James Madison vs. West Virginia: Does Bye Then Cupcake Benefit Mountaineers?
No. 9 West Virginia tore off the blocks in 2012 with a 69-point explosion in a rivalry in win over Marshall, which was followed immediately by a bye week. Now, WVU will unwrap its annual cupcake, an activity that has become customary among the top programs in college football.
This all begs one question: Does this setup really benefit the Mountaineers and other top programs?
FCS walkover Savannah State made headlines in the opening weeks of the season, taking on then-No. 18 Oklahoma State and No. 5 Florida State in consecutive games, only to be outscored 139-0.
During this time, debate raged among college football analysts and experts, not only about whether this is beneficial, but about whether this type of scheduling should even be allowed.
OSU made the case for those who oppose this type of behavior, following up its 84-0 drubbing of Savannah State with a 59-38 loss at previously unranked Arizona.
However, as FSU has so far proved—and as WVU hopes to prove—picking up a couple of easy wins early may not be such a bad thing.
The Seminoles and the Mountaineers were supposed to square off last week in what would have undoubtedly been an epic clash of two very talented, national title contenders.
However, the main reason this date was originally arranged, was strength of schedule. While in the Big East Conference, WVU regularly scheduled a ranked and respected non-conference opponent early in the season. The idea here was that, if the Mountaineers were in national title contention at season's end, this game would positively impact their strength of schedule in the virtual eyes of the BCS computers.
Do you favor weak non-conference scheduling by top teams?
Then, once they transitioned to the stronger and more highly respected Big 12 Conference, the game was called off. Now, WVU backed out for a couple of reasons.
The first is simply the logistics of the deal. In the Big 12, West Virginia plays a nine-game conference slate, while in the Big East, the conference schedule was only seven games long. Obviously, two non-conference games had to be cut.
Sure, James Madison could have easily been the one to be axed from the schedule, but reason number two dictated otherwise. Facing non-conference opponents like Auburn, LSU, Michigan State and Florida State was no longer necessary because WVU's strength of schedule was high enough simply thanks to conference foes like Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas State.
So, instead, the Mountaineers left two rivalries with Marshall and Maryland on the schedule, along with another local opponent in James Madison; all of which plays into recruiting in the region.
In the end though, the main reason the Mountaineers chose JMU over FSU is simply because the risk of losing early in the season to a tough opponent outweighed the SOS boost they would have received from playing the game.
The only question left now is whether having a bye week followed by a quasi-bye week will result in any sort of drop-off on the field.
My answer is no. In fact, my answer is that this will ultimately help West Virginia in the long run.
Mostly, this will benefit WVU's young defense. Rather than being thrown into the fire against a fast and talented team like FSU, the youngsters will have a chance to be eased into the college game a bit.
West Virginia was exposed in the secondary in Week 1 against Marshall, which is one area on this team where quality depth is yet to be established. After an embarrassing showing in which the Mountaineers allowed Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato to rack up 413 yards through the air, they went back to the tape and the practice field for a week.
After another week of work, WVU can now take what it learned and try it out on the field against an opponent that it should defeat. Then, the pressure will ratchet up a bit with another rivalry matchup against Maryland.
Finally, it's go time when Baylor comes to town for the Big 12 opener. The Bears have looked strong on offense so far, so these few preliminary weeks will be just what the Mountaineers need to prep the newcomers for the big time.
It may not be best for the fans or for TV ratings, but make no mistake, when Oklahoma comes calling on Nov. 17, the Mountaineers will be very glad they didn't overdo it early on.
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