Next season, the USC Trojans return to Chestnut Hill for the back-end of a home-and-home with the Eagles. The 2014 home date with USC, combined with the 2021 visit by Ohio State, remain the only two scheduled non-conference opponents from the Big Five conferences on BC's future schedule. Of course, that doesn't include the ACC's scheduling agreement with Notre Dame that brings the Irish to campus at a once-every-six years clip -- if it even happens on this side of the pond at all.
With USC returning to Chestnut Hill next season, I've started to wonder whether this is the beginning of the end of 'Big Five' opponents -- non-conference programs from the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 -- coming to the Heights for a football game.
The way I see it, this boils down to supply and demand.
As far as scheduling availability is concerned, not all conferences are created equal. The Pac-12 and Big 12 each play nine conference games today, while the Big Ten is moving to a nine-game schedule starting in 2016, leaving programs from those conferences precious few opportunities to schedule non-conference home-and-homes. The SEC is the only other conference sticking with an eight-game schedule at this point, but the league represents a poor fit in terms of inking home-and-homes. More on that in a moment.
Let's break down the scheduling availability of the Big Five by conference.
Supply - Big Ten
The Big Ten moves to a nine-game conference schedule starting in 2016, giving each of the league's 14 programs one less non-conference game to schedule a year. Since Big Ten A.D.'s basically plead poverty if they can't get to seven home games a year, in the years when they play just four Big Ten games at home, you can bet that all three non-conference games will be of the home game variety. That makes scheduling home-and-homes a little more difficult.
The good news is that if the Big Ten goes through with its rumored plans of dropping games against the FCS, that frees up a scheduling slot. Some programs -- Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern, etc. -- have shown that they are willing to schedule at least 1-2 'Big Five' programs a year in non-conference play, but the future schedules are filling up. And fast.
(Yes, I know Ohio State is on the schedule in 2021 and that game appears to be safe for now. But that's it.)
Supply - SEC
Of the other four power conferences, Boston College shares the least in common with the SEC. Current SEC teams have visited Boston just 17 times in program history and just six times since 1950 (and only as recently as 1987). It's been over a quarter of a century since an SEC team stepped on campus and there doesn't appear to be any plans in the works to rectify this situation.
The unfortunate part of this is the SEC is the only conference other than the ACC sticking with an eight-game schedule for the foreseeable future.
Supply - Big 12
Like the Big Ten, the Big 12 plays a nine-game, round robin non-conference schedule and few programs are willing to venture outside of a heavy rotation of FCS / Little Five / Little Five, with the occasional made-for-ESPN game played at a neutral site location sprinkled in. Like the SEC, the Big 12 is another poor fit for BC. Just two current Big 12 members have come to Chestnut Hill since Texas visited in 1976 (TCU in 1987 and Baylor in 1999).
I suppose BC's former conference rival West Virginia remains somewhat in play, though from listening to Oliver Luck, it's clear the Mountaineers have other more local non-conference matchups in mind (rekindling the Backyard Brawl, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Maryland).
Supply - Pac-12
It's the Pac-12 that seems the best pairing for possible non-conference matchups with BC. Unfortunately this is a) also the furthest conference geographically from the Atlantic Coast, duh and b) the Pac-12 has other schedule availability issues similar to the Big Ten. With nine non-conference games and just three non-conferences ones a year, availability with the Pac-12 is relatively scarce.
USC and UCLA are two of the three FBS programs never to have scheduled an FCS opponent in program history, so that opens up an additional scheduling slot. Plus any programs that travel to Hawaii may elect to schedule a 13th game to offset the cost of traveling to the islands, as USC did this season. Still, Stanford and USC are still going to play Notre Dame, leaving just two slots a year for non-conference play. Other programs may be reticent to travel all the way across the country to play BC.
Other than having few opportunities to schedule teams from the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 or Pac-12, I also wonder whether programs just aren't interested in returning the favor by traveling to Chestnut Hill for the return trip of a home-and-home. It's no secret that:
a) With a capacity of 44,500, Alumni Stadium is one of the smallest stadiums among the Power Five conferences, and
b) New England isn't exactly a college football recruiting hotbed
Notre Dame's ties to Boston and New England are obvious, but does the greatest Boston area boast a significant alumni population for schools in any of these other four conferences?
Boston College also faces increasing local competition for scheduling against programs willing to farm home games out to larger NFL stadiums. Vanderbilt visits UMass at Gillette this year and later in 2018. Syracuse is willing to put its biggest non-conference games of the year in the Meadowlands instead of the Carrier Dome. Even Maryland is planning on using FedEx Field and M&T Bank for some of its future games. Can the program compete in attracting teams from these other four conferences in the face of increasing competition?
I would keep an eye on programs like Syracuse, Kansas State, Oregon State, Duke and Wake Forest as bellwethers to gauge whether Boston College is going to face difficulties in the future attracting "Big Five" opponents to the Heights; schools with similarly sized stadiums located in non-recruiting hotbeds (or, in Duke and Wake's cases, a long history of football mediocrity).
While switching conferences quickly can present scheduling issues, Syracuse has just one power conference team coming to the Dome over the next eight season (Maryland, next year). The rest will go to the Meadowlands. K-State also has just one right now -- Auburn next season. Oregon State hosts Minnesota in 2018. Duke has done surprisingly well, inking home dates with Kansas, Northwestern (in the 'Cats quest to play every school in the USN&WR top 50 on the reg) x2 and Baylor. The Blue Devils also just announced plans to renovate Wallace Wade Stadium. Wake Forest plays Indiana in 2015-16.
Without fundamental changes to the current incentive structure in college football, it's hard to see "Big Five" teams lining up to play a game on the Heights right now. The college football playoff committee will supposedly place an emphasis on SOS, but will it be enough to make games at BC attractive? Is Alumni Stadium sufficiently limiting BC's ability to ink non-conference home-and-homes at this point? How does the program compete with others willing to give away their biggest non-conference games of the year to NFL stadium?