With 130 teams in college football and 14 weeks’ worth of games, not including bowl games, there are so many different possibilities for games that can be played. But these teams have to be ready before the season starts and prepare for each game far in advance, so just how far ahead are schools planning their schedules?
The schedules for college football teams are released 2-6 weeks before the season starts. Games are planned ahead at a variety of different lengths of time before the game, with some games being planned decades before, while others are planned during the offseason before the season starts.
Now you know when a team’s schedule is to be released and how long in advance some of the games are planned. But there are many other factors that determine a team’s schedule including their conference, rivals they have in or outside of their conference, and when the team wants to take their “bye week”. So, how do teams deal with all of these things in order to make their schedule?
The biggest factor when it comes to scheduling all of the games for college football teams is the conference games they have to play. In most conferences, this will end up taking 8 out of the 14 games you will play during the season. However, with any of the PAC-12 teams, it will take 9 of the 14.
There is a small exception to this and that is the 4 independent teams, that aren’t a part of any conference, meaning they have to pick their teams as if every week was a non-conference game. The teams that are in this situation are:
- United States Military Academy (Army West Point)
- University of Notre Dame
- University of Connecticut (UCONN)
- University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMASS)
When it comes to conference games, first the conference will make sure that you have to have an equal number of home and away games, to make sure that no team in the conference has an advantage.
If the conference is split into two different divisions you will play every team on your side of the division and typically will also play a few teams from the other division as well. These games will fill out 8 to 9 weeks, and these games are typically considered the most important as they determine who goes to the conference championship.
The next games that are typically scheduled are going to be your rivalry games. These games can be split into two different types, conference, and non-conference rivalries.
The most common rivalry is between teams that are in the same area, and because of that they often will also end up in the same conference. This makes it very easy for scheduling as it means that this will technically count as just a standard rivalry game. These games will also often be played on the final week of the season, which has since received the title of Rivalry Week.
Where it becomes more complicated is when you have a rivalry with a team that is not part of your conference. This means that you are going to have to use one of your few non-conference games to schedule it with your rival. These games sometimes can take the spot in rivalry week and you just start your conference sc
hedule a bit earlier but more often is that it will end up being played early in the season. Several of these teams that always play in non-conference rivalries are Clemson, Georgia, Stanford, and Boston College.
At this point, let’s assume that you only have 8 conference games and that you don’t have to worry about non-conference rivalry, so you have only 8 out of your 14 weeks scheduled. The easy part of creating the schedule is now done and the school is now faced with the more difficult part, scheduling their 4 or 5 non-conference games.
This is both easy and difficult, as you are now able to schedule a game with any of the 130 teams, and even some of the division 2 teams, so long as they agree. But it has become more complicated now as you have to consider if you want to play a weak team to get your team warmed up for the season, or a more difficult team to make yourself look better and have a better chance for the College Football Playoffs. Along with this many teams always consider the amount of television exposure the game will offer as well.
An important part of any schedule in any sport is the bye week, but that is even more important in football as it is an extremely physical game. Typically a team will take 2 or 3 bye weeks during their season depending on their schedule. At this point, most schools will likely have scheduled the majority of their games and are needing to have a week or two of rest to give some extra recovery time for the players.
Usually, the first bye week will be taken early in the season, during the non-conference games, and then you will often see another bye week for the team taken sometime during the conference games as well. This will help the players heal, avoid injury, and just get some extra rest.
Scheduling A Long Time Ahead
Something that is extremely interesting is the fact games aren’t always scheduled during the offseason, but sometimes they can be scheduled years and years in advance. We saw this extremely often during the 2010s, with teams like Texas A&M and Colorado scheduling games in 2021 and 2022 during the 2015 season.
Some of the earliest scheduled games are the LSU and Oklahoma games, which were planned in 2005 for 2017 and 2018, but have since been moved to 2027 and 2028, a whole 22 years in advance.
Often teams will have 1 or 2 of their non-conference games scheduled 4 to 5 years in advance, with the teams alternating who is the home and away teams. So it is likely that your college football team has some of their games scheduled before the offseason starts, but the whole season schedule won’t be released until 2 to 6 weeks before games start.