Monday, July 14, 2008

10 More Team Games!

About this time last year I did a feature on College Football schedules. I wrote this:

“The joy (or pain) of college football is the lack of overlap among football schedules, meaning that one can justify numerous different rankings of the teams. If you like to debate which team is the best, this is ideal and highly amusing. If you like to see things settled on the field, well you are probably disappointed.”

This year, battles between the BCS leagues are up slightly which could give us minimally more clarity when sorting out the BCS teams.

Teams with Zero BCS Non-Conference Opponents
6 This Year (Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, LSU)
8 Last Year (Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, Baylor, and Arkansas)

Non-Conference Games between BCS/Notre Dame
53 This Year (106 team games)
48 Last Year (96 team games)

With the exception of the Big 10, the BCS leagues have all added more BCS opponents this year:

Non-Conference Games against BCS/Notre Dame
Average - Conf
2.00 Big East
1.92 ACC
1.40 Pac10
1.25 SEC
1.25 Big 12
1.18 Big 10

By playing an average of two BCS opponents, Big East teams can give us more clarity about the quality of BCS teams. But it should be noted that the Big East plays a shorter schedule and the Pac 10 plays a longer schedule:

Total Games against BCS/Notre Dame
10.40 Pac10
10.00 Notre Dame
9.92 ACC
9.25 Big 12
9.25 SEC
9.18 Big 10
9.00 Big East

Amazingly, all 12 of USC’s games this year are against BCS competition!

An interesting question is whether or not teams were hurt or benefited from their low-risk schedules last year.

By virtue of having only one loss on the season, Kansas was able to jump ahead of a Missouri team that had beaten them a week earlier and Kansas earned a berth in the Orange Bowl. You have to believe that if Kansas had a 2nd loss to a team like Purdue that Kansas would not have been playing in a BCS game. Thus it seems like Kansas may have made the right decision about its schedule.

On the other hand, if Kansas had earned a non-conference win against a team from a BCS conference, they might have been able to argue that they deserved to play in the national title game. After all, Kansas was one of only two BCS teams to end the regular season with 1 loss. But, instead of being in the national title discussion, TV commentators mocked Kansas for their weak schedule and poll voters resoundingly said that they did not deserve to be in the title game discussion by placing them 8th in the final regular season poll.

With the end of the season loss to Missouri, Kansas probably wasn’t going to play in the national title game anyhow, but at minimum they would have been in the discussion. This would have also made the Kansas win in the Orange Bowl all the more intriguing as some people may have even thought about throwing them a first place vote in the final AP poll. (OK, I can’t even make that argument after the way LSU crushed Virginia Tech and Kansas only beat them by a field goal, but at least people would have watched the game.)

In the end, given Kansas’s history at the bottom of the conference, I can excuse their weak schedule last year. And since they ended up with a narrow Orange Bowl win, I think you have to believe things worked out about perfectly for the team.

Texas finished with 3 losses and 19th in the BCS standings, their worst performance in recent memory. An additional loss could have easily knocked them out of the Top 25 so I guess they made the right decision with last year’s schedule. Still after watching them pile up points in the Holiday Bowl, it is hard to believe that this team couldn’t have used another chance to prove themselves against a legitimate opponent.

After Baylor went winless in the Big 12, I can’t argue with the non-conference schedule.

Yes, they’ll always have that 50-48 win against #1 LSU, but Arkansas was clearly overrated last year. It just took us awhile to notice because Darren McFadden was such a fun player to watch and because we didn’t look at the jerseys on the other side of the field early in the season. Consider this, on November 1st of last year, Arkansas was 5-3 with victories against Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga, Florida International, and Ole Miss (who would go winless in the SEC.) Arkansas finally got knocked out of the Top 25 for good after the bowl game loss, but they probably would have been knocked out sooner if they would have played any decent non-conference opponents.

Repeat Offenders

I cheered when Indiana finally earned a bowl bid. But at 3-5 in the Big 10, wasn’t it a little less than satisfying? A win against a non-conference BCS opponent could have made the Hoosier’s remarkable season all the more legitimate. Of course, a 6-6 Hoosier’s team with a limited football fanbase could have been crunched out of the final bowl picture if things had broken differently, so they probably made the right decision.

Minnesota won only one game last year, in overtime at home against a non-BCS opponent. Look, when a team loses that many games, it is hard to argue with a weak schedule. But if you are going to lose anyway, you could avoid some embarrassment by not playing Florida Atlantic. Schedule Baylor! Schedule Ole Miss! Then you can at least pretend you lost to a legitimate team. Oh who am I kidding?

Texas Tech
Even with another loss, Texas Tech would have stayed in the top 5 in the Big 12 and they would have still earned a strong bowl bid. Piling up great passing numbers against cupcakes was a great way to get this program on the map, but if this program is going to take the next step, they may eventually need a better NCSOS. That said, I hope they maintain the series with SMU now that June Jones is head coach. First team to 100 points wins?

Arizona was 5-6 going into the final game of the regular season and still had an outside shot at a bowl berth. But they lost to Arizona St, ended up 5-7, and the lack of BCS opponents didn’t make a bit of difference. Of course, Arizona did lose to two MWC teams, BYU and New Mexico. As a result, the schedule has gotten even weaker this year. Welcome Idaho, goodbye BYU!

Bottom Line
My biggest fear was not realized last year as no BCS team qualified for a bowl with a 2-6 conference record AND zero non-conference BCS wins. But it could still happen this year. I’m looking at you Indiana.