One of the results of conference realignment is that more leagues are talking nine-game conference schedules. The Pac-12 and Big 12 already do it, the Big Ten will start in 2016 after Maryland and Rutgers come aboard, and the ACC and SEC have at least discussed it. Chances are good that if your team plays in a major conference, it will play a nine-game conference schedule eventually.
Since this is a thing in college football that exists, it has drawn a wide array of opinions ranging from THAT'S GREAT to THIS IS LITERALLY THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. It's neither of those things, but there are positive and negative aspects, to be sure.
On the positive side, larger conferences have made some conference rivals essentially into strangers that play every four or five years. Adding another game to the schedule would help alleviate that issue and make two divisions feel more like one conference again.
Also, a larger conference schedule could force teams to drop that fourth cupcake out-of-conference game, which would make fans, especially season ticket holders, happy campers. There is little entertainment value in watching the pillars of the sport batter FCS-East 77-0 with backups playing for three quarters. The Big Ten has already said it'll stop scheduling FCS programs, and other conferences could follow that lead.
In terms of negatives, the dream that the impending playoff system will reward challenging schedules could be rendered fiction. Teams schedule weak out of conference opponents because a shiny record is viewed more favorably than an impressive resume with a loss or two. Unless teams are rewarded for challenging schedules, a ninth conference game would just give schools an excuse to schedule three chip shots.
High-profile out-of-conference games are the sauce to the meat of the college football season. They provide huge flavor in relatively small amounts, and without them, it's all just kind of dry. A nine-game conference schedule across the major conferences could rob the college football public of its sauce. I don't know about you, but I like sauce.
With all that in mind, let's conduct a thought exercise. The year is 2016, and the five major conferences have all committed to playing nine-game schedules. Would out-of-conference scheduling look appreciably different than it does today?
Some points of order: A few teams had four games already scheduled for 2016. In those instances, I dropped the weakest game. Also, these games are still over three years away, and the schedule could look very different by the time we get there. Teams that look tough now could be terrible, and supposed gimmes now could be much tougher. The discerning reader should estimate schedule difficulty with one or more grains of salt.
A whole lot of Notre Dame on there. The Irish are a de facto conference game for these ACC teams, but the Irish only have to play five ACC teams instead of nine.
Duke, Virginia Tech, and Virginia look to have the toughest roads.
Texas probably has the toughest road of any team in the Big 12, with West Virginia not far behind.
Kansas State's only out-of-conference game at this point is against a team that has never played a game. Stay Snyderin'.
Oh, Michigan State, you courageous fools.
Purdue and Sparty's series with Notre Dame could be a casualty of the Big Ten's move to a nine-game schedule, so this could change dramatically.
It's good to challenge yourself, Illinois.
USC doesn't appear to be messing around. What are the chances Lane Kiffin is still there to coach those games?
Stanford's schedule: NNNNNNEEERRRRRRDDDDDSSSSSS
Both Oregon State and Washington State get to tangle with Boise State. This is far off to be projecting, but will the Pac-12 win either of those games?
Not a ton going on outside traditional rivalry games. USC vs. A&M, Alabama vs. Michigan State, and LSU vs. ASU look intriguing.
Don't hurt yourselves, Missouri and Mississippi State.
Vols vs. Cornhuskers, putting the world on eye-strain alert.