The college football season is only a few weeks old and already the confusion level is ratcheting up.
The initially worry in the summer was COVID-19 would not allow any games to be played this fall.
In August, the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West and MAC announced teams in those conferences would not be playing this fall, and most football programs in the FCS, Division II, Division III and juco ranks followed along.
Shortly thereafter the Big 12, SEC, ACC, Conference USA and Sun Belt decided to continue with their fall seasons, albeit with schedules that had to be altered.
Those leagues have gotten their seasons off the ground, but not without some stumbles brought about by the virus. Through the first three weeks of the season, 15 FBS games have had to be cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
That includes three alterations within the Big 12 … or is it four?
SMU at TCU had to be scrubbed. Tulsa at Oklahoma State was forced to move back a week.
Baylor has had continual problems, leading to not just one but two postponements/cancellations. The Bears were supposed to host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 12, but LA Tech had a COVID problem that forced that game to be cancelled. BU scrambled for a replacement and found Houston, which also had its Sept. 12 game against Memphis postponed. But the BU/UH affair slated for Sept. 19 had to be postponed as well when the Bears had virus problems.
All this and the calendar has barely reached mid-September.
At least some college football has been played, though, including West Virginia’s season opener against Eastern Kentucky. Other than being unable to host the general public at Mountaineer Field, that Sept. 12 contest went off without a hitch. Now WVU hopes to keep the problems at bay as it prepares for its second game of the season, at Oklahoma State on Sept. 26 in the first Big 12 game for both clubs.
The picture of 2020 college football to this point may be somewhat messy, but it’s apparently looked good enough to other on the outside that they now are considering adding their own colors to the canvas.
The Big Ten was the first Power 5 conference to opt out, but now it is opting back in. That league will return to play on Oct. 23-24 and will play eight games in an eight-week span.
The other three FBS conferences that had initially joined the Big Ten in cancelling fall football – the Pac-12, Mountain West and MAC – are also now exploring the possibility of jumping back in, though each of them seemingly has bigger hurdles to get over than the Big Ten.
As for the Big Ten, it is certainly hoping that its return to fall football is not too late for someone from that league – wink, wink, Ohio State – to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Big Ten will hold its championship game on Dec. 19, which not coincidentally is the day before the CFP selection committee releases its four-team field.
The eight-game seasons for the Big Ten schools, if indeed they can pull that off without COVID interruptions, are less then the other P5 leagues but not by that much. The Big 12 is playing 10 games, but one of those is a non-conference contest, all against non-Power 5 opponents. The SEC is also playing 10 games this year, though all its matchups are conference-only affairs. And ACC teams can play a total of 11 games, but one of those is non-conference against a lower-level opponent.
So if the Big Ten can complete its regular season, its entire body of work won’t be much less than the other Power 5 programs.
The CFP committee could potentially have a tough call if it has to decide between, say, a No. 2 SEC team that is 10-1 and a No. 1 Big Ten candidate that also has one loss but has played a couple fewer total games.
While that decision could potentially be difficult, the easiest way forward this season likely will be to just advance the four Power 5 championship game winners into the CFP semifinal round.
The odds are great that the Pac-12 will be unable to return to play in time to factor into the CFP equation, so you really have four P5 conferences left and four CFP semifinal spots awaiting. The Group of 5 teams may not like that concept, but the College Football Playoffs have never treated the G5 teams fairly, and that’s very unlikely to start now.
Fitting four Power 5 conference champions into the four CFP semis would make for a nice, neat package. Of course, if we’ve learned nothing else this year, there are no nice, neat packages in the COVID era, so I’m not sure why I’m expecting one on Dec. 20.