BYU football sites were abuzz on Wednesday afternoon over rumors that the Cougars were nearing an agreement with Stanford to play games in 2020, 2022, and 2024. Yes, that's a long, long time from now, but that's how things are done in college football. The Pac-12 office is responsible for scheduling conference games, and the the individual schools have to line up three or four other opponents to fill out the slate each year.
This leads to controversy, as most things related to college football do, because there is inequity involved. SEC schools, for example, are notorious for refusing to travel west of the Mississippi -- or in some cases refusing even to leave their home state -- for non-conference games. There are other differences between conferences, some that are even more problematic. Most conferences play only eight conference games, but the Pac-12 has always played nine. If the Pac-12 were to lower that number to eight -- in line with all other BCS conferences -- each member team could schedule another non-conference foe and likely pocket another win. With the money and prestige at stake as teams are selected to play in BCS games (or next year's playoff bracket), this puts the Pac-12 at a distinct disadvantage.
Another problem with scheduling is that you never what your schedule will really look like five years down the road. When Wake Forest agreed to a home-and-home series with Stanford a few years ago, the Cardinal was one of the worst teams in the nation. It probably looked like a nice way to pick up a win and enjoy a trip out to California. The first game was in 2009, and it probably went just as planned for the Demon Deacons. It was early in the day (12:00 local time but 9:00 AM Pacific) and early in the season (Stanford didn't yet know what it had in Toby Gerhart), and Wake Forest won, 24-17. The next year, the Deacons flew across the country and were hammered 68-24 by a Cardinal team that was suddenly one of the best in the country. Basically, you never know what you're gonna get.
With all that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at Stanford's non-conference opponents as currently scheduled. Here goes...
San Jose State (home) -- Stanford leads series, 52-14-1
I'm not sure this is really a rivalry game, but Stanford has been playing its neighbors to the south for quite some time, missing only three years since 1948. Because of recent Stanford agreements, however, the Spartans will no longer be an annual opponent. No matchups are scheduled after this season.
Army (road) -- Series tied, 5-5
Stanford hasn't played Army since losing 17-13 in 1979. The Black Knights have won five games over the past two seasons, so this brief home-and-home series (2013 and '14) will pad the Cardinal's win totals.
Notre Dame (home) -- Stanford trails series, 9-18
When the Irish announced their upcoming affiliation with the ACC, there was concern that that might signal the end of this series, but Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick quickly squashed those thoughts. This series makes too much sense for both sides to discontinue. The Irish make sure they're travelling to California every year (alternating with USC), and Stanford gets a quality opponent with a roughly similar academic profile. Even if the strength of the team rises and falls over the next decade, the quality of the Notre Dame brand will never diminish. These games are great for Stanford football.
Notre Dame (road)
Northwestern (road) -- Stanford leads series, 3-1-2
Their last matchup was a 41-41 tie in 1994. When the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced a since-dissolved partnership two years ago, my first thought was of a game against Michigan or maybe Ohio State. Instead we got six games against Northwestern. On the one hand, it matches Stanford's stated goal of scheduling academic-minded institutions, but it's still just Northwestern. Not too exciting.
Notre Dame (road)
Rice (TBA) -- Stanford trails series, 1-3
John F. Kennedy once famously asked, "Why does Rice play Texas?" Well, I've got another question. Why does Stanford play Rice? On the one hand, it seems like Stanford is just filling out its schedule with another scholarly institution, but there's more to it than that. The Cardinal has done a great job recruiting talent out of Texas, so it will be great to have a game in the Lone Star State to make sure this pipeline doesn't dry up.
Virginia (road) -- Never played
Virginia has emerged as something of a recruiting hotbed over the past few years, and Stanford has taken advantage, plucking Ed Reynolds, Kevin Hogan, Alex Carter, and Ryan Burns out of the Old Dominion State. You never know what the college football landscape will look like in 2017, but right now it also seems like a good idea to have a team from the ACC on the schedule.
Notre Dame (home)
Notre Dame (road)
Notre Dame (TBA)
BYU (Rumored) -- Stanford leads series, 2-0
The Cardinal and the Cougars played in 2003 and '04, with Stanford winning both games. Those games, of course, are mostly remembered for what happened at halftime of the '04 game in Palo Alto, but this is still a great opponent. Stanford and BYU have historically recruited many of the same players, probably because Stanford has always welcomed players who are planning on spending two years away on a Mormon mission. Aside from Boise State, BYU is probably the most consistent non-Pac-12 football team on the left side of the continent, so if this really does happen, it's about time.