Credit Texas’ schedule for Longhorns making playoff

Credit Texas’ schedule for Longhorns making playoff

Love or loathe the Longhorns, give them credit. They earned their way to the Football Four. Call it what you will, attitude or arrogance, but Texas scheduled like a big-stetson rancher who had the cattle to make it pay off.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Jan 1, 2024, 7:00am CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Jan 1, 2024, 7:00am CST

Texas is in the College Football Playoff. The Longhorns play Washington on Monday night in the Sugar Bowl.

Love or loathe the Longhorns, give them credit. They earned their way to the Football Four. Call it what you will, attitude or arrogance, but Texas scheduled like a big-stetson rancher who had the cattle to make it pay off.

Did OU take note?

The Sooners’ schedule has been dumbed-down by their move to the Southeastern Conference. OU, like much of the SEC, is awaiting clarification on whether the league will go with eight- or nine-game conference schedules. Even Texas is doing that to some degree.

And every program in every league is anxious to discover the selection committee’s prioritization of scheduling once the 12-team format begins in 2024.

But in the final year of the four-team model, Texas’ victory at Alabama back in September had a profound effect on the eventual committee selections.

Without a trophy like the Crimson Tide on UT’s wall, no way would Texas have been selected over Florida State. I know we’ve spent four weeks debating the Alabama selection over Florida State. But the committee’s choice really was two-for-one — Texas and Alabama, over Florida State. Bama was not going to make it without Texas.

In a sense, Bama was rewarded for being willing to tackle a Texas series.

Of course, Florida State also scheduled aggressively, playing LSU in Orlando and at Florida. But the SEC schedule is much more treacherous than the Atlantic Coast Conference’s, so picking 12-1 Alabama over 13-0 FSU was completely reasonable.

The entire selection process was tangled. Texas got in ahead of Florida State. But if Georgia had beaten Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, Florida State would have been picked ahead of Texas.

The expanded playoff will eliminate many such harrowing decisions. Next year, instead of 13-0 Florida State vs. 12-1 Alabama for the final playoff spot, it will be a 10-2 Oklahoma vs. a 10-2 Ole Miss. The left-out team will be a much less sympathetic figure.

The committee could do itself a favor by making schedule strength a more important metric. It rarely has done so, despite the Texas experience.

Heck, the committee didn’t even endorse schedule strength when it had every chance to do so. Committee chairman Boo Corrigan, the North Carolina State athletic director, said Alabama was chosen over Florida State primarily because the Seminoles are without injured quarterback Jordan Travis. But Bama had a much tougher schedule, which was the best reason to pick the Crimson Tide.

And the committee voted Michigan No. 1 and Washington No. 2, though the Huskies played a far superior schedule to the Wolverines.

Heck, the committee sent a message even with its pick of a mid-major for a New Year’s Six Bowl. Liberty, 13-0, got the nod, despite the nation’s easiest schedule, over 11-2 Southern Methodist.

So you can’t blame programs for stepping easy on the schedule. The committee so far has not given schedule-makers any reason to believe difficult assignments pay off.

The committee didn’t pick Texas. Texas picked itself, by beating Alabama.

Which brings us back to the Sooners, who for a generation distinguished themselves for non-conference scheduling. Home-and-home series with Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, Miami, Florida State and  

UCLA (twice).

But with Covid and conference realignment, OU in the 2020s has played only Nebraska among non-conference Power Five foes. Non-conference games against Tennessee (2024),  Georgia (2023, 2031), Louisiana State (2027, 2028) and Alabama (2032, 2033) were canceled. 

The only Power Five non-conference foes left on the OU schedule moving forward are Michigan (2025-26), SMU (2027), Houston (2028), Nebraska (2029-30) and Clemson (2035-36).

Texas isn’t slow-playing the schedule like that — the Longhorns play Michigan in 2024 and 2027, plus Ohio State in 2025 and 2026, then Arizona State in 2032 and 2033. But that’s still a lot of holes.

But the lessons of the 2023 postseason should resonate.

OU played a rather weak schedule and didn’t catch a break among the four two-loss teams vying for three major bowl slots (Ole Miss, Missouri and Penn State got the call).

Texas took on the challenge of playing Alabama, beat the Tide and it sustained the Longhorns despite a loss to the Sooners.

Give the Longhorns credit. They took the best path possible to make the College Football Playoff. Through the front door.

 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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