July 4, 2006

ADs search for delicate scheduling balance



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California football coach Jeff Tedford understands the ABCs of scheduling.

At least that's the philosophy the Golden Bears use when they plan their non-conference schedules.

"He wants to play a BCS school from one of the major conferences on an annual basis," California Deputy Athletic Director Steve Holton said. "Then there's what he'd consider to be a 'B' school, which would come from the Mountain West, the WAC or Conference USA. Then he wants to play what he'd consider in his mind to be the independents, the MAC, conferences like that. He wants an ABC schedule every year."

If only it were as easy as it sounds.

Scheduling at least one Grade-A opponent from outside the conference each year can turn into a recipe for disaster.

California's roster boasts three Rivals.com preseason All-Americans running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Daymeion Hughes and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane but the Golden Bears' hopes for a national title could virtually disintegrate in the first week of September if they lose their season opener at Tennessee.

But that risk hasn't prevented colleges from continuing to schedule glamorous intersectional matchups.

The first month of the 2006 season will feature a rematch of last year's Texas-Ohio State classic, Nebraska at Southern California, Oklahoma at Oregon and Miami at Louisville.

Even more high-profile intersectional showdowns should take place in future seasons now that the NCAA has moved to a 12-game schedule.

In the last month, Nebraska arranged future home-and-home games with UCLA and Tennessee, while Kansas State announced its future home-and-home dates with Miami and UCLA.

The only problem for fans is that they'll have to wait quite a while to see these recently announced games. Nebraska begins its home-and-home series with UCLA in 2012 and doesn't face Tennessee until 2016.

Why would schools schedule these non-conference games as much as a decade in advance?

"I think it's just a habit that somehow we got into many years ago," Washington Athletic Director Todd Turner said. "I think people just want to be certain that they've got themselves covered. The risk of scrambling around and not having a game at the last minute is very disconcerting. It would be better if you were scheduling three or four years in advance, but it doesn't work that way."

Athletic directors at these schools believe the benefits of intersectional competition outweigh the risks of a potential early-season loss.

They pointed out the recruiting advantages that come from playing a nationally televised game against a team from the other side of the country. Playing a game in Los Angeles could make some California recruits consider Nebraska, while Kansas State's game at Miami might make the Wildcats contenders for a few South Florida prospects.

Intersectional Showdowns
Here are some of the top intersectional matchups in the 2006 college football season.
Sept. 2 California at Tennessee
Sept. 2 Southern California at Arkansas
Sept. 2 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
Sept. 2 Washington State at Auburn
Sept. 2 Virginia at Pittsburgh
Sept. 9 Ohio State at Texas
Sept. 9 Penn State at Notre Dame
Sept. 9 Arizona at LSU
Sept. 9 Washington at Oklahoma
Sept. 16 Nebraska at Southern California
Sept. 16 Oklahoma at Oregon
Sept. 16 Miami at Louisville
Sept. 16 Marshall at Kansas State
Sept. 16 Michigan State at Pittsburgh
Sept. 16 BYU at Boston College
Sept. 23 Colorado at Georgia
Sept. 23 Louisville at Kansas State
Oct. 7 Stanford at Notre Dame
Oct. 21 UCLA at Notre Dame
Nov. 25 Notre Dame at Southern California
"We don't just recruit locally," UCLA Athletic Director Daniel Guerrero said. "Obviously that's our priority, to recruit California. But we also have to recruit nationally. Playing these types of games that will draw national interest and national television exposure, it allows your profile to increase. And it may even give you an opportunity to land one or two (players) who you might not have been able to get."

Other schools schedule intersectional games to increase their local exposure.

Miami plays its home games with Atlantic Coast Conference rivals Florida State and Virginia Tech on even-numbered years, which leaves the Hurricanes with a comparatively vanilla conference slate in odd-numbered seasons. Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee likes to fill the void by scheduling home games against top teams from outside the ACC.

The Hurricanes have arranged upcoming home-and-home series with Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Oklahoma and Texas A&M both visit the Orange Bowl next year.

"I try to get those teams to come to Miami in the odd-numbered years, so I can keep my fan base happy with quality games and also so we don't have as much variability in our season ticket (sales)," Dee said. "Some people sell out every game, and they can play whoever. They have the stadiums and huge alumni where they can sustain it. We're not there yet."

Losing to a high-profile intersectional foe early in the season can end a team's national title hopes, but failing to schedule one of these games could cause just as much damage.

"You're always trying to make sure your power rating is adequate," Turner said, "because if you're in the BCS title chase at some point, that's important."

Auburn learned that lesson the hard way two years ago when it didn't play for the national title despite going undefeated. Oklahoma and Southern California earned the Orange Bowl berths instead because they also went unbeaten and finished ahead of the Tigers in the BCS standings.

When Auburn fans complained about being left out of the mix, critics pointed to a non-conference schedule that included three lightweight opponents: Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech.

"That's a perfect example," Turner said.

Scheduling these intersectional games soon could prove more difficult for schools at one particular conference.

While the Big 12 chose not to approve a ninth conference game in order to schedule more high-profile intersectional matchups, the Pac-10 approved a ninth conference game to have a full round-robin schedule.

The Pac-10's decision should prevent a repeat of last year's misfortune, when the conference runner-up (Oregon) and third-place finisher (UCLA) never faced each other. But it also leaves each Pac-10 school with only three non-conference games.

"It does restrict the number of opportunities you have," Holton said.

The nine-game conference schedule might limit opportunities, but it hasn't prevented some Pac-10 schools from scheduling high-profile games against non-conference foes. UCLA made that clear when it scheduled those upcoming home-and-home dates with Kansas State and Tennessee.

Southern California has intersectional matchups with Arkansas, Notre Dame and Nebraska to go along with its nine conference games. California follows up its season-opening trip to Tennessee with a home game against Minnesota, which seems to contradict Tedford's "ABC'' scheduling plan.

"There are a couple of years where he's AAC instead of ABC," Holton said.

This looks like one of those years.



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