By Joe Trinacria
With the recently implemented College Football Playoff system, the importance of schools having a strong out of conference schedule has increased greatly.
In order for teams to look their best in the eyes of the playoff selection committee, a signature win against a tough non-conference opponent goes a long way.
Just look at how this year’s “final four” selection was made. Ohio State, which had never been ranked higher than No. 5 all year, slipped into the four-team playoff bracket on the final selection day due to its overall strength of schedule and total quality wins.
Year in and year out there will be a number of top programs with similar records, most likely one-loss teams, all fighting for the last few spots in the final four. The only way for the committee to distinguish these teams is by examining the collective competitiveness of their opponents, and how well each team played up against it.
Verge Ausberry, LSU’s Senior Associate Athletics Director and supervisor of football scheduling, explains that there are a variety of factors to consider when selecting the best non-conference opponent.
“First of all, we look for a quality BCS opponent that is going to give us a good game and draw up some national interest,” Ausberry said. “For the fan base, you want to have a good game. Most fans aren’t going to want to come see some of the mid-level teams that we play. Those are the games that parents bring their little kids to. The fans want to see us play somebody more on our skill level.”
If any fans out there are thinking that you’ll soon be seeing less of UL-Monroe, New Mexico State, or any of the other “cupcake” programs that LSU has played in recent years – think again. These games will continue as always to help the program rack up some easy wins, but expect to see at least one decent non-conference match-up for the Tigers each year.
In choosing an opponent from another power conference, fitting the game on the schedule is another logistical barrier for Ausberry.
“The way you place an out of conference game is important – it can’t just be dropped anywhere on the schedule,” Ausberry said. “If you did that you’d be playing Texas one weekend and then a team like Auburn the next.
“Early games make the most sense for both teams, because if you end up losing you can still come back and win your conference. That would be good enough to get you into the playoff. The national champion is probably going to have one loss in today’s game.”
Neutral sites are a great way for out of conference opponents to make some money for their program and share national exposure and other benefits.
LSU played a neutral site game at NRG Stadium in Houston this past season against Wisconsin, and will be traveling up to Lambeau Field in Green Bay to take on the Badgers in 2016.
“Neutral site games help our brand, are fun for fans, and always get us national television exposure,” Ausberry said. “Houston, Dallas and New Orleans are areas that have strong alumni connections to LSU and we’re comfortable playing there. It’s good for recruiting and for our fans outside of the Baton Rouge area. We talk about LSU being a national brand, being bigger than Louisiana. We want to be at the top, and scheduling top non-conference games helps us get there.”
The current quality non-conference game schedule for LSU is as follows:
2015 – @ Syracuse University
2016 – @ University of Wisconsin (Lambeau Field in Green Bay)
2017 – vs. Syracuse University
2018 – vs. University of Miami (AT&T Stadium in Dallas)
2019 – @ University of Texas
2020 – vs. University of Texas