Blog Entry

Time For Mid-Majors To Step It Up

Posted on: November 29, 2008 9:54 am
Edited on: November 29, 2008 10:06 am

There have been several posters, yours truly included,  on the cbssportsline message boards assailing the schedules of the Mid-Major teams across America.  There have been many stereotypes used and fingers pointed toward the Mid-Majors that have been unfair and clearly "BCS homer" in nature but there is one that sticks, and needs to be greatly improved if the Mids truly want to earn more respect.  That point is their non-conference schedules!

Ball State and Boise State have enjoyed huge success this season, winning all of the regular season games.  Only a MAC championship game remains for the Cardinals to win and move to 13-0 while the Broncos closed out their regular season at 12-0 with their thumping of Fresno State.  Both will be left out of the BCS picture this season.  The reason?  A weak non-conference schedule.  While I completely agree with the mid-major critics that non-conference schedules matter, I don't subscribe that the conference they play in makes them virtually ineligible for a BCS game.  In other words, if your non-conference schedule is tough and you prevail most of the time and then win all of your conference games, your conference games should not negatively impact your ability to get a BCS bowl.  The key in my view is the non-conference portion.

The first thing that needs to happen is to eliminate all games with Division 1AA teams.  You can't dip into the lower ranks of college football and then expect to successfully argue the merits of your BCS worthiness.  Play the majors if you want to compete with them in the post season.  Ball State went fishing for a win when they scheduled Northeastern and severely damaged their non-conference argument in doing so.  I understand a previous agreement with West Virginia fell through but still, they could have done better than Northeastern.  Similarly Boise State opened the season by pasting idaho State.  These games barely qualify as scrimages and have no business on a Division 1A football teams' resume.  It should be noted it isn't just mid-majors who are playing these teams.  ACC teams played 14 games against 1AA teams, the Big 12 played 10 while the Big 10 and SEC played 9 1AA teams.  If a 1A team insists on playing a 1AA team, that win should be excluded from their won/loss record (unless they lose) and have no bearing on making a team bowl eligible.

By now this year's non-conference schedule for Ball State is emblazoned in the minds of their critics so no need to dwell on that.  But let's take a look into the future to see how their non-conference schedules are shaping up for upcoming seasons.  These seasons may not be fully complete yet but at least we can see if they're taking steps in the right direction.  Home games are in caps.

2009:     NORTH TEXAS;   Army;   Auburn

2010:     MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE;   Clemson;   Purdue

2011:    South Florida;   Middle Tennessee State;   ARMY

2012:     SOUTH FLORIDA;   Army 

2013:    ARMY;   North Texas

2014:    Army

In 2009, some improvement over this years' schedule is visible.  Going to Auburn would have to be viewed as a quality opponent, one that would help their strength of schedule argument.  One more non-conference game remains to be scheduled and it needs to be against a BCS team.

2010 looks considerably better with scheduled road games against BCS teams Clemson and Purdue.  Obviously we don't know how strong these teams will be in 2010 but it can't be held against Ball State if Clemson or Purdue turn out to be weak BCS teams that year. Again, one more game needs to be scheduled and it should be against a strong mid-major if not another BCS team.

In my opinion, the remaining non-conference schedules beyond 2010 are too weak and in need of BCS presence.  Those teams as we know them today are not going to open people's eyes if Ball State comes away with a victory. 

Boise State has elevated itself to the top of the mid-major levels.  They have done so by winning all or most of their games but they usually manage to throw in one carefully selected, strong BCS team.  This method has proven to be successful.  Their lone BCS appearance resulted in a win - also huge for their program.  Ball State has an opportunity to build on this season's success and become a mid-major power but to do so is going to have to increase its committment, as a university, to the football program, continue to bring in top mid-major talent, pay their coaches at or near the top of the conference salary range and schedule - and win - games against decent BCS programs.  If they do that, they will have a strong case for a BCS bowl, something they do not have this season.

Finally, and this is directed at the BCS system itself.  When mid-major teams like a Boise State or Ball State take steps to increase their strength of schedule and continue to win their games, you need to find ways to include them instead of searching for reasons to keep them out.  Over the past 4 seasons, mid-major programs have increased their winning percentage over BCS teams.  In 2008, mid-majors defeated majors 22% of the time, up from the low to mid teens in the previous 3 seasons.  The BCS system needs to be modified with additional ways to allow mid-major teams with unblemished records and decent strength of schedules into the championship series.  Establish a minimal SOS number that needs to be met (by ALL teams) to meet BCS Bowl or Playoff criteria.   

"Cinderella stories" are good for sports.  Boise State's win over Oklahoma - admittedly not great for Sooner football - was a huge boost for college football in general.  That Fiesta Bowl game, from the fans perspective, was one of the greatest games ever played.  Boise State proved it belonged and there are other programs on the rise that will prove they belong too if given a chance.  The mid-majors need to do their part though and a strong non-conference schedule is the ticket required for entry.  And, when they present that ticket, the BCS needs to honor it and let them in. 

Category: NCAAF

Since: Jan 10, 2007
Posted on: November 29, 2008 12:09 pm

Time For Mid-Majors To Step It Up

Smiles.... I didn't address the "play you anywhere anytime" theory but I do agree with you.  Majors need to be willing to come to Muncie on occasion to play the Cardinals.  Ball State can't always take to the road to play these teams.  It should be no worse for Ball State than a 2-1 series.  If a team won't agree to that, they aren't worth playing.

Since: Dec 13, 2006
Posted on: November 29, 2008 11:46 am

Time For Mid-Majors To Step It Up

I hear your argument, Flame, and agree, somewhat.  I agree fully that scheduling 1-aas has got to go.  And I would love to see more BCS confence teams on the agenda as well, but I reject the "we'll play anyone anywhere" line.  That, my friend, is a sucker bet.

First, forget the "play tough road games, and you'll earn our respect."  The truth is, most BCS team fans don't respect the nonBCS programs, never have, never will.  You see, to them, nonBCS means the willing blood donors that they pay to come be polite victims in their 80k seat stadiums for homecoming.  They can never respect a conference that has teams willing to schedule sucker games just to earn a paycheck by getting creamed in front of a huge crowd.  No, if you want Boise in town, you'd better be willing to offer more than a measly pay check.  Besides, most teams would hesitate to schedule someone like Boise, BYU or Utah.  Better Idaho, San Diego St., Florida Atlantic, or Toledo.

So Boise does it differently.  We schedule one tough road game each year against a BCS foe.  All others need to be willing to come to Bronco Stadium in return.  No takers.  So instead we scheduled the best nonBCS schools we could find.  Bowling Green beat Pittsburg, but not Boise.  S. Miss was the best team in the state of Mississippi when we scheduled them.  They are down this year, but losing at home to Boise by a convincing margin didn't help.  We've played Utah 4 times, beat em 4 times.  BYU has already schedule us for a return match-up, still smarting from the 2 straight losses we handed them.  TCU is in the works.

The problem is money.  We Boises and Balls can win a single game against anyone, but a 6 or 12 million dollar budget doesn't cut it in big time football where teams like OU and Georgia have 60 million+ budgets.  Boise found a way to get it done.  If you can't out-spend them, out-smart them!

The Blue turf was a gimmick 20 years ago.  But it caught people's attention.  Slowly they started to realize that the quirkly little team that played there was pretty good.  Kids saw it to, pretty soon folks were talking, either to ridicule it, or wonder if ducks really did crash land on it.  So far, the only Ducks scheduled to crash land come from Eugene.  Then we signed a contract with ESPN.  Yeah, we had to play games on week nights and at funny times, but folks around the country can see us play 4-6 times a year.  Name another program of our size that can do that.  We turned the victory over Oklahoma into a "made for tv" movie.  Yeah, it was cheesy, but every woman in America swooned when Ian got down on his knees to propose to Chrissy.  Their wedding was the celebrity event of the year in Boise.  Now Ian Johnson could easily be elected mayor of Boise, and everyone knows about Boise State.  Ball State could appoint David Letterman as director of university advancement and let him continue to sell the Cardinals on Late Night.  You get the idea.

Now Boise enters the next phase.  Ok, we got your attention.  Now watch.  Our roster is now full of much better recruits, still not USC caliber, but good enough to play with anyone.  You see, the thing that separates Ball St. from, say a Big 10 school is depth.  You have tremendous athletes at several positions, but have holes that a top team can exploit.

How should one grow a program?  Step by step.

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