The dangers of ignoring details

I don’t know that any of you follow the Sporting News. I occasionally make that mistake, if only to remind myself that ESPN became the Worldwide Leader in Schlock because it’s the least of all the evils in sports journalism (usually). Anyway, the Sporting News has been doing a rundown of each individual conference’s nonconference schedule, and this exercise reached its peak sometime a while back when this analysis of the Pac-10 was released.

Now, before I begin tearing into intrepid writer Matt Hayes’ fluff, let’s all be clear on a few things. First off, almost every Division 1-A school (I refuse to use the term “FBS”) has a nonconference schedule that is best described as a joke. Aside from regional rivalry games (Florida State vs. Florida, Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, etc.) and the occasional nationally televised matchup (Virginia Tech vs. Boise State, LSU vs. UNC) nonconference schedules consist of big schools crushing a pathetic Directional Tech in the name of “warming up.” Western Carolina University (my alma mater) has, in the last 4 seasons, played Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Florida State, and Vanderbilt. The Catamounts have been outscored 273-22 in those 5 games, none of which would have provided any of the teams involved with anything even resembling a “realistic” opponent. Heck, Vandy beat Western by 45. All of the other schools in D-1AA have similar stories. Nonconference schedules have become incredibly anemic for most schools in the country, largely to remove threats from outside the conference, which would hurt a team’s chance of going undefeated, which, in turn, would kill a team’s chance at winning a national title.

To continue pummeling this already deceased horse, I will point out that Virginia Tech’s shot at a national title died on September 5 last season. Sure, no one knew it at the time, but even if the Hokies had gone undefeated for the remainder of the season (they didn’t, but this is my fantasy world, dang it!) they would have still been excluded from the title game due to their loss on the third night of the season, because only 2 teams get to have a shot at the national title under the current system! If only there were a way to determine what two teams should play one another via a competitive bracket of the best teams in college football. Oh, wait, THERE IS.

The second point I’d like to make in this little bit of pre-analysis (yeah, this is the prelude, sorry.) is that the writer of this article is Matt Hayes. Matt Hayes is a Pac-10 apologist. He is the Saint Augustine of the Pac-10. (Look it up!) Hayes wrote an article back in 2007 saying that was the year Southern Cal should have made the championship game. If you didn’t know, that was the year they lost to Stanford 24-23. Hayes’ argument? That Southern Cal was playing the best football in the country “at the time of the national championship game.” Yeah, because THAT’S the criterion for making the national title game. Not winning all your games, no. Playing the best football in November and December, that’s the ticket. Never mind losing in September or October. Now, let’s rip the article…(Handy link, just in case you didn’t keep that one open)

In the opening lines, you may notice this quote: “…we praise the Pac-10 for competing and wonder why everyone else can’t keep up.” Unfortunately for himself, at the end of the article Mr. Hayes has posted summaries of the nonconference schedules for each conference. Yes, the Pac-10 has the highest number of games against BCS foes and the fewest number of games against non-BCS foes, but let’s not kid ourselves here. I shall now include a list of the teams the Pac-10 schools will be playing from other BCS conferences (including, for no good reason, Notre Dame):

Louisville, Kansas State, Texas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Virginia, Minnesota, Notre Dame (2 schools), Iowa, Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, Tennessee, Colorado, Wisconsin

So there you have it. Of those 14 teams, 3 might be considered boot-shaking-fear worthy (Texas, Nebraska, and a very charitable nod to Iowa). Heck, half of the teams on that list didn’t make bowls last year (exactly half, 7 of 14)! My point? Is beating up on bottom feeders in a BCS conference any better than crushing schools from non-BCS conferences? The answer is a resounding “NO!” Heck, the two best teams on Oregon State’s nonconference schedule are non-BCS teams!

As I know some deranged westerners will accuse me of “East Coast bias,” I went ahead and looked up the ACC’s nonconference schedule. In a somewhat ironic twist, they play more nonconference games per-team because they have a larger conference. The results? Well, the ACC only plays 19 of its 48 nonconference games against BCS foes, but there are far more real threats on the schedule. Compare the Pac-10’s paltry 3 good nonconference foes to the ACC’s 7 (Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, Ohio State, Alabama, Southern Cal, and admittedly charitable nods to Cincinnati and West Virginia) and Mr. Hayes’ argument starts to fall apart. Factor in the fact that an ACC team also plays Boise State, another goes on a road trip to Auburn, and a third plays the mighty Catamounts of Western Carolina (I kid!) and it seems downright silly to praise the Pac-10 for theoretically tough scheduling.

This is getting long, so I’ll gloss over a few more points. Hayes also put the number of 1-AA foes that the conferences are playing. In the same article on how the Pac-10 has a tough schedule, he points out that they play the second highest proportion of 1-AA teams! Just because you play a tough team doesn’t give you the right to schedule a cupcake! To prove I’m not a hypocrite, I will harp on my own team: Virginia Tech shouldn’t play James Madison just because they have the guts to play Boise the week before! It doesn’t work that way! Well, actually it does. See, the lack of a playoff encourages garbage like this. It’s sad, really.

Finally (I promise), Hayes includes a list of the Top 5 nonconference games at the very end of his article on the Pac-10. Now, I may be way off here on the east coast, but am I the only one who isn’t exactly psyched for, well, ANY of those games? Nebraska vs. Washington? Really? Once again, might be an East Coast thing, but has everyone west of the Mississippi drunk the Jake Locker Kool-Aid? The guys 9-20. Gah, I can’t wait for the season to start…