Athletic directors aren’t the ones making the decisions to play or not play. That’s not their job.
Their job, however, is figuring out a plan if and when they get the green light. Alabama reportedly is in the process of making a backup plan to schedule a matchup with TCU in the event that USC cannot return to action this year. Athletic director Greg Byrne denied that, but no matter what he says, it would make sense if other matchups are being considered in the event that conferences like the Pac-12 don’t have football.
I decided to play around with what those alternate matchups could be. At least from a realistic standpoint.
For this experiment, I made these backup plans under the assumption that the Pac-12 and Mountain West would cancel their 2020 seasons. That also included the state of Washington, which was home to the first U.S. city (Seattle) to go into lockdown. It’s fair to think about basically any and all West Coast schools realistically considering canceling their seasons.
Is this extremely hypothetical? Sure, but if athletic directors are making backup plans, so can a college football writer who wants to let his mind wander:
1. Canceled Week 1 Matchup: Michigan at Washington
New matchup possibilities: Michigan vs. Alabama (in Dallas), Michigan at Oklahoma State
Why this could work — Yeah, Alabama reportedly is in talks with TCU. Nothing is final. And yeah, we just saw Michigan face Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. But the Advocare Classic would take Michigan as a USC replacement in a heartbeat. And why wouldn’t Alabama? The Crimson Tide have been willing to face anyone on a neutral site during the Nick Saban era.
If Alabama-USC isn’t happening, as Colin Cowherd said, the Wolverines would be wise to get on the phone with Alabama immediately. A split profit for that game instead of a true road game would be a nice bonus, too.
If Michigan does want to stick with a road game, perhaps a deal with Oklahoma State could be worked out. I know that usually, Power 5 programs do home-and-homes, but maybe Michigan can just host the Cowboys when they have an opening in 2028.
We know that Mike Gundy is going to use whatever power he has to make sure there’s football played in Stillwater this year. Lord knows he’d be eager to get another Power 5 team on the schedule if Oregon State can’t play in 2020.
Either way, Michigan would have some options.
2. Canceled Week 3 Matchup: San Jose State at Penn State
New matchup possibilities: South Florida at Penn State, Northern Colorado at Penn State
Why this could work — To set these things up, this has to work for both parties. South Florida and Northern Colorado both have Mountain West matchups that could be canceled. Penn State’s Mountain West matchup would be canceled as well. We know why Penn State would want to add these teams. It’s replacing a favorable Group of 5 matchup for another favorable Group of 5/FCS matchup.
So why would USF or Northern Colorado agree to that knowing it’d create a more challenging matchup? Easy. It’s the same reason non-Power 5 schools sign up to get their brains beat in without a pandemic. Money. Lots of it. Penn State would pay 7 figures to a Group of 5 school like USF or an FCS school like Northern Colorado, both of whom probably could really use the money.
Would it be great if the Lions tried to schedule Florida State, who is set to face Boise State that week? Sure, but it’s not as realistic for a Playoff-hopeful team with a 9-game conference schedule AND a Power 5 road game already on the schedule.
3. Canceled Week 3 Matchup: Air Force at Purdue
New matchup possibilities: Purdue vs. Florida State (in Orlando), South Florida at Purdue
Why this could work — Let’s get creative. Why would Purdue and Florida State agree to a neutral-site game in Orlando? Well, both of their schedules are already loaded. FSU already has not 1, but 2 Power 5 non-conference foes this year (West Virginia and Florida) while Purdue already has a Power 5 non-conference road game (at Boston College) AND a game against a Memphis team who is fresh off a New Year’s 6 Bowl berth.
Why would both of these teams schedule each other and not elect for an FCS team? They could, but both programs have shown a willingness to load up the schedule. Neither team is competing for a Playoff berth in 2020. It’s about development. Split the profits of a neutral-site game, let Jeff Brohm go recruit in-season in the state of Florida for a day and play in what would be a competitive game.
If that’s not as attractive for Purdue, South Florida could be scrambling with Mountain West Nevada potentially shutting it down. That’s usually a quality Group of 5 foe, and given the current financial landscape, USF in Year 1 with a new coach could be more worried about adding dollars to finance its athletic department than wins.
4. Canceled Week 2 Matchup: Ohio State at Oregon
New matchup possibilities: Houston at Ohio State, Alabama vs. Ohio State (Week 1 in Dallas)
Why this could work — Ok, let me explain this. The Houston matchup is pretty self-explanatory. The Buckeyes would face a respected Group of 5 foe at home to fill that slot. No, it’s not Oregon. But given the circumstances, there could be some sympathy for the Buckeyes not filling that slot with a Power 5 matchup. Ohio State didn’t get punished for not having a Power 5 non-conference foe last year because TCU forced that late neutral-site matchup instead of the home-and-home (and because the B1G has a 9-game conference schedule).
But Ohio State could decide “nope, that’s not good enough. We put ourselves in jeopardy of being a 1-loss team left out of the Playoff with a schedule like that.” Alabama is the solution. The Buckeyes could pay Bowling Green that buyout and schedule Louisiana for Week 2 — the Ragin’ Cajuns are set to host Wyoming which would be canceled under these rules — and instead step into that suddenly open slot left by USC to take on Alabama in Week 1 in the Advocare Classic.
Is there a good time to face Alabama? No, and if Nick Saban’s history is any indication, a season-opening game is usually a death sentence for Crimson Tide opponents.
But can you imagine how highly the selection committee would think of a win in which Justin Fields led the Buckeyes to a season-opening win against Alabama at a neutral site? It would be massive. If that creates a clear path to the Playoff, a 7-figure buyout to give Bowling Green is worth it, as is an additional 7-figure payday for Louisiana to come to Columbus in Week 2. And even if Ohio State loses that game, the Buckeyes could still theoretically have a path to becoming the first 2-loss Playoff team, though that obviously wouldn’t be the goal.
If all of this chaos gives us Alabama-Ohio State to kick off the regular season, well, that sounds like the brightest possible light at the end of a dark tunnel.