September 13, 2012
With the new BCS playoff format on the horizon, early season games will become that much more meaningful. Teams will be judged on their entire body of work instead of having conference play and potential tie-ins to bowls being decisive factors. As that format comes into play, it may end up curtailing one of the most common things we see in early season games: powerhouse schools scheduling overmatched opponents in what I call “cupcake smashing.”
See, it’s easy for schools that are money making machines to try and justify scheduling schools that have no business being anywhere near the same zip code with them, much less on the same field. After all, the small school is getting paid to pay the game and that money can go a long way toward defraying the costs of the athletic department. That doesn’t mean that a smaller school should jump at the chance to become fodder for jokes, clips on “Sportscenter” showing them get maimed or the like.
It’s all well and good that big time schools want to have a “tune up” game to shake off the rust and work out the kinks, perhaps get some younger players that are down on the depth chart some game action. That’s easy enough to do by facing teams that have a remote chance of winning. What we’ve seen so far in the 2012 season is anything but that, as schools have routinely destroyed the cupcakes on their schedule with as much concern for opponents’ well-being as Godzilla had obliterating Tokyo.
A prime example of this would be the scheduling of what, so far, is the top cupcake in the land, Savannah State. The school had posted a record of 4-72 in Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA, play since it made that jump several years ago. The program had never played a Football Bowl Subdivision, or Division I-A school, in its history prior to this season. Who did the Tigers face in their opening two games this season?
Oklahoma State and Florida State, naturally: who did you think they would face, Samford and Towson?
If you didn’t pick up on the sarcasm there, my apologies. How did things work out for Savannah State? I think the answer is rather obvious on this one. However, we’ll do the due diligence and break down the ghastly figures that came out of the contests. Savannah State was outscored in the two games by the collective count of 139-0. That’s right, 139-0. Two plays into the Florida State game, they were down 7-0. EJ Manuel hooked up with Rodney Smith for a 61 yard score and the game was all but over after all of 39 seconds.
Savannah State got no further penetration in the game against Florida State than its OWN 39 yard line. That’s right, not only did Savannah State not score or get in the red zone, they never even threatened to cross midfield. Antonio Bostick was 2 of 15 passing for 9 yards and the team ran the ball 18 times for 19 yards in the game. By comparison, Florida State’s third string quarterback, Jacob Coker, was 1 of 2 for 19 yards and a touchdown. The Seminoles rolled up 413 yards of offense to the Tigers’ 28. The game was so out of hand that they went to a running clock in the second half. That’s something that doesn’t happen outside of high school and Little League.
The point spread on the game was a staggering 70.5 points, the largest line ever set for a college football game by the Vegas sports books. That’s right, the Tigers were ten touchdown underdogs for this one. Despite that ridiculous number, there was plenty of action being levied on the Seminoles to cover such a ridiculous number. Had it not been for Mother Nature dumping a deluge of rain and heavy thunderstorms with lightning, they probably would have succeeded. As it was, the game was delayed and eventually called with 8:59 still to play in the third quarter. In the end, no one betting made any money on the game; college football games aren’t official for betting purposes until 55 minutes have been played.
Savannah State was paid $475,000 to be obliterated. Florida State points to the fact that the slot was originally scheduled to be a game against West Virginia, except the Mountaineers broke the deal when they made the decision to depart the Big East Conference for the Big 12. Faced with a gap in their schedule, the Seminoles stated that Savannah State was the only option that didn’t have a game on their schedule that week. As it turned out, West Virginia played no one and instead ended up with a bye.
While all of this may be true, that doesn’t change the fact that Florida State’s opener was against another FCS school, Murray State. In that one, Florida State rolled up 606 yards of offense to 156 for the Racers in a 69-3 shellacking. Florida State has not shied away from scheduling overmatched foes: in the three years since Jimbo Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles have played four FCS schools and whipped them all, with the aggregate score total coming in at 245-19.
The week before, Savannah State was walloped 84-0 by Oklahoma State in the Cowboys’ biggest win since 1916. In that one, Oklahoma State rung up 682 yards of offense including averaging 9.4 yards per carry on 42 running plays. Savannah State was stifled, held to 139 yards. Their run game was specifically putrid, with 41 run plays tallying 58 yards. Oklahoma State’s freshman quarterback Wes Lunt was 11 of 11 for 129 yards before taking a seat on the bench.
Now, by no means are Florida State and Oklahoma State the only schools that schedule patsies early in the season to get an early season victory. In some cases, these sorts of games end up backfiring on big schools. Arkansas found that out this past weekend as the eighth-ranked Razorbacks lost starting quarterback Tyler Wilson in the first half of the game against Louisiana-Monroe and ended up dropping the game in overtime, 34-31. With that loss, the Razorbacks dropped out of the Top 25, marking the second highest ranked team to drop out of the rankings completely the next week. Only Michigan’s 34-32 loss to Appalachian State in 2007, which dropped the Wolverines from fifth in the nation to “others receiving votes”, was a more precipitous decline.
Pittsburgh was knocked off by Youngstown State and Sacramento State booted a field goal at the final gun to stun Colorado. Buffalo battled Georgia close for a half, Oklahoma was in a dogfight with UTEP into the fourth quarter and Wisconsin had to stop Northern Iowa in the closing minutes to preserve a victory. As it turned out, at least one of those were precursors to what might happen going forward: Wisconsin was shut down by Oregon State in a 10-7 loss. As for Oklahoma State, how did things work out for them a week after bombing Savannah State?
They promptly went out and put up 38 points against Arizona and new coach Rich Rodriguez. The bad news: they gave up 59 in a three touchdown loss that dropped them from the rankings as well.
While there are advocates of letting small schools play on the big stage to show their stuff, far too often these games are ridiculously one-sided. It may be unfortunate for those schools that the window is closing due to the new structure but how much fun is it to watch a team get slaughtered in a game that was over before the opening kickoff ever took place? It’s time for a change in college football and if that leads to teams scheduling more competitive opponents from the start of the season, then so be it.
Enough with the cupcake scheduling; when a booster as prominent as T. Boone Pickens speaks out about the process at Oklahoma State, things need to be looked at instead of brushed under the rug.