Friday, March 30, 2007

Rinse, Repeat...

The two-headed monster known as Aldenpinkel, a monster that repeatedly gets slammed for not scheduling tough enough non-conference games, schedules a solid Nevada team (one that damn near beat Miami-FL in a bowl game last year), and—shock and surprise—gets slammed. Nevada’s not good enough. Mississippi’s not good enough. Illinois is not good enough. Nothing less than four road games against Auburn, Notre Dame, USC, and Ohio State will impress some folks, I guess.

Though I suspect that if we did create that schedule, the same people would be bitching because Aldenpinkel scheduled us out of a bowl game.

In this thread, Dave Matter does a pretty solid job of deflecting some of the complaining-for-complaining’s-sake moaning, and I’ll go further here. This is one of those arguments that Tiger fans will endlessly get wound up about—along with fullbacks, gold pants, the Big Ten, etc.—and while that’s probably a good reason not to get into it here, I’m going to anyway.

First, I’ll try to summarize the main complaints into one paragraph. Let me know if I miss something.

Complaint: Other teams aren’t scared to schedule big names...why are we? Colorado did it and won a bunch of North titles, so they obviously got something out of playing such a tough slate. Besides, fans don’t want to see their team playing Directional State—they want to see their team schedule real teams.

Response: First of all, the last two of CU’s North titles came with conference records of 4-4 and 5-3. In other words, they won by default; they won because the other teams either crumbled or sucked. And in those Big XII Championship games, they lost 112-3. In their 2002 run to the North title, their 40-3 loss to USC prepared them well...for their 29-7 loss in the Big XII Championship (and subsequent Alamo Bowl loss to Wisconsin). Maybe that extra dose of competition gave CU the edge to not crumble, but are we actually sure of that? Are we sure it didn’t hold them back? No, we’re not. If they’d scheduled easier non-conference slates, they might have gone to a better bowl.

Hell, in 2001, their toughest non-conference game was against Colorado State (they lost to Fresno State)...and they won the Big XII and almost made the National Title game!

However, being that this is a Mizzou blog, let’s look at Mizzou’s history. More recent history first: what did scheduling Ohio State in ’97 and ’98 actually get us? Other than memorable plays like Posey’s fumble return TD and Andy Katzenmoyer decapitating Corby Jones (pretty sure Corby still has a scar on his face from Katzenmoyer’s face mask), absolutely nothing. We led in Columbus at halftime in ’98, lost respectably, and...proceeded to lose every other close game on our schedule that year (sans the Insight Bowl, which wasn’t close until we took our foot off the gas). The ‘extra competition’ of that series proved not even 1% beneficial. All it did was a) prevent us from going 8-3 instead of 7-4, and b) give fans the ability to say “We played Ohio State.”

But in the end, I think that last point is what it all comes down to. Scheduling tougher doesn’t necessarily impact attendance (we hosted Ole Miss—last I checked, they play in the SEC—last September, it was an absolutely gorgeous day out, and we drew 51,112), at least maybe not enough to merit huge consideration. Plus, it’s not a confirmed fact that this approach would in any way assist the team down the line any more than an extra easy win would. The bottom line is, a team’s fans—the ones who already own season tickets and would still attend games against Directional State—want the glory of being able to say they played the big-name schools. Even if the team gets absolutely nothing from a series, fans want to feel more important by having their team play the big dogs.

Is that alone worth it? Actually...maybe. After all, teams play for the fans, so it would behoove a team to listen to what they have to say, but...I also want this team to achieve as much as it can. If the team can get more out of playing a threatening-but-can-probably-be-handled team like Nevada than it can out of playing at USC, then the fans don’t deserve the last say. I want us to win Big XII titles and championships and everything else, but I’m not sold on the fact that playing the USC’s of the world is the way to do it. Never mind the fact that teams like that probably wouldn’t even agree to play at Faurot nowadays...and for the same reason that Mizzou fans don’t want us playing at Troy or Nevada or New’s a no-win situation.

Honestly, I’m pretty much okay with the way we’re scheduling now. We open in The Dome with Illinois for at least the next five years, we take 1-2 mid-major teams (one at home, one on the road), and we get a free pass with one patsy. That sounds about right. By the end of the non-conference season, we’ve played a BCS school that we consider something of a rival, and in a big recruiting market no less, we’ve gotten a couple of decent games from competitive-but-beatable-if-we’re-as-good-as-we-should-be teams, and we got to run up the score and play the scrubs once. What’s wrong with that? Of course it would be more exciting playing USC or Auburn or something, but that’s not what’s on the schedule. Our schedule likely allows us to play in the BCS championship if we were ever to go undefeated (i.e. it doesn’t absolutely crush our strength of schedule), and in today’s football atmosphere, that’s the bottom line. If D1 goes to a playoff someday, and you can play for the national title with a couple of losses, it’s a different story. But in this environment, this is the schedule we should be playing.

And let’s face it--we’re not following the Bill Snyder method of scheduling anymore. In 2007 alone, we’re playing two teams—Ole Miss and Illinois—who were young and athletic last year. Next year, it’s Illinois and Nevada. We’re not talking Maine and Southwestern Oklahoma State (Go Bulldogs!).

But while we’re on the subject, I’ll bring up another point—the 1970s. Talk to somebody who followed Mizzou in the ‘70s, and you’re bound to hear about the ’75 win over Alabama, or the ’76 wins over USC and Ohio State, or the ’78 win over Notre Dame (which came as my mother was going into labor with me). These were ‘glory days’ for Mizzou. Oh, and their best record in the ‘70s was 8-4. Their best bowl game? Sun Bowl. Sound familiar? Oh, and the ’75 ‘Bama win led to a 6-5 record. The ’76 USC and OSU wins also resulted in a 6-5 record.

Again, the bottom line here is that the long-term benefit of playing (and sometimes winning) those big games was to give Mizzou fans something to brag about. And again, that’s a pretty damn good reason to schedule those games. But let’s stop pretending that it has anything to do with program status or preparation for the Big XII (Bill Snyder built an entire program proving that wrong). Scheduling tough is admirable and respectable and (if you don’t lose by 40) exciting. But that’s all it is. It’s not the key to a successful future, so let’s stop lying to ourselves.