Kansas State athletic director John Currie, like every leader across the Big 12, has an opinion on what the conference should do to improve its chances of College Football Playoff inclusion after Baylor and TCU were left out of the inaugural four-team event last January.
For the most part, they line up perfectly with the changes the league has already made. He is glad the Big 12 will start using a tiebreaker system to crown its champion rather than handing out multiple trophies. He agrees bringing back a championship game could hurt the conference. And he thinks schedule strength is gaining importance.
To that end, he wants to continue scheduling nonconference games against power-conference opponents, such as the one K-State played against Auburn last season and the future home-and-home agreements it has with Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
“We need to consistently challenge ourselves,” Currie said. “We aspire to be a championship program, and we are a championship program. We have won the Big 12 championship twice in the past 12 years and we have won more games in the Big 12 Conference than any other team in the past four years.
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“We have been pretty good. We finished 11th in the country last year in the last College Football Playoff rankings. We are a strong program and we need to continue to challenge ourselves.”
That means K-State will look to fill future schedules with power-conference foes, potentially one per year.
It won’t be a requirement like it is in the SEC. So don’t expect the Wildcats to revert back to former coach Ron Prince’s scheduling philosophy, which locked K-State into home-and-home series with Auburn, Miami and UCLA, and led to the cancellations of series with Oregon and Virginia Tech. But if K-State finds a power-conference opponent that seems like a wise match, it will pursue the game.
“At the same time, we need to be smart about it,” Currie said. “There are times it’s not as smart to schedule that way.”
Baylor, a notoriously soft-scheduling team under coach Art Briles, is taking a similar approach to its future schedules. Some have said Big 12 teams would also benefit from avoiding games against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision, but Currie does not agree. Often times, he said, FCS teams can pose greater challenges than FBS opponents.
K-State football coach Bill Snyder has long favored scheduling as many nonconference home games as possible, often against inferior competition to increase the odds of victory and allow backups to play.
The Wildcats have mostly stayed true to that plan since his return in 2009, but they have also found success against more challenging opponents, sweeping Miami and defeating UCLA at home.
Given the Big 12’s demanding round-robin schedule, establishing the proper mix is essential. For K-State, that means lining up nonconference home games in even years, when it plays four Big 12 games at home — and agreeing to nonconference road games in odd years, when K-State plays five Big 12 games at home.
“One of the elements that is different for the Big 12 and for Kansas State is we do play five true road games in our league every other year,” Currie said. “When you look at that and the strength of schedule of those games, I would stack that up against any league in the country. That nine-game conference schedule is very tough.”
K-State will not play a prominent nonconference opponent next season. It has South Dakota and Louisiana Tech at home and Texas-San Antonio on the road. The Wildcats will face Missouri State and Florida Atlantic at home in 2016, and are still searching for a third opponent, preferably a team from outside the power conferences willing to play a guarantee game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Currie said K-State is working hard to complete the 2016 schedule, but is still searching for the right match.
In 2017, a trip to Vanderbilt will highlight a nonconference slate that also includes Central Arkansas and Charlotte. Vanderbilt will play at K-State in 2020. In between, the Wildcats will host Mississippi State in 2018 and play it on the road in 2019.
“We will have a high visibility conference opponent all those years,” Currie said. “We are ready for that challenge.”
K-State’s future nonconference games
▪ 2015: South Dakota, at Texas-San Antonio, Louisiana Tech.
▪ 2016: Missouri State, Florida Atlantic, TBA
▪ 2017: Central Arkansas, Charlotte, at Vanderbilt
▪ 2018: Texas-San Antonio, Mississippi State, TBA
▪ 2019: Bowling Green, at Mississippi State, TBA
▪ 2020: Vanderbilt, Buffalo, TBA