Colorado and non-conference scheduling: playing the best to be the best
Colorado recently agreed to a three-game series with Fresno State, with games to be played in 2011 (Boulder), 2012 (at Fresno), and 2013 (Boulder). The announcement of the three-game series with FSU came as Colorado and LSU postponed their two-game set scheduled for 2011 and 2012.
There was no penalty for CU in exchanging Tigers for Bulldogs, as the LSU home-and-home contract, first announced in 2006, was never signed. Dave Plati, CU associate athletic director for sports information, stressed that the LSU deal was not cancelled, but postponed. Colorado is looking for a new deal for 2020 and 2021, but LSU is only scheduling out as far as 2018. "They are not scheduling out as far as we are," said Plati. "So we’ll probably come back and revisit that at some point."
Colorado is 4-1 all-time against Fresno State, from the Western Athletic Conference, with four of the five games being played in Boulder. The one loss was a memorable one, as the Buffs lost to the Bulldogs, 24-22, in the 2001 season opener (anyone want to relive the Craig Ochs interception with three minutes to play on a third-and-goal at the Fresno State two yard line?).
The opening loss in the Jim Thorpe Classic ultimately cost Colorado a chance at playing Miami in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. The Buffs finished the regular season 10-2, completing the ‘01 season with a 62-36 romp over Nebraska and a revenge win over Texas in the Big 12 title game, but were denied a title shot by a few decimal points in a computer.
Granted, there is no way of knowing how the CU season would have unfolded had the Buffs defeated Fresno State, 25-24, in the opener, but that the effect of the loss is a question which will be discussed again - starting in September, 2011.
The internet has been ablaze with comments about the Fresno State contract. For the most part, the sentiment has been that the Buffs are "dumbing down" the schedule in trading Fresno State for defending national champion LSU.
There are several issues here. First, as noted above and in all of the media stories about the games, CU did not "trade" Fresno State for LSU. The LSU contract was never signed, and, if Buff officials are to be believed, games with the Tigers will be discussed again in the future.
Second, there is no guarantee as to where these three programs will be in three seasons. Yes, it is likely that LSU will continue to be a national power, and yes, it is true that Fresno State Bulldogs, from a non-BCS conference, will continue to be, at best, a thorn in the side of those BCS schools willing to face them (paging Kansas State....) . Colorado, for its part, may be a national power in 2011, 2012, and 2013, or may be a mediocre team looking for a way to find its way to six regular season wins and a minor bowl.
Contracts are often signed far in advance - so who knows how this development will affect the Buffs’ future? Who would have thought years ago that the West Virginia game in 2007 would be against a top ten team (which, by the way, was supposed to be against North Carolina before the Tar Heels backed out of the home-and-home with the Buffs), while the Florida State game would be against a struggling team?
Finally, if you have any friends who still give you grief about the Buffs ducking the Tigers in order to get out of a tough series, don’t back down. Colorado has to apologize to no one when it comes to non-conference scheduling. Try this stat on any CU detractors you encounter: Colorado has played 27 games against ranked non-conference opponents (not counting bowls) since 1990, the most in the Big 12. The other five teams in the Big 12 North, over that same period of time? 42 games - combined! Nebraska is a distant second to the Buffs, with 14 such contests, and no other team in the Big 12 North has hit double digits.
Another interesting stat - As noted above, CU was supposed to play North Carolina in a home-and-home in 2008 and 2009, but the Tar Heels backed out last spring, and the Buffs picked up West Virginia as our new opponent. West Virginia, in addition to being a top ten team with a Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback, has a .742 winning percentage away from home the past five seasons, fifth-best mark in the nation.
North Carolina, meanwhile, is coming off of a 4-8 season (two wins coming over James Madison and Duke - in overtime), and has lost 21 consecutive games outside of the state of North Carolina (dating back to 2002). If Colorado was interested in "ducking" opponents, why did Colorado choose West Virginia last year as a new opponent?
Try that one on any detractors.
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