-- Saturday has been characterized as a "reset" weekend, a calming interlude before the final two weeks of jockeying for playoff berths and league championships. But somebody moved a decimal point when they punched in the reset formula. College football stayed in the time machine a little too long.
All I'm saying is that when Yale at Harvard is the best game of the weekend, someone better be wearing a raccoon coat.
No offense to the Crimson and the Elis. They play "The Game" on Saturday in the sport's oldest stadium with the Ivy League championship on the line, as God and Pudge Heffelfinger intended. But c'mon, people. Tomorrow is Nov. 22, two weeks before Championship Saturday, and the best teams in the nation are playing teams that can't compete with them.
No. 1 Alabama plays FCS squad Western Carolina. But in the SEC, there are plenty of marshmallows for everyone. Charleston Southern is at No. 10 Georgia. Samford is at Auburn. Eastern Kentucky is at Florida -- although, truth be told, the Colonels are 9-2 and ranked 16th in the FCS Coaches Poll. LSU and Texas A&M had the good taste to take Saturday off.
No. 2 Oregon, No. 4 Mississippi State and No. 6 Ohio State at least play conference opponents. Colorado, Vanderbilt and Indiana, respectively, have combined records of 8-22. Sigh.
No. 3 Florida State is the only team among the top eight to play a team with a winning record: 6-4 Boston College. Those are the same Seminoles who are suffering in the playoff rankings from a lack of schedule strength. In the land of the cupcake, the middling team is king.
There are a few games that will engage heart and soul. It's just that outside the state of California (Big Game: USC-UCLA), you have to look pretty hard for them. In defense of the Ducks, the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes, theirs are accidents of scheduling. But the opponents Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Florida are playing are no accidents.
In the early years of the SEC championship game, Alabama and Florida (to name two frequent qualifiers) finished their regular season on the weekend before Thanksgiving to have an extra week to rest and prepare. But if every team doesn't schedule that way, then the league could run into a situation in which one team has a week off before the championship game and one doesn't.
About five years ago, the SEC banned open dates on Thanksgiving weekend. That's the same time Alabama began playing an FCS opponent the week before the Iron Bowl. Auburn followed suit in 2011 and 2012. The Tigers didn't do so in 2010, when they won the BCS championship, and last season, when they almost did. Just sayin'.
There is the argument of exceptionalism. That is: the difficulty of playing one SEC opponent after another on one Saturday after another in the second half of a 12-game season is too much to ask of any team. This elicits eye rolls from fans across the nation, none of whom have to play one SEC opponent after another on one Saturday after another. But the FCS opponents Saturday will elicit eye rolls from the ticket buyers of the SEC teams playing them. Watch the seats fail to fill up.
The surest way to eliminate the late FCS opponent would be for the SEC to add a ninth conference game, joining the Pac-12 and the Big 12. The Big Ten will do so in 2016. Both the SEC and the ACC considered the idea earlier this year, and both rejected it. The SEC agreed to schedule at least one nonconference game against a team from one of the other four power conferences. The ACC made the deal for five teams to play Notre Dame each year.
If the SEC played a nine-game conference schedule, imagine the games that we might see on Saturday: Alabama-Georgia, say, or Florida-Auburn. South Carolina-LSU would be nice. Instead, the Gamecocks are playing South Alabama, plucked from the middle of the Sun Belt. The Jaguars aren't an FCS team; South Carolina played Furman five weeks ago.
The five schools playing down-market opposition on Saturday have similar opponents scheduled for the Saturday before Thanksgiving in 2015. Alabama-Charleston Southern, anyone? South Carolina-The Citadel? But beyond 2015, very little is planned. Maybe in 2016, as the Big Ten moves to nine conference games, the SEC will make its schedule tougher, too.
In the meantime, maybe all of us should adopt this policy this weekend. Maybe all of us should look to the FCS.
Lehigh and Lafayette will celebrate the 150th game in their rivalry Saturday by playing at Yankee Stadium. When the schools announced they had sold their allotments for the game, they gave a figure of 48,100 -- and that was over the summer. That number would top the crowd that attended any of the four Pinstripe Bowls, including last December's matchup between top local draws Notre Dame and Rutgers.
There's also South Dakota-South Dakota State. Or Jackson State-Alcorn State. Or Austin Peay-Tennessee Tech -- fierce regional rivalries all. If you're looking for bragging rights, they are being fought over Saturday. You just have to reset your line of vision.