April 15, 2008

Upcoming season features some mismatches

Monday, we took a broad look at the schedules for the Division I-A conferences. Now, we're getting more specific, with a list of the 12 most embarrassing games of the season. On Wednesday, we'll look at the 12 best non-conference games of the season.

A couple of things before we start:

First, we do not care about the back story of why some of these games came about. We're fully aware that some "Big Six" league schools had to scramble to find an opponent when another school pulled out. We also know this: Less than two weeks ago, two Division I-A teams coming off bowl wins Fresno State and Rutgers signed to play Sept. 1. What that means, of course, is that if a "Big Six" team truly wanted to play someone else, it could've.

Second, we're referring to games against "Division I-AA" teams. We know the NCAA now refers to that division as the "Football Championship Subdivision." But we still use the "I-AA moniker" as a sort of protest; the NCAA has far more important matters to attend to than worrying about a name change for its football divisions.

Third and most important we are not being derisive of or impugning I-AA football. We're fully aware that the top six or so I-AA programs could play in any league in Division I-A and do quite well in some of the non-"Big Six" leagues. We're fully aware that another 10 or so I-AA programs would fare well in the non-"Big Six" leagues. And we're not averse to I-A/I-AA games per se. What we don't like is "Big Six"-league teams scheduling games against bad I-AA teams. (Eleven of the 12 "Big Six" programs we're spotlighting went to bowls last season.) You'll notice that none of the games we've selected involve top-level I-AA programs.

So, without further ado, here are the 12 most embarrassing games this season involving "Big Six" schools and I-AA programs:

12. Murray State at Indiana, Sept. 6: Indiana is coming off its first winning season since 1994, and playing the Racers is a good way to get a victory. Murray State used to be a solid I-AA program, but the Racers have won just 33 games this decade (4.5 victories per season) and only five in the past three seasons.

11. The Citadel at Florida, Nov. 22: The Citadel isn't horrible the Bulldogs were 7-4 last season. But that was just its second winning season in the past 13. Plus, it's a horrible date to be playing a I-AA team. This will be Florida's final home game of the season. Playing a mediocre I-AA program that's sure a nice way to send out the seniors.

10. Cal Poly at Wisconsin, Nov. 22: It's not that Cal Poly is bad; the Mustangs were 7-4 last season. It's just that as with the Florida-Citadel game, the timing of this one is weak: This will be the final game of the regular season for Wisconsin. Yeah, a I-AA game on the last big weekend of the season will fire up the fans. The fine establishments on State Street will be filled by the middle of the third quarter by fans who have left Camp-Randall Stadium.

9. Southeast Missouri at Missouri, Sept. 6: We'll give Missouri credit for one thing: If you're going to beat up on a bad I-AA team (SEMO was 3-8 last season), at least do it to a team from your state.

8./7. UT Martin at South Florida, Aug. 30/UT Martin at Auburn, Nov. 8: Since 1988, UT Martin has had three winning seasons and 11 seasons with three or fewer wins. Playing the Skyhawks as your season-opener is bad enough. But playing them in early November truly is weak. Yes, that's homecoming weekend for Auburn. But while it's important to win on homecoming, shouldn't the opposition provide just a teensy bit of intrigue?

6. Northern Colorado at Purdue, Sept. 6: Northern Colorado was 1-11 last season, which means Purdue should be able to chew up and spit out the Bears to get outgoing coach Joe Tiller's last go-round off to a good start.

5. Rhode Island at Boston College, Sept. 27: This would have some intrigue if it were a basketball game. Alas . The Colonial Athletic Association may be the best I-AA league, but Rhode Island is one of the CAA's worst programs. The Rams have finished with a losing record in 11 of the past 12 seasons never winning more than four games in those losing seasons and 19 of the past 22. If Boston College wants to play a I-AA program based in the Northeast, play Massachusetts or New Hampshire, not Rhode Island.

4. Charleston Southern at Miami, Aug. 28: This is the first of two Miamis that Charleston Southern which is in the Big South Conference and finished 5-6 last season will play this season. The Bucs play at Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 13. This is a Thursday night game and the first for the Hurricanes at Dolphin Stadium. Is anybody going to be there?

3. Western Carolina at Florida State, Sept. 6/Chattanooga at Florida State, Sept. 13: Chattanooga and Western Carolina are the two worst programs in the Southern Conference; they combined to go 3-19 last season. Plus, these are the first two home games of the season for the Seminoles (yeah, the fans will be psyched to see those "contests"). Then again, Florida State figures to be wracked by academic suspensions, so playing two patsies and getting two more wins for Bobby Bowden might be the best way to start the season.

2. Coastal Carolina at Penn State, Aug. 30: Coastal Carolina? What, State College High wasn't available? Coastal Carolina was founded in 1954 four years after Joe Paterno became an assistant at Penn State. Coastal Carolina started playing football in 2003 which was Paterno's 38th season as Penn State's head coach (and, coincidentally, the worst season of his career). Given Paterno's largesse to Penn State's libraries he has donated upward of $4 million is it any surprise the Nittany Lions are playing a patsy whose nickname (the Chanticleers) is derived from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"? Maybe this is the start of an annual Big Ten-Big South Challenge (Coastal Carolina is in the Big South); for sure, it's a Challenge the Big Ten would win.

1. Chattanooga at Oklahoma, Aug. 30: What in the world is Oklahoma doing playing Chattanooga, which has had just four winning seasons since 1988? The Mocs were 2-9 last season. In the past 20 seasons, the Mocs are 0-19 vs. Division I-A foes, losing those games by an average margin of 34 points per game. Only one of those games was decided by fewer than 14 points. Hey, perhaps OU folks figured a blowout of a bad I-AA team to open the season will erase some of the bad taste still remaining from the Fiesta Bowl beatdown administered by West Virginia.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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