Columbus will be the center of the college football world Saturday afternoon as the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes take on the eighth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions. No less than three television networks - FOX's Big Noon Kickoff, ESPN's College GameDay, and BTN - will set up live pre-game shows outside of Ohio Stadium.
There are two reasons for such media attention. Number one is obvious: the centerpiece matchup features two top teams from the same conference still in contention for spots in the College Football Playoff. The second is less obvious, but more sinister: The rest of this week's schedule just isn't very compelling. Outside of OSU-PSU, there are no matchups between teams ranked in the top 25, when last week featured three.
That alone is fine. We can't be lucky every week, after all. Many of the games this week are mismatches between conference foes at opposite ends of the standings, such as No. 1 LSU facing lowly Arkansas, or No. 10 Minnesota facing Northwestern. However, the passion inherent in conference rivalries could spark the underdogs to rise to the occasion, as we saw of South Carolina earlier this season against Georgia.
The quality of some of the matchups, however, would have you believe it's September all over again. In the middle of its run for the College Football Playoff, as it struggles to deal with the loss of its injured quarterback, Alabama has to face the powerhouse that is...Western Carolina. At home. How awfully convenient. Their bitter rivals, Auburn, may have it just as lucky, as they also face a Southern Conference school at home in the form of Sanford (sans the son).
Needless to say, this Saturday's games are there merely to serve as a glorified practice session for the Iron Bowl the following week.
"Cupcake" games have been with us for years. College football fans are used to them. But in this day and age, in the era of the Playoff where a single loss can hurt more than ever, for the sorry spectacle to last this deep into the season is just ridiculous. If your school is shelling out more for your head coach than for any other public employee in the state, then the least you can expect is for him to motivate his players to face the best of the best in the last stretch of the season.
This is why when University of Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin sent out this tweet, it felt like a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, for the top programs in the nation, season non-conference schedules are usually filled nearly a decade in advance. This problem may not go away anytime soon.