Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ranking the SEC's Most Embarrassing nonconference schedules in 2009

I'm sure somebody out there on the Internets has done this exact thing already, but screw it, a) I can't find it b) I don't have anything else to write today c) these posts do look like a lot of fun to write d) I was looking over my helmet schedule this morning, and honestly, the SEC's current scheduling practices are a disgrace. Every BCS conference's scheduling practices save the Pac-10's are a disgrace, of course, but honestly, consider:

--Excluding annual rivalries, the entire conference will play just four games against BCS teams with winning records in 2008--and two of those games are against the same team (Georgia Tech).

--The league's four presumptive favorites (Florida, Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss) are combining to play three games total against BCS teams--and one of those is against 0-12 Washington.

--Throw out Georgia's outlier of a schedule, and the SEC has exactly one more game scheduled against BCS competition (11) than it does against I-AA competition (10). And that's not counting D-I transitional Western Kentucky, which is almost still sorta I-AA and would make the comparison dead even.

Pathetic. Anyway, here's the official JCCW ranking of Most Embarrassing 2009 noncon schedules, with Embarrassing being the operative word here. It's not which is strongest or weakest, it's about which team was most craven in its attempt to avoid actual competition, and expectations/tradition counts--Vandy playing a fellow nerd school (OOOOH BURN) like Rice isn't at all like LSU playing Rice. So starting with least embarrassing and counting down ...

12. Georgia: at Oklahoma St., vs. Arizona St., vs. Tennessee Tech, at Georgia Tech.

Congrats, Dawgs, you signed up for this year's "Team to Watch!" from both the Big 12 and the ACC, both on the road, in a season where basically everyone expects you to take a step back in terms of ability. And while the luster of their 2007 season got lost awful fast, Arizona St. is still a Pac-10 team coached by a good coach. The one slate in the league that I think might have actually been a little too ambitious.

11. South Carolina: at N.C. State, vs. Florida International, vs. S.C. State*, vs. Clemson.

So, the 'Cocks have a year-end rivalry game with a decent ACC team, but then they went and did this weird thing--are you paying attention, Florida? are you?--where they decided to actually play a second game against a team with a pulse! And they agreed to do it on the road this year! Crazy! Wild! I can't believe it!

10. Auburn: vs. La. Tech, vs. Ball St., vs. West Virginia, vs. Furman*.

Yes, sadly, this is the third-least embarrassing schedule in the SEC this year. My preliminary read on Ball St. is that they won't be nearly as good as last year's MAC runner-ups, but between the Cardinals and Derek Dooley's Bulldogs, this is still the best pair of mid-major opponents on any slate in the league. And as much stick as I recently gave the Auburn A.D. for its scheduling cowardice, agreeing to play the Mountaineers at the height of their RichRod-fueled heyday deserves some credit.

9. Vanderbilt: vs. Western Carolina*, at Rice, at Army, vs. Georgia Tech.

Not much difference, honestly, between the 'Dores slate, Auburn's, and Mississippi St.'s. Vandy's the only SEC team to play two non-league games away from home, Rice actually won a bowl game last year, and I think we'd probably all forgive the 'Dores if they'd wanted to spend at least a year or two shirking teams like Georgia Tech in an effort to get that bowl monkey off their backs.

8. Mississippi St.: vs. Jackson St.*, vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Houston, vs. Middle Tennessee St.

As with Vandy, you could go easy on State (especially a couple years back when the Tech series was scheduled) for going the all-out cream puff route in an effort to go bowling ... and instead they're hosting both the Yellow Jackets and a highly dangerous Houston team--possibly the best mid-major on any SEC schedule, along with La. Tech and Troy. Only difference between this schedule and Vandy's is that the MTSU game is at home while Vandy plays Army on the road.

I would argue there's a big gap in Cowardice Levels between teams No. 8 and No. 7.

7. Tennessee: vs. Western Kentucky, vs. UCLA, vs. Ohio, vs. Memphis.

Sorry, I can't give the Vols too much credit for not going the I-AA route when the Hilltoppers are, in fact, the I-AAiest team in D-I. And while there are definitely worse teams out there than UCLA, there have been better ones, too, for just about all of this decade. Only Memphis being decent saves this from being far, far below the Vols' usual nonconference standards.

6. Alabama: vs. Virginia Tech (neutral), vs. Florida International, vs. North Texas, vs. UT-Chattanooga*.

Full credit for taking on the likely ACC favorite and a year-in, year-out national contender. Credit taken away for scheduling more-or-less the worst possible opponents in the other three spots: a I-AA patsy and the two worst teams in the worst conference in the country. Where's the Southern Miss or Northern Illinois or Central Florida of yesteryear?

5. Arkansas: vs. Missouri St.*, vs. Eastern Michigan, vs. Texas A&M (neutral), vs. Troy.

Almost a carbon copy of the Alabama slate, except that the neutral-site opponent is a lot, lot worse and one of the mid-major opponents is a lot, lot better. Still, any time you can make a compelling argument that the most difficult team on your nonconference schedule is Troy, it's safe to say you have not put together a challenging slate.

4. LSU: at Washington, vs. UL-Lafayette, vs. Tulane, vs. La. Tech.

I should maybe give LSU more credit for avoiding a I-AA tomato can in favor of three teams that each showed some level of competitiveness last season (and La. Tech, obviously, more than that), but I'm not going to. For starters, this is two years running the best nonconference team LSU--LSU!--has faced will be a mid-major after last season's grueling Appalachian St.-North Texas-Tulane-Troy embarrassment. Sorry, but for Vandy and Mississippi St. to have outscheduled a program as loaded as LSU for two years running is awful. It's a joke. Secondly, I've seen more than one LSU partisan try to explain away the Washington trip by saying "We didn't know they'd be that bad!" Oh yeah? That game was scheduled in May of last year--with the Huskies coming off of a 4-9 season and having won a grand total of 12 games the previous four years combined. So no, the Tigers didn't know they were going to face the single worst team at the BCS level--they just knew they'd be facing one of the worst.

3. Kentucky: vs. Miami (OH), vs. Louisville, vs. UL-Monroe, vs. Eastern Kentucky*.
This is the second straight season Kentucky has surrounded the Louisville game--not even a marquee opponent any more, of course--with nothing but the sweetest, frostiest cupcakes available. Louisville included, UK's three D-I opponents went a combined 11-25 last year. Sad.

2. Florida: vs. Charleston Southern*, vs. Troy, vs. Florida International, vs. Florida St.

In 2006, Florida won the national championship. For that freshman class's senior season, a season in which they knew they would be hosting Florida St., the Gator athletic department added to their nonconference schedule Charleston Southern, Troy, and Florida International. The strongest, most loaded program in the SEC had three games to schedule in addition to a home game against an obviously reeling rival, and they went I-AA, Sun Belt, Sun Belt.

1. Ole Miss: at Memphis, vs. Southeastern Louisiana*, vs. UAB, vs. Northern Arizona*.

Two I-AA teams. The worst team in Conference USA. And Memphis. I'm not even going to dignify this with comment.

*Asterisk indicates a I-AA opponent.


Anonymous said...

I think you're giving Auburn a little too much credit for West Virginia. You say you should give your team credit for scheduling West Virginia during their hayday, even though thats not the team they played last and def not the team theyll play this year. Plus you kind of down play the epicness of the tide going up against the Hokies in GAME ONE these are two teams that went to BCS games last year (insert Utah joke here), but overall a pretty good read on things. That schedule is why Ole Miss will never really be able to get the respect it wants, btw.

jrsuicide said...

you gotta give some props to the Dawgs for that schedule. it takes some big ass balls. now they can enjoy that 8 win season coming their way.

i think Bama should be higher by virtue of scheduling a team like Va Tech that will be ranked in the top 10 with a fanbase that travels well and to start the season while trying to get settled with a lot of new players on offense.

Rod said...

I think this list should be:
12 Georgia - very respectable
11 South Carolina - decent
10-2 Everybody else is tied for embarrassment.
1 Ole Miss - are you kidding me!

1A teams should be banned from playing 1AA teams. Bottom line.
Though it was fun watching Michigan lose to ApSt.

J.D. said...

I believe UGA is traveling to Stillwater to start the year, just FYI. That adds to the difficulty of the slate they're up against.

Walt said...

You left off UT-Chattanooga as a I-AA opponent along with Charleston Southern. And UTC is the football door mat of the Southern Conference that my beloved Georgia Southern Eagles are in. Charleston Southern isn't much better playing in the craptastic Big South conference.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Anon., no, that's my point--when Auburn scheduled the WVU games, they were in RichRod's spread-n'-shred heyday, basically as good an opponent as you could hope to find. Auburn was trying to play a national title contender, much as--I can admit--'Bama is this year with Tech. But come on, FIU, UNT, and UTC? That's a I-AA team and two teams that are D-I in name only.

I don't think it matters when a game is played. You open with somebody, you say it's hard to know what to prepare for, if it's later in the season you say the players are tired. A tough game is a tough game no matter when it's played.

Rod, no way the likes of Florida and Kentucky are even with the Vandy/State/Auburn trio. I'd put it in tiers like so:

1-Georgia ("Over the Top")
2-SC ("Acceptably challenging")
3-Auburn/Vandy/State ("Could do better, but OK")
4-UT, Bama, Arkansas ("not a complete disaster, I guess")
5-UK, Florida ("pathetic")
6-Ole Miss ("beyond words")

Walt, JD, thanks for the corrections. I can't believe my helmet schedule was off on the OKSt. thing.

Acid Reign said...

.....All of y'all who think West Virginia is going away because Pat White is gone, need to think again. I've been doing research this spring, and West Virginia is LOADED. These are still basically Richrod's players, recruited during the height of the hoopla.

.....There's an athletic, veteran senior with a rifle arm replacing White, and the guy hit ALL of his first 15 passes of the spring game. I don't think anyone Auburn has right now could hit 15 straight in a skeleton drill with no defenders on the field!

.....The main thing with the Mountaineers is for Stewart not to mess 'em up!