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Originally published September 24, 2013 at 8:21 PM | Page modified September 24, 2013 at 8:29 PM

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Nonconference football scheduling no longer as simple as A-B-C

The college playoff, of course, begins with the 2014 season, and the strength-of-schedule component is going to be important in anointing that chosen four.

Seattle Times college football reporter

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Steve Sarkisian, who coaches Washington, and Jim Mora, who once would have killed to coach Washington, spoke rapturously Tuesday on what a good thing it was that their teams were matched against overwhelmed opponents last week.

“A bunch of players got to run out on the grass for UCLA and throw the football, run the football,” said Mora, the Bruins coach, whose team beat New Mexico State, 59-13. “That’s more valuable than almost anything.”

Sark spoke similarly on the weekly Pac-12 teleconference about the Huskies’ 56-0 victory over Idaho State.

I wonder if the couple sitting 49 rows up, who paid several hundred dollars for the right to buy those season tickets, has such a sunny outlook on the day.

But the question of where the need to entertain meets the imperative to let a team exhale is only one of the variables in play as the Pac-12 looks to a new dynamic in scheduling after this year.

The college playoff, of course, begins with the 2014 season, and the strength-of-schedule component is going to be important in anointing that chosen four. As Sarkisian says, “It’s so challenging. How do you find the right balance?”

Indeed, how? Playing a murderous schedule, a team could guarantee itself a spot in the Football Four if it wins games. But lose a couple, and the risk is obvious.

Sarkisian, in fact, was just headed into a meeting with Washington AD Scott Woodward to discuss this very subject.

Woodward emerged from that talk saying he doesn’t see a reason to change from the Huskies’ “ABC“ model of scheduling — hard, medium, soft — but conceded with the advent of the playoff, “You’ll have to play it right. You’ll have to find out what the right mix is.”

Sonny Dykes, the first-year California coach, has a different slant on the Pac-12’s traditional willingness to take on all comers in nonleague play, saying, “At one time, the Pac-12 scheduled the way it did for credibility. I don’t know that that needs to happen anymore. I think the league is very, very credible on a national level, and I think it becomes more and more so every year.”

That gave Dykes a convenient launching pad for the refrain heard in the Pac-12 and elsewhere: The need for some uniformity. Pac-12 teams play nine conference games, but the SEC — the elephant in the room (literally, with Alabama dominating) — is staying at eight at least until 2016, by which time its presidents want to plan a course for the future.

“There just needs to be some consistency,” Dykes says, “so everybody’s playing under the same set of rules.”

His rival, David Shaw of Stanford, says, “We play nine conference games and Notre Dame every year. That’s tough enough. I think other conferences need to address it.”

What we have here is a league, and probably a nation, that’s far too SEC-obsessed with regards to the big bully — winner of seven straight national titles — getting an advantage. I say, if the SEC wants to play eight league games, let it.

Here’s why: Through most of its run to favored places in the BCS in this century, the SEC has been with the majority, playing eight conference games. It’s the Pac-12, playing nine, that was the outlier. But the slimmed-down Big 12 began playing nine in 2011, the Big Ten is going to nine in 2016, and very soon, it’s the SEC that’s going to look like it’s seeking the primrose path.

That should be obvious to the playoff selection committee, as should this: No leagues are equal anyway, especially with tilted cross-divisional schedules exacerbated by conference expansion. Alabama, for instance, somehow misses Georgia (AP No. 9), South Carolina (12) and Florida (20) this year. Granted, ’Bama would get the benefit of the doubt, but you don’t think that would catch the eye of a selector?

If I’m a Pac-12 school, I’d stay the course, minus Idaho State or New Mexico State. Idaho State hasn’t had a winning season in 10 years. New Mexico State hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1960.

Eisenhower was president in 1960.

This is hardly the Cold War, but the Pac-12 has a wary eye on the SEC.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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