Starting early
Starting early
2012-05-31 00:00:00

DCTF's Jake Shaw says forget the football needs a preseason.

 By Jake Shaw

If you want to read about the potential changes to college football's postseason, let me Google that for you. There's an endless stream of information and analysis out there. From a plus-one to a multi-team playoff format, so much has been said that I don't think it's necessary to go any deeper.

But I will look at the direct opposite — a topic that I personally have never seen discussed. Something that could truly benefit every program. The fans more so.

So go read about the playoffs somewhere else. Today, I'm here to talk about another prefix: pre, as in the preseason. Because what could be the bane of the NFL could be a major boost to college football.

One of the (many) complaints about college football is the lack of dynamic non-conference games. The advent of the BCS has frightened many programs from scheduling pre-conference matchups against fellow auto-qualifying BCS teams. There's no need to — going undefeated in your conference not only gets you into a BCS game, it puts you into position to play for a national title. But playing a tough non-conference game (especially one on the road) decreases those chances of playing for a championship.

Take the opening weekend of this upcoming season. Only seven games feature two programs from the so-called BCS conferences. And four of those contests are conference games, leaving only Alabama-Michigan, Auburn-Clemson and Northwestern-Syracuse as high-profile games between out-of-conference foes.

We wait eight months for this? Northwestern State at Texas Tech? Savannah State at Oklahoma State? Talk about an anticlimactic start.

Sure, the opening weekend might not be the best piece of evidence. With the amount of annual personnel turnover at the college ranks, coaches may want a test drive before hitting the highway. Maybe they need a sacrificial lamb as the home opener to settle some issues.

That's precisely why college football could benefit from a preseason.

But instead of copying the NFL's setup, learn from it. Don't play four games — play one. And don't increase the price of season tickets. Keep it the same, giving your fans a value-add, something anyone could appreciate in this economic climate.

To make it work, the NCAA would grant every program permission to schedule one preseason game each year — one mulligan if you will. Programs can either choose to schedule what's essentially a scrimmage, or they can decline the option.

Think of the Texas teams that would benefit from it this year alone. The Longhorns have seen what Case McCoy and David Ash can do at quarterback, begging the question: What about true freshman Connor Brewer do? He may be ready to take the reins, but that would be a huge gamble for Mack Brown to burn a redshirt, only to find out Brewer is better suited for the bench.

But if there were a preseason game, Brown could play Brewer — heck, for all four quarters if he wanted to — and get a better sense of the freshman's capabilities.

And take UT's (former) rivals. With the departure of Ryan Tannehill, Jameill Showers's five pass attempts last year are the most among the three players (Johnny Manziel and Matt Joeckel being the other two) vying for the starting job. That puts the Aggies', who open the season at Louisiana Tech (an 8-5 team that almost upset TCU last year), in a very precarious position.

Kevin Sumlin likely would feel more confident about that matchup if he had a preseason game the week before. If the Aggies somehow stumble, Sumlin's honeymoon in College Station instantly will be over.

That's just the QB position. Every program in the country has positions up for grabs. Some replacements might look good Monday through Friday, but Saturdays are another story. Better to find that out in a game that doesn't count in the standings than on Labor Day weekend, when a loss could have bowl and even national title implications.

But isn't the NFL preseason watered down? That's why college football would have just one game.

And doesn't the preseason lose fans' interest? Again, just play one game. And this one game could actually spike interest. Programs could make it a marquee event. Heck, teams could start a new rivalry series if they wanted. What if Texas and, say, USC agreed to play a preseason game every year, rotating who plays at home. You don't think that would put people in the stands and get viewers on television? They're televising spring games right now, for crying out loud.

Or conferences could decide to get into the action. Since the Big 12 and SEC have decided to end the season against each other, why not start it off that way? I guarantee that if there was an annual preseason Big 12-SEC showdown — with a docket of games like TCU-LSU, Texas Tech-Tennessee or Oklahoma-Georgia — there would be a huge amount of public interest and, thus, a huge amount of money to be made.

And isn't that what college football is all about these days anyway?

I've long wondered why college football never even considered instituting a preseason. It makes sense in so many ways.

But then I think about how computers determine champions and pseudo-lobbyists pick who goes to bowl games and the NCAA (and programs for that matter) hardly have time to police themselves, and I remember there are far bigger issues facing the game.

Jake Shaw is a special contributor to Dave Campbell's Texas Football and


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