 12 hopes its scheduling rules will help teams build stronger schedules and make it easier for power-conference teams to play home-and-home series.
To that end, there has been talk of eliminating games with FCS opponents, but that is unlikely to happen while low-level FBS teams are receiving as much as $1.6 million for guarantee games. Smaller-budget schools in the Big 12 can’t spend $3 million to line up a pair of home games each season. FCS games are much cheaper.
TCU coach Gary Patterson likes the current setup. He now aims to create a nonconference schedule that challenges the Horned Frogs, but is likely to produce a 2-1 record, at worst.
“We always try to measure ourselves before we got into conference,” Patterson said, “and hopefully be 3-0. If you are, then you have a pretty good football team.”
TCU plays South Dakota State, Arkansas and SMU this season.
Like it or not, that’s the Big 12’s new prototype of a nonconference schedule.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett