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Mike Casazza: WVU preps schedule for football with the 'big boys'

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - What's important to know about the upcoming college football landscape is that the days of unbeaten and maybe even one-loss teams competing for a national title may be finished.

"Everyone seems to be moving down a path where a college schedule resembles much more of a NFL schedule than a college schedule," West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck said. "When I say NFL schedule, I mean pretty much every game is a tough game. Hardly anybody is going to go undefeated anymore."

If the playoff is going to make sense and judge teams evenly, it has to force everyone to play the same number of conference and non-conference games. The prevailing theory, especially with television partners sinking enormous sums of money into contracts with conferences, is to insist on a nine-game conference schedule.

That allows for three non-conference games, and everybody thinks the strength of a non-conference schedule will be weighed heavily by the playoff's selection committee. Schools are filling schedules with big-time competition.

"I think college football is great in October and November," Luck said. "I think there's some stuff in September that needs to be changed."

WVU is making those changes as if it knows they're coming. Over the summer, the Mountaineers have agreed to series with Virginia Tech (officially) and Penn State (unofficially). Luck said conversations with Pitt continue. It's beyond likely the Mountaineers will have years they play two of those three schools, or at least do something similarly bold that wouldn't have been planned in the BCS era.

WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen believes schools will do away with games against FCS teams. He said the Mountaineers want to do that and that their non-conference schedule will feature a game against a regional opponent like the aforementioned teams as part of a brief contract, plus a game at a neutral site for exposure and revenue.

Ideally, that would be against a team from a "power five" conference, but it's not a necessity. The Mountaineers open with Alabama in Atlanta next season, but they also have BYU at FedEx Field in 2016.

"Something is going to happen with East Carolina that's going to make it more attractive for us - something possibly along the lines of a home-and-home with ECU and a neutral site game," Holgorsen said.

That's not yet done, but it's being considered, perhaps with Charlotte as the neutral site. Holgorsen speaks excitedly and openly about other possibilities he'd like to make realities to fit his vision and to position his team for a spot in the playoff.

"I'd be in favor of us and Pitt playing once in Pittsburgh (at Heinz Field) because it's a big venue and because we'd have more people than they would," Holgorsen said. "Us and Penn State in Philadelphia. If you can do a home-and-home, great. If you can't, then do one game in a bigger venue. The home-and-home with (Virginia) Tech was already announced. A home-and-home with Virginia, or a neutral-site game with Virginia in (Washington, D.C.)?"

This is where Holgorsen believes his sport is headed.

Yet that sort of direction hints at a move away from the NCAA's current structure, which coincides with the speeches the major conference commissioners have given during their league's media days.

Since Division I is now 351 teams large with 125 schools playing bowl-subdivision football, the bottom simply can't afford to keep pace with the top. There are formative talks about one day splitting the FBS into two divisions and watching the bigger, stronger, wealthier conferences form their own organization.

It's the talking point of the summer, if only in hushed tones, that could become something we're screaming about in the future.

"The major conferences breaking away from schools like East Carolina and Marshall, I think that's got some legs to it, but whether it happens or if I'll still be coaching when it does happen, I don't know," Holgorsen said. "I hope it happens because they're the ones holding us back from being able to feed our players three times a day or from being able to pay them just a small stipend to make their lives a little bit easier so they're not starving to death at specific times of the year."

There's a consequence to this and it is significant and divisive and what may ultimately doom the plan. A split will undoubtedly damage teams that are on the wrong side of the line drawn to separate the two divisions. In a way, though, it's already happening.

The new scheduling philosophy not only disregards FCS teams, which makes it harder for them to fund programs, but it threatens to turn Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Sun Belt Conference and the like into today's FCS. Those would be the teams scheduled just for the sake of finding a 12th game and it would devastate recruiting.

If there's an official split after the segregated scheduling, then a power five team could very easily have a schedule with only power five opponents, while the rest of the old FBS would be in a predicament.

"But it's fair," Holgorsen said. "If you're not one of the big boys, don't hold the big boys back from being able to make their program better. Why should Marshall be fighting for the same prize as West Virginia? Let's be honest. Why should East Carolina be fighting for the same prize as North Carolina? That's absurd. That's more absurd than thinking Bowling Green is going to become the same as Youngstown State.

"But that's likely. If there's that much difference between the two, there needs to five divisions instead of four. Right now there are four - Division III, Division II, FCS and FBS. Why are there four? Because of the differences between the schools. Now the five major conferences have separated themselves to the point where they're different than the other ones."


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