This Monday brought the beginning of preseason camp for many college football fans. It’s a great time to look forward to the start of the season, when your team is still undefeated and mostly healthy. Veterans bring the promise of continued improvement while the redshirt freshmen and raw recruits tantalize with their possibilities.
It’s all good for all of us. For now. Well, for a lot of us. Some of us, because NCAA FBS college football is the only major U.S. sport where not every team is allowed to compete for a national championship. Sure, there are only a few programs even in the so-called Power 5 conferences that have a legitimate shot at a title in a given year. Say 15 that have a chance. But the structural inequity separates the have and have-nots even more.
This won’t be one of the many that whine about the imbalances of college football, however. Indeed, there is some logic to the dissociation that is taking place. A top division that includes both Michigan and Georgia State is far too broad — sort of like the Republican party.
Yes, opportunity should be given to every school to compete for a championship. But each program should also have to demonstrate that it is capable of such competition, as well. And wish as Panther fans might, Georgia State will never truly compete for a national championship at the highest echelon of college football.
The looming playoff system is a good thing. The separation of the Power 5 conferences from the rest of the FBS is also reasonable, especially with the developing issue of greater player compensation. One fan-friendly result has been more scheduling among teams in the bigger leagues — no longer does someone pay a couple thousand bucks for season tickets to see the same old conference foes and a non-league schedule filled with nobodies.
But finishing touches are nowhere close to being placed on the new college football landscape. There is no one, absolutely no one, who believes the playoff bracket will only have room for four schools in a few years. And some programs outside the P5 would be able to compete if placed on a level playing field:
— Cincinnati: the Bearcats boast a recent BCS appearance and have been strong just about every year over the past decade. Competitive and in a decent television market.
— UCF: the Black Knights have proven they can compete with the best college teams and are not only in a large TV market, but a city where people want to be. Plus, the building blocks seem in place for remaining competitive for a long time.
— San Diego State: the Aztecs have righted the ship after the previous decade’s disaster and been to four straight bowl games. Large TV market and, like UCF, an attractive location. Strong football tradition is far more than just Marshall Faulk.
— Houston: the Cougars have had stretches when they were among the best programs in college football. One of the largest TV markets.
That’s just four and others have arguments, such as UConn, USF, SMU, BYU and Boise State. The Cougars seem obvious on the surface, but the school leadership’s use of football to advance their religion might be incompatible with the highest levels of collegiate athletics. The Broncos have been college football’s most compelling program over the past 10 years, without a doubt, but they are no longer performing at that same level. They have to prove that they can get their mojo back, and win without Chris Peterson as head coach, making this season as important in Boise as anywhere.
So that’s four schools that should be automatic adds for college football’s penthouse and five others that should be considered. All are deserving, some more than others. Yes, college football would still be inequitable. But at least it would be more logical.
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