When it came out yesterday that Oregon had scheduled a matchup with Georgia State to complete the 2015 football schedule, it was the type of news that should have surprised nobody. Given that a home matchup against FCS Eastern Washington, and a road trip to East Lansing to face Michigan State were already on the schedule that season, a home game against a lower tier FBS opponent is exactly the kind of game Duck fans should have expected to fill the schedule. After all, its not like Oregon's scheduling philosophy hasn't been well reported on. Its a common manner of confusion, as it is something that has recently changed due to the nine game conference schedule, and Oregon's ascension into the college football elite, but its really quite easy to understand. Here are the central tenets of that philosophy:
- Oregon needs seven home games per season to make the budget work. In years where they have five conference home games, they are free to (and prefer to) play a non-conference game on the road. However, in years where they only have four conference home games, they must play all three non-conference games at home.
- One of those home games will be filled by an FCS school, which cost a ton less to bring in than an FBS school.
- It is preferred that one of these spots each year be filled with a home and home arrangement with another BCS team. You see future home and homes on the schedule with Michigan State and Texas A&M. You will notice that in those series, the home game is scheduled in years where Oregon has four conference home games, and the away game is scheduled in years where Oregon has five.
- The third slot will be filled with a mid to lower tier FBS school that is willing to come to Autzen without a return and for a guarantee of less than a million bucks. This gets tricky, because there are few lower to mid-tier BCS schools on the west coast, and most of the MWC schools are healthy enough to demand some kind of return game. This puts Oregon in a position to have to seek out schools like Arkansas State or Georgia State who won't demand a return game, but those games aren't easy to find as the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten are closer and much more attractive places to travel for them, and can usually pay them more as they have 80,000-100,000 seat stadiums. Those other conferences also have more slots to fill as they only have eight conference games.
Its a pretty difficult balance that the athletic department has to achieve. People look at this year's schedule and aren't happy with it, but this year's schedule was an anomaly with Kansas State backing out of the home and home. The schedule of a few years ago that consisted of Boise State, Utah, and Purdue is simply extinct, as are road trips to places like Fresno or Houston (when you can only have one non-conference away game every two years, you have to get one of quality). The two of those left on future schedules, trips to Reno next season, and to Laramie, Wyoming in 2017, are relics of an old scheduling philosophy. These conditions are a must from a financial perspective, but also make sense from a competitive perspective. This is a program that is in regular competition for BCS bowls, and already has the disadvantage of an extra conference game relative to other conferences. Why schedule yourself out of that with additional BCS teams on the schedule? And as ticketholders, you're not being cheated, as the additional conference game ensures you a slate of quality home games every season. You get far fewer cupcakes than does the average Big Ten or SEC ticketholder.
Given these parameters, its pretty easy to see how openings on future schedules are going to work out:
Nicholls State, at Nevada, Tennessee
Next year's schedule is full. We have a previously scheduled commitment at Nevada in Reno, but its balanced by the fact that Tennessee comes to Autzen for the return game of that series, so we don't lose a game against a BCS school by making the trip to Reno.
Wyoming, Michigan State, OPEN
We have four Pac-12 home games that year, and already have our BCS and lower-tier FBS spots filled. The open spot will go to an FCS school.
Eastern Washington, at Michigan State, Georgia State
This fits the blueprint pretty much exactly.
2016: OPEN, OPEN, OPEN and 2017: at Wyoming, OPEN, OPEN
This is going to be tough. Obviously, one of these will be filled by an FCS school, but the Wyoming series is problematic. That series has long been on the schedule for 2014 in Eugene and 2015 in Laramie, but the Laramie game was pushed back to 2017 to accommodate a trip to Michigan State. But you can't schedule BCS team in 2016 without giving them a return game. Oregon has no return games to offer until 2021. However, if they were to do a home and home with games in 2016 and 2021, it just puts them in the same spot when looking for a 2020 home game. So Oregon is either going to have to cancel the game at Wyoming, forego having a non-conference BCS game for this two year cycle, or get really creative in scheduling (some kind of a two for one where you can get home games in 2016 and 2020 with only a single return game in 2021). This is a tough puzzle for the department to crack, though my preference is that they keep their word to Wyoming, even if it means a less than stellar schedule for a season or two.
2018: Texas A&M, OPEN, OPEN and 2019: at Texas A&M, OPEN, OPEN
You can expect the open spots to be filled with FCS teams and lower tier FBS teams.
I hope this clears up confusion on scheduling. If you still have questions, ask away in the comments.