All season, you’ve read what — in my mind — constitutes the “ideal college football schedule” for each week of the season.
This week, with so many important games, it seems more appropriate to simply lay out the schedule than to talk endlessly about it.
Here’s how I would take all of Saturday’s particularly important games and line them up, acknowledging up front that the network assignments involve certain constraints. I can’t switch networks; I can only realign time slots, trying to mix idealism and realism in the process.
The final note: Actual time slots are listed in parentheses to distinguish them from their imagined time slots.
Here we go:
THE IDEAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL SCHEDULE: NOVEMBER 7, 2015
Duke at North Carolina, 11 a.m. Eastern, ESPN2 (NOON)
Vanderbilt at Florida, noon Eastern, ESPN (NOON — this is properly slotted)
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. Eastern, ABC (NOON)
Arkansas at Ole Miss, 2 Eastern, CBS (3:30)
Cincinnati at Houston, 2:45 Eastern, ESPN2 (3:30)
Iowa at Indiana, 3:30 Eastern, ESPN (3:30 — properly slotted)
TCU at Oklahoma State, 4:15 Eastern, FOX (3:30)
Florida State at Clemson, 5 Eastern, ABC (3:30)
Navy at Memphis, 6:30 Eastern, ESPN2 (7 Eastern)
Michigan State at Nebraska, 7 Eastern, ESPN (7 — properly slotted)
LSU at Alabama, 8 Eastern, CBS (8 — properly slotted)
Utah at Washington, 8:30 Eastern, FOX (7:30)
Minnesota at Ohio State, 9:07 Eastern, ABC (8:07)
What happened in this process, now that you’ve seen this ideal schedule in full?
First, College GameDay should run in its normal slot. Hence, ESPN should start its first game at noon, which is Vanderbilt-Florida. The other point to make here is that ESPN’s games are not top-tier headliners on this particular day. ABC gets those games, and rightfully so — we should have the biggest games on regular broadcast networks. That makes the product more accessible, and stands in welcome contrast to the emergent practice of putting signature sporting events on cable (the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl, the Final Four on Turner/TBS, the baseball playoffs, and so on).
What you can also see from the above schedule: First, adjustments to the full menu of ESPN2 and FOX games. Time slots were either moved forward — as in ESPN2’s case — or backward, as can be seen with FOX. Pushing one network in one direction and another network in another direction, all while leaving some games in their original slots (which happen to be the traditional and longstanding game windows: noon, 3:30, and 7), creates a fully-staggered schedule across the full range of television outlets. This is how a schedule should operate on a day with a lot of big games.
It should be like an airport, with the planes slated for takeoff in a well-spaced manner. Planes shouldn’t all take off at once, but that’s what we have with Duke-UNC and Notre Dame-Pitt starting at the same time at noon; Florida State-Clemson, TCU-Oklahoma State, Arkansas-Ole Miss, and Iowa-Indiana all starting at 3:30; and Navy-Memphis and Michigan State-Nebraska both starting at 7, with Utah-Washington starting at 7:40 or so.
As it is, you’ll need two TVs to adequately watch Florida State-Clemson and TCU-Oklahoma State at 3:30. That will be your toughest decision on Saturday unless you have an allegiance to one of those four schools. Most viewers will gravitate to Notre Dame-Pitt at noon and LSU-Alabama in prime time, but anyone who wants to watch Navy-Memphis will have to do so at the expense of other games in the early-evening hours. The above schedule, like any ideal college football schedule, allows each game of importance to breathe a little more, relative to the competition.
Some final notes about the schedule we actually have in week 10:
— Stanford-Colorado gets a 1 Eastern slot on Pac-12 Network. That’s fantastic. P-12 Net does set the pace in terms of filling those untraditional time windows. That’s a very accessible game relative to the glut of noon starts on Saturday.
— With LSU-Alabama at 8 Eastern, the idea of having Cal and Oregon start at 8:15 would hardly seem inappropriate. Let Tigers-Tide run its course without viewers having to miss the first quarter (and possibly more) in Eugene.
— Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa all start games at 3:30. Is it just me, or is it harder to follow the Big Ten that way?
— On what is a very big day for the American Athletic Conference (the league which is almost certain to field the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl team), Cincinnati-Houston has to go up against FSU-Clemson and TCU-Oklahoma State at 3:30.
— Army-Air Force, a Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy series game, is also buried in the 3:30 window against the marquee attractions of the day in Death Valley and Stillwater. That couldn’t have gained a 2:30 start on ESPNU after an 11 a.m. kickoff of Penn State-Northwestern? These set windows create all sorts of limitations, which minimize visibility of the product.