College Football: Overrated Teams Due To Cup Cake Schedules
The need to accumulate six wins and become bowl-eligible has outpaced the desire to play a competitive schedule among many traditional college football programs.
It is disappointing when legitimate contenders are guilty of making space on the schedule for hapless out-of-conference underdogs to be carved up for the benefit of early season success.
Commonly described as “cup cakes” on the schedule, an abundance of such opponents results in a lack of respect given for any accomplishments, particularly early in the season.
The benefit of large home crowds and pleasing an eager alumni base by touring “cup cake city” early in the year seems to outweigh the pitfall of not meeting expectations during the latter part of the schedule.
Whether to prop up the win totals for a bowl game invitation or to creep up the national rankings early and unnaturally boost the expectations of followers, history has shown the danger in this approach.
A quick fall from grace is a sure way to anger the fans and more than once has led to coaching changes at the end of the season.
Teams who participate in this false imagery will learn the city limit of Cup Cake City is the end of September.
A time-honored college football lesson demonstrates the negative effect of such scheduling, the need to pay the piper in October for the unrealistic gains of September.
The following teams had best get out their money.
No.10: Houston Cougars
Houston is a legitimate challenger for an at-large BCS Bowl invitation and also boasts a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy in Quarterback Case Keenum.
The knock on this Conference USA team will be its schedule. In particular, the slate of games in September. The Cougars will spend the first month of the season hosting Texas State, Texas El Paso and Tulane while visiting UCLA.
Texas State is an FCS school, the other three schools combined for 14 wins and 23 losses.
A scary thought is one of UTEP's four wins in 2009 was a 17 point victory over an unbeaten Cougar squad, during the first weekend of October.
If Houston finishes the year 12-0 with a date in the Liberty Bowl as CUSA champions, they will look back at their weak opponents from September who did not give them the boost needed for a BCS Bowl.
On the other hand, if 2010 is a repeat of 2009 where the Cougars started 8-1 and finished 2-3, they may well point back to the unreal expectations placed upon the squad by a high ranking achieved at the expense of cup cake city in September.
No.9: Michigan State Spartans
Coach Mark Dantonio has the opportunity to reverse Spartan fortunes in 2010. This effort will be aided by 13 starters returning from a team that underachieved last season, finishing 6-7.
The fans cheering their green helmet heroes realize Michigan State plays in the traditionally brutal Big 10 but they may lose sight of reality if only looking at the promise of September.
Michigan State does host Notre Dame, and that is always a slug fest, but the other three games in the month are Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and Northern Colorado. Each game in the friendly confines of the peninsula state.
The fellows from East Lansing should easily start the season no worse than 3-1, and that would put the Spartans halfway to a bowl bid.
Alas, by the time the witch of November strikes, Michigan State will be struggling around .500 and the awful world of the rumor mill will rear its ugly head.
That is too bad. Highly respected coach Mark Dantonio deserves much better.
No.8: Texas Longhorns
Following the brutal mauling Texas suffered at the hands of Alabama in the BCS title game this past January, Longhorn coach Mack Brown made a halfhearted attempt to cast an eye toward the coming season.
In Brown's world, the fact the Longhorns were forced to throw Freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert into the BCS beat-down is a positive because he had a taste of big game responsibility.
Fans in Austin are fortunate Gilbert didn't take the first bus out of town after the school year ended. Someone must have convinced him the Texas offensive line isn't likely to be manhandled each week.
The Longhorns have a schedule crafted to build the young man's confidence.
The season opener is against Rice at Reliant Stadium which will be packed with Texas fans and not be a hostile road game. Hopefully, the Owls will be able to keep the score close, at least for the first quarter.
Other September games include home contests with Wyoming and UCLA, two hapless opponents who are sure to increase the confidence of the Longhorn quarterback.
Another clash to discuss is the scene of the best game of the year in 2008, when the Red Raiders of Texas Tech snatched victory away from the Longhorns in the final moment.
Coach Mike Leach is no longer stalking the sidelines in Lubbock, having been replaced by Tommy “Rub-a-Dub-In-The-Tub” Tuberville, formerly of Auburn.
This 2010 season of coaching transition will provide a quick and decisive victory for the Longhorns..
Texas will end the month of September undefeated, unchallenged, and in the Top Five in the nation.
The first two games of October will bring an end to the unrealistic expectations of Texas, and by Thanksgiving the Longhorns will be hoping to lasso a Cotton Bowl invitation.
No.7: Southern California Trojans
A single issue keeps USC from a top three position in this list of schools. The reason is only one of their four September games is a home contest.
The past year has been a dreary one for fans of the Trojans.
A spectacular run of championship football came to a crashing thud in 2009. Coach Pete Carroll left for the professional game, investigations and punishments find USC with no opportunity for a bowl invitation in 2010, and there was the Reggie Bush affair.
Trojan fans can only hope new coach Lane Kiffin will rebuild the fortunes of Troy. Followers will wish for a fast start and claim happy days are here again.
With such uninspiring foes as Virginia, Minnesota, Hawaii and Washington State to open the season, we can see an opportunity for the Trojans to load up on cup cake city.
This laughable group of opponents did not produce a winning season among them in 2009, losing 34 of their total 50 games.
USC fans can read it here first: such opponents will result in an unbeaten September.
With a 13 game schedule facing USC, eight wins should be a reasonable expectation with half of those victories coming in September.
No.6: Purdue Boilermakers
The last time Purdue achieved a Top 10 ranking in the final poll of the season was over 30 years ago. Obviously any success will be wholeheartedly embraced in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Early season optimism abounds this year with a September slate which includes a tough opening game at traditional in-state rival Notre Dame, followed by a trio of cream puff home games against Western Illinois, Ball State and Toledo.
Perhaps setting a record for consecutive opponent ineptitude, the Leathernecks, Cardinals and Rockets were able to post a combined eight victories against 27 losses last year.
The shame of it all is that Purdue should actually be improved in 2010 but, not to the level the end of September will find them.
Starting the 2010 season at least 3-1 seems a certainty however, the Boilermakers will more than likely find themselves finishing no better than .500 for the year.
No.5: Mississippi Rebels
Ole Miss has a legitimate problem concerning their 2010 schedule. It lies in a brutal three week period during October. The Rebels must play Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn consecutively.
That can not only be bad for the loss column but also trouble for Coach Houston Nutt's ulcers.
The Rebels hope to offset the rugged stretch of October opponents by countering with a September made for success. A road game in New Orleans against Tulane is the heavy lift in the opening month of the season.
The Green Wave won three games in 2009.
Vanderbilt is a conference game—sort of. One supposes a school has to fill the role of the academic punching bag of the SEC, and the Commodores have long held the key to that private room.
Ole Miss has thrown down the gauntlet and put their reputation on the line against Jacksonville State of the Ohio Valley Conference. These Gamecocks hail from Alabama and are members of the FCS.
The final weekend of the month features a visiting Fresno State, who may provide more competition than Mississippi suspects. The Bulldogs, 8-5 in 2009, could be the cow's tail in the pail of milk.
That is SEC speak for ruining a good thing.
More than likely, the first month of the season should furnish half of the Rebel win total in 2010.
No.4: Missouri Tigers
"Call out the instigators, because there's something in the air” sang Thunderclap Newman in his 1969 hit. There is something in the air with Missouri's September schedule—and it is not the aroma of lilac.
Hoping to challenge for the Big 12 Title, which has eluded the Tigers since the days of 1969 when the conference was known as the Big Eight, Missouri seems to have made certain they do not exert themselves outside the league in 2010.
The traditional meeting in St. Louis with Illinois kicks off the season—the Illini lost nine of their 12 games in 2009.
Also in September, Mizzou steps up to the challenge of home games with San Diego State and Miami of Ohio. This hardly intimidating duo combined for five victories in 24 outings last year.
The respectability problem may be solved by way of a big meeting at home with FCS-entry McNeese State on September 11. The Cowboys, out of the Southland Conference, went 9-3 last season.
Unfortunately for the sake of credibility, the Cowboys sported a defensive unit which surrendered an average of 558 yards a game, leading to 44 touchdowns by their opponents.
Missouri should eventually make a case for being the second best team in the 2010 Big 12 North, and consuming the four listed cupcakes will put them well on the way to a high ranking by the end of September.
Lack of team speed on defense doomed the Tigers to the basement of the Big 12 in pass defense in 2009.
By the end of 2010 Missouri will be fortunate to have eight wins, and half of them will come in September against Cup Cake City.
No.3: Syracuse Orange
The lurid era of Greg Robinson is now firmly behind the Orange and coach Doug Marrone is looking to improve upon the Cuse's 4-8 season of '09.
When a program goes 7-28 in the previous three years, 4-8 is almost bowl worthy.
To insure a step forward, Syracuse has filled the month of September with a list of schools hardly known for recent gridiron success.
Akron, Maine and Colgate will present the state of New York's Big East school an opportunity to get off to a fast start in 2010.
A meeting with the vastly improved Washington Huskies will be a reality check.
Looking at 3-1 after feasting in Cup Cake City, the Orange appear headed to a repeat of last season's four win total.
51 years after their last national championship season, Syracuse football fans throughout the country are hopeful for steady progress.
All fans of the traditional powers wish the Orange and their followers the best of good fortune.
No.2: Texas A&M Aggies
This is bad. Really bad.
Last season the Aggies gave up 46 touchdowns and ranked 105th in the nation in defense.
Suffice to say, in an effort to improve upon last season's debacle, A&M has changed defensive coordinators and slapped four teams with less talent on the September schedule.
Home games with Stephen F. Austin, Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic dot the home slate of the first month of the season.
Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic combined for nine wins against 15 losses last season. Stephen F. Austin is an FCS school.
A road game at competitive Oklahoma State is the only saving grace for a school who has made its reputation as men of true grit. That meeting only qualified by a matter of hours as the game will be played on a Thursday night, the 30th of the month.
Four wins in September should lay the groundwork for a .500 season in 2010.
Coach Mike Sherman is on a short leash.
No.1: Indiana Hoosiers
43 years after their only Rose Bowl appearance, Indiana's contests in September reveal the art of scheduling cup cake city.
The Hoosiers do not even play four games in September, choosing instead to save their fourth cup cake, Arkansas State, for the middle of the season.
Of the three September opponents, Akron had the best record of the lot in 2009. The Zips won three games and lost nine. The other two powder puffs include the Towson Tigers attempting to improve upon last year's 2-9 record, and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
It is hard to match the accomplishments of the Hilltoppers in '09: they managed to lose all 12 games of their games.
Starting 3-0 and being told a new day has dawned seems a certainty.
Finishing 5-7 appears just as realistic.