The past decade's changed the landscape of college football forever. Realignment altered conferences, destroying some traditional rivalries while creating new, intriguing matchups. The game's arguably at its most lucrative value ever, but at the same time, it's still growing.
2015 stands to be one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory because of its stability. For the first time since 2010, a season will begin without any changes to a power conference. That year, Nebraska applied for membership in the Big Ten, a move that became effective in 2011, kicking off the wave that's changed the landscape as we know it.
There are changes which we'll get to, but it's worth noting that for all the talk of autonomy, money, pay-for-play, or whatever you want to talk about, we finally have a season where the NCAA season can begin building on what the last one.
There are a couple of realignment changes to note for the 2015 season as three programs shift conference affiliations—sort of. Alabama-Birmingham is out of Conference USA, having shuttered and disbanded the football program. That said, UAB president Ray Watts announced in June that the Blazers would reinstate football and begin play as early as the 2016 season (although more likely with a target of 2017).
Either way, C-USA football will remain at 14 teams even with the loss of UAB by adding the UNC-Charlotte 49ers. After spending the last two seasons in the FCS as an independent (going 5-6 in each year), the school is elevating the program to the FBS for 2015. They immediately will join the league as its 14th team, keeping it even with two seven-team divisions.
When UAB returns to the gridiron, the league will likely change again since they'll have 15 teams and will need to expand by a factor of one to keep an even, balanced schedule.
Outside of Conference USA, Navy will end 135 years of football independence by joining the American Athletic Conference as a football-only member. A Patriot League member in all other sports, this will have an interesting downstream impact on scheduling for several schools since the AAC will be able to go to a two division format.
Because the league now has two divisions and 12 members, it can host a conference championship game. The game will be played at the home stadium of the division winner with the better conference record, creating another opportunity for revenue and television rights. That league, which played at an eight-game schedule, remains as such despite the split.
Impact on Scheduling
Believe it or not, the Navy-To-The-AAC will have an impact on BC's scheduling abilities. The Eagles have played the Midshipmen 29 times, last playing them in the regular season in 2002. They last met in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2006 when Steve Aponavicius kicked a game-winning field goal for a 25-24 BC victory. Even though they haven't met frequently, it's likely this will have an impact on BC's scheduling for the future.
With an eight-game conference schedule, Navy will only need to add four non-conference games to their annual slate. Three of those games are guarantees: Army, Air Force, and Notre Dame. The Army-Navy Game will never be ended (nor should it be) and both service academies play brother institution Air Force as part of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series. When Notre Dame downsized its rivalries by ending series with teams like Michigan, it kept Navy, meaning it's unlikely the annual series there ends either.
That leaves one non-conference game for Navy, which likely is against an FCS school. This year, it's Colgate. So where Navy maybe was an option before as an independent, they're never going to be an option ever again for BC's sake. Even though it's been 13 years since they played in the regular season, a team playing an independent schedule would have more of a potential need to contract with a school like Boston College.
There's a further impact on scheduling and the bowl series with this whole Navy to the AAC thing as well. The Army-Navy Game is played after the conclusion of all conference championship games. Should either Army or Navy be in the running for the Group of Five slot in the New Years Six games, the selection committee will hold off its final rankings until after the game is played. That also could set up a weird situation where Navy could be playing for a conference championship before its season is even over and, furthermore, could conceivably impact the bowl season well after hardware is already given out.
Some of the highlights:
If a player yanks another player off of a pile, such as when players are being separated following a fumble, it's now an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty resulting in 15 yards.
A sideline warning no longer results in a five yard mark off for the first offense. Instead, the second offense will result in a five yard penalty, with a third offense resulting in a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct flag.
The play clock will be reset to 40 seconds if the shot clock reaches 25 seconds before the official sets the ball. That places more onus on the zebras, who used to have until 20 seconds to place the ball before the shot clock reset to 40.
Like the NFL, weird facemasks are now outlawed. Shawn Oakman remains the scariest man alive.