With Friends Like These: LSU's 2009 Non-Conference Schedule
The standard excuse for SEC teams scheduling weak out of conference opponents is that they have to contend with the rigors of the SEC. Therefore, scheduling brutal OOC (out of conference) games is unnecessary, risky and quite frankly just not in the team’s best interest.
After all, with “friends” like Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss…why go out and seek “enemies” like Ohio State, Virginia Tech, or West Virginia?
Teams like USC and Ohio State would say, "Hey, we schedule tougher OOC opponents, why can’t you?"
The typical answer: If you are in the Big 10 or Pac 10, you have to schedule at least two, if not three, strong OOC opponents to keep any credibility in your SOS (strength of schedule) since the rest of your conference is so weak (I'm not stating that as fact, just that it is the prevailing argument).
I submit that it has more to do with the BCS. Teams are doing what they feel like they have to do in order to place themselves in the best possible position to make it to a BCS Bowl and/or the National Championship game.
Consider that any loss can and normally does (LSU’s 2007 Championship notwithstanding) have a devastating impact on rankings and bowl position. Therefore, teams simply can’t afford to schedule a gauntlet out of conference game, particularly when they face a rigorous conference slate like teams in the SEC.
Moreover, despite efforts to factor "style points" out of the equation, the voters (for poll rankings) will look at USC more favorably for thumping San Jose State than they will if Alabama squeaks out a last-second victory over Virginia Tech.
So teams try to make the most of their three or four out of conference opportunities.
Florida, the defending National Champion, and LSU, the previous champion, are prime examples.
Although Florida normally features two tough OOC games against in-state rivals FSU and Miami. This year, Miami is off the schedule and Charleston Southern High School (I’m sorry is that actually a college?) marks the warm-up game for the real opener with the juggernaut from Troy.
Doth I protest too loudly?
Don’t worry; I remember that it took the greatest comeback in school history for LSU to beat these guys last year.
Florida does end the season with their annual run-in with what could be a much improved FSU team (though the sanctions and some attrition could reverse that), but not before the other in-state game with FIAU.
FIAU? What happened to Miami? Well, if nothing else, there could be a good fist fight (Remember FIAU v Alabama a couple of years ago).
LSU is in a similar, if not the same, boat.
This year’s OOC Schedule is weak at best. The most difficult thing about the opener at Washington’s Husky Stadium is getting a normally supportive fan base to make the 2,029 mile trip to Seattle. (And really, this will not be a problem for the Tigers!)
Some pundits are tagging this game as a possible upset for a number of reasons.
One reason is an unreasonable lack of respect for Les Miles, another is how the Tigers struggled last season, and the final reason is heightened expectations due to the coaching (and hopefully attitude) changes at Washington.
While I approach every game (as a fan) with humility and an abundance of caution, I do not feel the Huskies pose a major threat.
In addition to the trip to the Great Northwest, the Tigers will welcome three in-state rivals (if you can call them that) to Death Valley: UL-Lafayette, Tulane and La. Tech.
In this article, Thomas Delatte breaks down the individual games, but none of these should result in anything less than a blow-out victory for the Tigers.
Bottom line for the Tigers this season; get through a difficult conference schedule, (which includes road trips to Athens, Tuscaloosa, and Oxford), and a trip to Atlanta for a rematch of the October 10th Florida war may be in order.
The bigger question to me is why is there a continuing trend of weak OOC opponents?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I believe it has a lot to do with the BCS.
Back in the 80’s, when there was no BCS, Bowl Coalition, or Bowl Alliance (The BCS’ predecessors) rankings had a lot more to do with who you played and how you fared.
Now, for better or worse, it is more about how bad you beat them and what your average margin of victory was.
Where’s the evidence you ask?
I submit the Tigers 2009 OOC Schedule and a comparative look at the trends of the last 20 years.
For the entire decade of the 80’s, LSU never faced one Division II team. More importantly, they faced a plethora of ranked teams and high profile (elite) programs in that time span.
From 1980-89, the Tigers faced 13 ranked OOC opponents, which included the likes of FSU, Notre Dame, USC, Washington, Oregon State, Miami, Texas A&M, Ohio State and many others.
In fact, from 1980-1991, the year prior to the Bowl Coalition’s launch, the Tigers faced 19 ranked OOC Opponents. In the 17 years since, they have faced seven, with three of them being Texas A&M in '92, '93 and '95, which was a scheduling commitment that pre-dated the Coalition.
However, it’s not just that the teams were ranked at the time of the contest; the programs being scheduled were and largely still are powerhouse programs.
Today, we are scheduling teams like Troy, North Texas, App State and MTSU as out of state, out of conference opponents.
Moreover, the Tigers for several reasons, including the economic redevelopment of the state in the wake of hurricane devastation, have been fulfilling a commitment to build up in-state programs such as Tulane, La. Tech and UL Lafayette.
Athletic Director Joe Alleva seems to be committed to trending toward better opponents and is reportedly renegotiating some of the in-state contracts (This Article). However, he is also considering more FCS opponents like McNeese State and Northwestern State.
The scheduling of the Washington series (despite the current state of affairs at UW), as well as upcoming home and home series’ with WVU (2010, 11), TCU (2013, 14) and ASU (2015, 16), indicates that there is at least hope that future OOC schedules will be more respectable.
To kick it up a notch, dates with OU and NC State are being negotiated. I have also heard unsubstantiated rumors that discussions are being held with Ohio State.
The bottom line is that until the BSC changes and adopts a playoff format that awards teams for playing stronger competition week in and week out, it's not likely to change significantly.
I for one believe that to be the best, you have to beat the best, so I want the Tigers to play teams like OSU, USC, OU and Texas in the regular season, not just in the BCS Championship.
For now, though, I’ll "settle" for that!
Article submitted by Henry Ball (a.k.a. Southern Man)—Independent writer and Bleacher Report scribe.
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