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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly announced that the Fighting Irish will face off against Ohio State in 2022 and 2023. / Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports

EUGENE, Ore. - In some ways, it's too bad we cannot simply enjoy Saturday's matchup for the sheer pageantry. No. 6 Michigan State at No. 4 Oregon - the first meeting of Top 10 teams this season, and (using the current rankings) the only scheduled nonconference matchup of that caliber, and an exotic clash of contrasting styles ?? is everything college football should be.

But bigger-picture themes have inevitably been layered atop the matchup ?? and that's cool, too. Even though it's only Week 2, this looks like a critical point en route to the College Football Playoff. Inevitably, it's another referendum on the worthiness of the Big Ten. And it's another measure of Oregon's speed game against a physical opponent.

With only 12 or 13 results per team for the selection committee to evaluate, high-profile nonconference matchups in the regular-season are all too rare opportunities for head-to-head comparisons. They'll carry, as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany put it, "disproportionate weight" - which is fine with him.

"Everyone is gonna have 10 more games to play, so if you don't continue to play well, it doesn't matter," Delany told USA TODAY Sports. "But if you continue to play well and you're in a cluster of teams (under consideration for the playoff at the end of the season), it's something from which people will draw conclusions."

Delany is like many who believe the loser might get credit for the effort - and should get credit for the effort - but that's to be determined.

Despite the listed criteria, how the selection committee will function, or what it will consider important, won't truly be known until it makes a few hard choices. But we're led to believe strength of schedule will be very important. Because college football mostly operates within a closed loop ?? my conference is the best because we beat up on each other all the time, but there's no easy comparison to the other guy's conference ?? marquee nonconference games like this provide essential points of comparison, and should be encouraged.

Especially in Michigan State's case, it's possible that losing on the road in a tight game might not hurt the Spartans too much. If Oregon loses, but then runs the table in a Pac-12 that is seen as strong, the September loss might not be too damaging.

"I think there's upside to playing as long as you play well," Delany said. "I view it as good wins, great wins and good losses. There are a number of ways this could be a positive. ? The winner, whether it's home or away, should always carry the value of the win. But the loser, if it plays well - I would say a game against a highly regarded opponent on the road is greater than a win against a nondescript team."

How Michigan State fares will inevitably also impact perception of the Big Ten, where the level of play has fallen off in recent years. Conventional wisdom holds the league is filled with slow guys who can't keep up with college football's elite.

"We won the Rose Bowl last year," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "What are you talking about?"

If Dantonio bristles, he should. Michigan State was a play or three away from reaching the BCS National Championship last season. But it's not debatable: In the highly subjective world of college football, the Big Ten is seen as a cut below the best - which is why Michigan State-Oregon carries that "disproportionate weight."

"If you're realistic," Delany says, "you have to realize perception is part of reality. I view these as opportunities, first and foremost for the team playing ?? but second for the conference."

While we're talking perception, Oregon has one to battle, too. Two consecutive losses to Stanford, in which the Cardinal slowed the Ducks' offense to a crawl, have reignited an old saw: Oregon is flashy fast and fun, but can't hold up against college football's more physical systems. If the Ducks roll up points and beat Michigan State (which plays a grinding defense and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl), some of that goes away. Sputter and lose, and as Delany says, perception solidifies into something more tangible.

We should enjoy this one for the contrasting styles and rare regular-season matchup of marquee nonconference opponents. Go ahead and embrace the larger themes, too. And let's hope in the new era, it's only the first of many like it.

"If we go in that direction, it will be good for college football," Delany said, "because we'll see more bigger crowds, more interest and larger data points for the committee as they try to separate teams in a rational way."

THREE AND OUT

TEXAS TOUGH: Charlie Strong appears far more concerned with building Texas his way than with immediate success. The Longhorns' task Saturday against BYU was already difficult, considering the loss of quarterback David Ash - now and maybe forever - because of concussion-related symptoms. But after Strong suspended two offensive linemen Wednesday, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will operate behind a line that has combined for five career starts. It's not a recipe for success.

Still, the bigger challenge for Texas is on the other side of the football. The enduring image of BYU's win last season is of quarterback Taysom Hill, wearing a knee brace, running free past Longhorn defenders. Given Strong's defensive acumen, it's easy to expect a much better performance from Texas this time around.

Whether it will be enough is unclear? But what is clear is Strong, who has dismissed seven players and suspended several more since taking the job, is running a tight ship.

STICKING IT TO 'EM: It's cool that Notre Dame and Ohio State will play a home-and-home series in 2022-23. But the timing of the announcement - two days before playing the last game of Notre Dame's series with Michigan - feels like a deliberate jab at the Wolverines.

Irish coach Brian Kelly backed quickly away from his comments, made a year ago when the end of the series was announced, describing Michigan as a "big, regional game" rather than "one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries." But he was technically correct; though they first played in 1887, they've met only 41 times. And with Notre Dame's scheduling affiliation with the ACC, something had to give somewhere.

But unveiling the big series with Michigan's chief rival now? Even if it's only coincidence, jeer, jeer the timing.

TIME SERVED: When is a one-game suspension not a one-game suspension? When the game itself is suspended (and then canceled).

After Florida's season opener with Idaho was postponed by weather (lightning), and then canceled several days later, Gators coach Will Muschamp decided three players he'd suspended had served their punishment. As it turns out, Darious Cummings, Demarcus Robinson and Jay-nard Bostwick were held out of one play (the opening kickoff).

The inexplicable decision makes the NCAA's suspension of Johnny Manziel for the first half of Texas A&M's 2013 season opener seem positively punitive. And it's even more odd considering that football probably isn't a real consideration; Florida should easily handle Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

Muschamp scolded questioners, saying they didn't have all the information. He didn't provide any more information, though. Maybe the players learned their lesson - just not sure what that lesson is.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Michigan State-Oregon epitomizes new Playoff era

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