June 19, 2009

Mailbag: Teams take advantage of little guys

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Four years ago, the NCAA opted to add a 12th game to the football schedule. That ensured more games but didn't necessarily add more competition.

Often, that extra date has been filled by an overmatched Football Championship Subdivision team that was willing to take a beatdown to boost its budget.

Sure, there was the monumental Appalachian State upset of Michigan in the '07 opener, but for the most part those games were like matching heavyweights against flyweights.

Seriously … Florida vs. The Citadel?

A handful of programs resisted the temptation to build up the win total by scheduling down.

Tennessee, USC, UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame have not scheduled FCS teams, and Michigan State, Texas and Stanford have scheduled just one.

But as we see in this week's mailbag, many teams won't hesitate to schedule sacrificial lambs.

Picking on the little guy

From Jonathan in Hastings, England: What's your opinion on Football Bowl Subdivision teams that schedule two FCS opponents in the same season? Which FBS teams have the distinction of scheduling more FCS opponents than anyone else? How long will it be before someone begins scheduling three FCS opponents in the same season?

Teams that schedule two FCS programs in the same season are like that guy in your office who draws the same salary, but goofs off and doesn't do as much work.

Yeah, a lot of factors go into scheduling, and sometimes opponents pull out of games, leaving a team frantically searching to fill a date. But the claim that there wasn't another FBS opponent – not even a lower-tier team – available to play just doesn't ring true.

I have no issue with playing one FCS game. Those games help the smaller schools – often within the same state – meet their budgets. The $400,000 or $500,000 payday they take in for getting punked by mighty State U. might be more money than the program takes in the rest of the year.

But scheduling two?

That's not only disgraceful, it's taking advantage of fans, who pay high ticket prices, then are subjected to games that often aren't competitive.

My biggest beef is with schools in the "Big Six" conferences that schedule down.

This year, Kansas State of the Big 12, North Carolina State and Duke of the ACC and Rutgers and USF of the Big East ordered the twin-pack of cupcakes. If they were having difficulties filling their schedule, couldn't they have agreed to play each other?

Rutgers and USF can make the case that they scheduled two FCS opponents because as members of the eight-team Big East, they have to come up with five non-conference games.

It's a lame excuse, but at least they have one. The others don't.

In the past six seasons, North Carolina State has scheduled and/or played seven games against FCS opponents, including Murray State and Gardner-Webb this year. Only Rutgers and USF have played as many.

Yet Kansas State still strikes me as one of the programs most willing to schedule down. Back in the 1990s, when the Wildcats were national championship contenders, their non-conference schedule was typically among the softest in the country and frequently included FCS opponents like Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky.

Last season, the Wildcats, obviously trying to enhance their chances to become bowl eligible, paid to get out of a home game against Fresno State and scheduled Montana State instead. It didn't work. Even though they defeated Montana State, the Wildcats failed to notch the requisite six victories to play in a bowl game.

That led to Ron Prince's ouster and the return of Bill Snyder as Kansas State's coach. By the way, K-State plays two FCS teams this season – Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech. Surely, that's just a coincidence.

Fortunately, I don't foresee teams scheduling three FCS teams. The biggest reason: Only one victory a season against an FCS opponent counts toward bowl eligibility. Playing three games against FCS teams would be too risky.

USC has plenty left

From Michael in Chicago: With USC losing so many players from last year's Rose Bowl team, is there any chance we may see the Trojans lose their dominance for one year and maybe lose three games?

Remember the line from "Dumb and Dumber" when Mary tells Lloyd he only has a one-in-a-million chance with her? He responds: "So you're telling me there's a chance. I hear you!"

Sure, there is a chance USC could falter a bit. And it's better than one-in-a-million.

The Trojans lost quarterback Mark Sanchez, a first-round selection in the NFL draft, and will replace him with sophomore Aaron Corp, who has thrown four passes in his career.

Defensively, eight starters were lost from the country's best unit and each was selected in the draft, including four in the first two rounds.

Plus, both of last season's coordinators – Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt – are at Washington (Sarkisian as coach, Holt as defensive coordinator).

USC's schedule looks demanding, with road trips to Ohio State, California, Oregon, Notre Dame and Arizona State. Could there be three losses in there? Possibly, but I doubt it.

Even though USC has lost a bunch of starters, coach Pete Carroll always has top-level talent ready to step in. Each of USC's past five recruiting classes was ranked among the nation's top 10 by Rivals.com.

USC's streak of seven consecutive years of claiming at least a share of the Pac-10 championship could be in jeopardy, though. That's more likely to happen than the Trojans losing three times.

There are no stupid questions

From George in The Philippines: Archie Griffin? The only reason he won a Heisman was because he played for Ohio State. What did he do in the pros? He shouldn't have even won one, much less two. He would have been doing good if he could have won a starting job as a running back in the SEC.

Let me think of a delicate way to describe those comments.

OK, they were stupid.

Maybe USC's Anthony Davis or Oklahoma's Joe Washington should have won the '74 Heisman, and maybe California's Chuck Muncie or USC's Ricky Bell should have won in '75. But to dismiss Griffin either of those years is just idiotic. He was among the nation's leading rushers for one of the nation's best teams both of those years.

True, he didn't have a stellar NFL career, but that has nothing to do with the Heisman. SEC Heisman recipients Steve Spurrier of Florida, Pat Sullivan of Auburn and Danny Wuerffel of Florida had mundane pro careers.

Pro and college football are completely different games. Since you are an SEC fan, I'll use that conference to prove my point.

The SEC is known as a conference rife with great coaches. But it's also a league of failed NFL coaches. Spurrier, Alabama's Nick Saban, Kentucky's Rich Brooks, Arkansas's Bobby Petrino and Tennessee's Lane Kiffin had losing records as NFL coaches.

Your most outlandish statement was saved for last, though. You claim Griffin couldn't have started in the SEC.

Griffin rushed for 1,695 yards in '74 and 1,450 yards in '75, and Ohio State was 21-3 in those seasons. As a comparison, just three SEC players rushed for more than 1,000 yards in those two years – Florida's Jimmy DuBose (1,307 in '74), Mississippi State's Walter Packer (1,012 in '75) and Kentucky's Sonny Collins (1,150 in '75). None finished in the top five of the Heisman voting, none had distinguished pro careers and none would have started ahead of Griffin.

Doing enough to retain the title

From Sean in Las Vegas: Why is Penn State consistently referred to as "Linebacker U" when its credentials don't merit that title – especially when you factor in NFL résumés? Florida State should be "Linebacker U." Sam Cowart, Peter Boulware, Kendyll Pope, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Jones, Henri Crockett, Ernie Sims, Tommy Polley, Reinard Wilson, Lawrence Timmons, Kamerion Wimbley, Alonzo Jackson and Everette Brown played at Florida State, and Nigel Bradham is the next great one.

Florida State's linebacker alumni list is impressive. But Penn State was known as "Linebacker U" before Florida State became a national power.

Since 1969, Penn State has had 13 first-team All-America linebackers, and that doesn't include Matt Millen, who was named All-America as a defensive end before moving to linebacker in the NFL. The Lions' linebacker list includes Jack Ham, Ed O'Neil, Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, Andre Collins, LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Lance Mehl and Dan Connor. Actually, I'd say Penn State's list compares favorably to Florida State's.

Bradham may be FSU's next great linebacker. But Penn State this season will have Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, who both have All-America potential.

Lots of programs have a history of producing talented linebackers – USC, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Texas A&M come to mind. But Penn State's past and its present give credibility to its designation as "Linebacker U."

Picking a Big 12 championship loser

From Shannon in Glendale, Ariz.: Which team do you think will be the strongest in the Big 12 North this season?

I don't have a scientific approach to picking champions. I look for a proven quarterback, big-play threats and a good defense.

All of the Big 12 North teams have warts, but Kansas hits two out of three in my criteria. Todd Reesing is an excellent quarterback, and Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier are a heck of a set of receivers. Briscoe is one of the most explosive players in the country.

The Jayhawks are replacing all their linebackers and have some voids to fill in the offensive line, but I'll take them in the North.

Nebraska will challenge, but the Huskers have an unproven quarterback and some questions at receiver. In addition, Nebraska plays at Kansas this season.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini will field a strong defense, but the quarterback, receivers and home-field advantage lead me to give Kansas the edge.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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