Big Ten Football 2009: Cupcakes Galore

With the confirmation Wednesday that Illinois will close its season with a game at Cincinnati, all the Big Ten football schedules are set for 2009.

First off, while Illini fans sound irritated that their team will play Fresno State at home and Cincinnati on the road — both capable squads – after the Big Ten season is over, at least they’re real opponents.

Good for the Illini. It may mean another 5-7 season or, worse, a trip to the Motor City Bowl at 6-6. But it at least shows some willingness to play competition.

Either that, or Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther failed miserably at finding a patsy to squeeze into his schedule. I hope it’s that deal about wanting to play someone.

If only every Big Ten AD and coach had the same attitude. Hey, the Big Ten isn’t winning BCS titles anyhow and flops miserably every time it sends Ohio State to slaughter in the championship game. So why not make the regular-season more meaningful with actual ballgames?

Only 14 of the 44 nonconference games in ’09 are against BCS conference teams or Notre Dame. That’s ridiculous.

Are you the Big Ten or just the Ten? Actually, you’re the Eleven, but that horse has been beaten to death.

Only three league teams — Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota — are playing two BCS conference teams among their four non-league games. Wisconsin isn’t playing any.

Before noting the cupcakes, let’s give some kudos to the proud and the few who are at least playing interesting games.

Ohio State gets the return date on its home-and-home series with USC.

Purdue heads to Oregon after hosting the Ducks last fall.

Indiana filled out its schedule by taking a game at Virginia, thus becoming the only Big Ten team to play two of its nonconference games on the road.

Cal is playing at Minnesota and Arizona is at Iowa, so those are 2008 bowl teams from the Pac-10 coming into Big Ten lairs.

But by and large, Big Ten non-league slates are another big pile of bleccccch.

Nine games are against FCS (I-AA) opposition. Purdue and Ohio State are the only Big Ten teams not devouring FCS prey. A few are among the cream of the FCS crop, like Northern Iowa and Wofford. But …

Delaware State (5-6 last year) at Michigan?

Towson (3-9) at Northwestern?

Eastern Illinois (5-7) at Penn State?

Penn State is playing all four of its nonconference games at home, against Akron, Syracuse, Temple and mighty Eastern Illinois. That’s absurd. Are you a football power or not? If you are, act like one and schedule somebody.

Playing two Mid-American Conference teams, an FCS squad and Syracuse, the Least of the Big East, is great for wins. It won’t work too well in those BCS computers, though.

Ranking the non-league schedules by toughness is difficult, because most are lousy. But here goes:

1. Illinois: Vs. Missouri in St. Louis, Illinois State, Fresno State, at Cincinnati (The series with Mizzou is a good one, and Cincinnati is fresh off an Orange Bowl appearance.)

2. Minnesota: at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State (Air Force and Cal went to bowls, Syracuse is on the road, and S.D. State is one of the better FCS teams a Big Ten team is playing.)

3.  Purdue: Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame. (Toledo was lousy in ’08, but the other three went to bowls and Oregon won 10 games.)

4. Wisconsin: Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii (The three FBS teams went to bowls, and Wofford won nine games and played South Carolina to a 10-point game.)

5. Ohio State: Navy, USC, vs. Toledo in Cleveland, New Mexico State (The USC game goes a long way here, obviously.)

6. Michigan State: Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan. (Doesn’t look like much, but the three FBS teams went to bowls, the two MAC teams are in-state clubs that will be motivated, going to South Bend is no picnic, and Montana State was 7-5)

7. Iowa: Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas State. (UNI’s a terrific FCS team, and Arizona’s legit. If Iowa State were just a little stronger …)

Now it gets bad.

8. Indiana: Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia. (Western Michigan is a good program. Playing on the road twice should count for something, though all it really means is Indiana is a Big Ten football program without much clout.)

9. Michigan: Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State. (Four home games. Not a Top 25 team in the bunch. This isn’t the Michigan scheduling we’ve known for the last half-century. Bo Schembechler would never have scheduled Delaware State.)

10. Northwestern: Miami (Ohio), Towson, at Syracuse, Eastern Michigan. (Not a good opponent in the foursome. Only playing Syracuse on the road keeps the ‘Cats from being ranked below … )

11. Penn State: Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois. (What, Slippery Rock, Swarthmore, Susquehanna, and Scranton/Dundler-Miffin weren’t available?)

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32 responses to “Big Ten Football 2009: Cupcakes Galore

  1. “Bo Schembechler would never have scheduled Delaware State.” Can I get an AMEN!? The present administration should be ashamed.

  2. Penn State’s 2009 schedule had included the mighty SEC school Alabama. Alabama backed out until next year. PSU is a power and they have no control over other teams choose to do. Also, Syracuse was 10-3 when PSU scheduled them. They clearly suck right now, but PSU again has no control regarding how good a team is going to be several years down the road. Do some research before you write crap about PSU not acting like a national power. EVERY TEAM SCHEDULES CUPCAKES!!

  3. Fair enough. You want some research, how about this:

    Under Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions are 25-0 vs. Temple.

    Temple has not beaten Penn State since a 14-0 victory on Oct. 18, 1941. The teams tied 7-7 in 1950.

    Penn State outgained Temple 338 yards to 32 in the first-half of their game last season, a 45-3 Penn State win.

  4. Every team schedules cupcakes? Really now.

    My Oregon team this year is playing at Boise St., Purdue, and Utah. The closest thing to a cupcake there is Purdue.

    USC has Ohio St. and Notre Dame.
    UCLA plays Tennessee and Kansas St.
    Washington plays LSU and Notre Dame
    Cal plays Maryland and Minnesota

    That’s 5 Pac-10 teams who clearly have tougher schedules than any Big 10 team. Everyone else with maybe the exception of Oregon St. and Arizona would be at the very top of this Big 10 list.

    I don’t know, maybe playing some good non-conference teams would prepare Big 10 teams to actually win some bowl games.

  5. No Bo regularly played Navy in the 70′s and don’t tell me that they were a national powerhouse. Bo would play his share of cupcakes as well look at the records. But also remember that back then he only had 2 or 3 non-conference games now there are 4. The Big 10 needs to change that either by expanding to 12 or simply adding another confernce game and getting rid of this BS. But that won’t happen because of $$$$

  6. how can Wisconsin’s schedule be ranked above Ohio states? Northern Illinois is in the MAC so theres no argument for that being a tough game, Fresno State is an overrated joke, likewise with Hawaii, and Wofford are you kidding me?

  7. I guess my problem is all of the negativity surrounding scheduling. Smaller schools benefit a great deal(financially and national exposure) by playing major programs. I do know many of the “cupcakes” PSU plays have preexisting ties with the program. For example, PSU played Coastal Carolina last season and their AD played for Paterno. A couple of Temple’s coaches played for Paterno. From where I sit with my rose colored glasses on I see PSU has helping these smaller schools in a big way. I remember PSU playing South Florida when they were a “cupcake”. Playing teams like PSU helped them to get to where they are now. If South Florida were on the 09 schedule would you label them a cupcake?

    The real issue is the need for a playoff. If a playoff were in place the scheduling issue becomes moot. Let the teams decide their fate on the field. No one has been a bigger proponent of that more than Paterno.

  8. Hey Erik….your ducks play Central Michigan and New Mexico in 2010. ummm cupcakes?

  9. Dean, I’m a PSU fan and the schedule is disgraceful – those are rationalizations, pure and simple.

    We would have been better off playing a 1-and-done AWAY game somewhere else good, in the long run, than these 4 home games.

  10. “Every team schedules cupcakes? Really now.

    My Oregon team this year is playing at Boise St., Purdue, and Utah. The closest thing to a cupcake there is Purdue.

    USC has Ohio St. and Notre Dame.
    UCLA plays Tennessee and Kansas St.
    Washington plays LSU and Notre Dame
    Cal plays Maryland and Minnesota

    That’s 5 Pac-10 teams who clearly have tougher schedules than any Big 10 team. Everyone else with maybe the exception of Oregon St. and Arizona would be at the very top of this Big 10 list.

    I don’t know, maybe playing some good non-conference teams would prepare Big 10 teams to actually win some bowl games.”

    Hey Erik, I wouldn’t call Purdue CupCake, you had a hard enough time last year pushing the game against Purdue to OT. You had the game lost for almost all of it.

  11. hey boys, they were all cupcakes in cousin barry’s day … we’d hang half a hundred on them then drink their beer and cavort with their women

  12. I agree the schedule blows beyond belief. However, if Alabama did not back out we certainly would not be at the bottom of this meaningless list. Alabama coming off our schedule and scheduling Syracuse years ago is not a rationalization it is fact.

    It is just kids playing a game. Unfortunately it has been polluted by money and greed.

    I don’t fully understand what you mean by in the long run. Clearly, this schedule will be a negative(in the current BCS system) if we go undefeated, win the big ten in 09 and want to contend for the mythical national title .

    Beyond 09 this schedule is meaningless.

    The real shame is people feeling the need to slam teams schedules because there is no way prove your merit on the field at the end of the season. The conference games should be the only games that really matter. The rest are just exhibition games. The way it stands now it is just a popularity contest and nothing more.

  13. The current BCS has caused this type of scheduling. In an age where the Big 10 can afford no losses to be granted a CHANCE at the national championship, they have no choice but to schedule weaker opponents. If there were a playoff system where conference champs got an automatic bid the non-conference schedules would be much better. More teams would schedule PAC 10 and Big 12 teams. But this will never happen becuase of the obscene amount of money involved. So enjoy these type of schedules for the next 20 years, it’s what our athletic world has come too.

  14. Right Hawkeye–that’s precisely my point. Purdue isn’t really a cupcake at all and that’s the easiest game Oregon has.

  15. Oh, and Dean, yes that is a weaker schedule for the Ducks. But who is the 3rd team they are playing non-conference? Oh yeah, Tennessee. A program the likes of which only Ohio St. (and sometimes Michigan) seems brave enough to play. Georgia, Kansas St., and Colorado is also on the schedule in coming years.

    And this is totally par for the course in the Pac 10.

    Plus rather than schedule another cupcake, the Pac-10 decided to use the 12th game to play a 9th conference game.

    I mean really, when your conference’s most impressive non-conference schedule is Missouri, Cincy, Fresno, and Illinois St., that’s pretty pathetic. Although kudos to Illinois for stepping above the rest of the Big 10.

  16. Why should you schedule good teams?

  17. Syracuse was not 10-3 when Penn State scheduled them. The game was arranged in this decade and Syracuse was in decline. Temple? That game just rips off State fans & Temple fans. If Paterno had any guts he would schedule his real Pennsylvania rival Pitt. But as long as the starved-for-entertainment fans in that one horse town State College show up for games Joe can do what he wants. However, he will not win another national championship.

  18. Bo wouldn’t have lost to App St either! Ha!

    Usually I’m a defender of the B10 but this is a pretty poor schedule.

    I agree with Paul C though, why schedule tough? If you go with a tough non-conf all it does is cost you your ranking and a possible shot at a BCS at Large if you lose. You really gain nothing by winning plus you’d have to schedule a home and home most likely costin you millions in revenue. It’s not like basketball where you can afford a tough non-conf game or 2 because you have a dozen others to make up for it.

  19. Tony, Penn State scheduled Syracuse in 2001 and they went 10-3. That was this decade. Pitt just had its first 9 win season in TWENTY-FIVE years. Who’s been in decline?? I think your program has more pressing concerns then scheduling Penn State.

    Erik , my comment was not intended to attack the the Might Duck’s schedule. I was simply pointing out that every team has cupcakes on their schedule. SOS fluctuates year to year. PSU has Alabama in 2010-11 and bravery has nothing to do with it.

    People should not be attacking scheduling that is clearly a systemic problem of the BCS. Everyone that loves college football should be attacking the convoluted algorithmic greedy system that has been robbing all of us of a true national champion.

  20. Why bother? Next January we’ll all be hearing in the stadium, “SEC! SEC! SEC! SEC!”

  21. I haven’t looked at the SEC schedules this year; and, in the Big 12, I’ll admit that my Longhorns don’t exactly play a loaded non-conference slate (though Rice was a bowl winner this year)

  22. goofers of MN have the easiest schedule in the conference if not the Nation! Syracuse? SDSU Jackrabbits? Tiny Air Force team? Schizo Cal? Come on…..

  23. The Pac 10 HAS to play the likes of Ohio St,. Tennessee, LSU, Iowa, Georgia, and Notre Dame in the non-conference. Why? So they can actually be televised and get some national exposure. Otherwise, you’re playing San Jose St. or Idaho and it’s either not on TV or starting at 1:00 AM Eastern on FOX and the only people watching are 3 dudes huddled around a table in a Vegas sports book. Fair or not, the PAC 10 has huge exposure issues.

    That being said, I do love PAC 10 – Big Ten matchups in the non-con. I am excited for Mike Stoops to come back to Iowa City with his UA squad. Following UI west is always fun, like I did @ Tempe in 2004. I won’t mention the final score in that one.

  24. Mike, your argument is painfully and embarrassingly accurate……even for those of us ardent B 10 fans to swallow.

    That said……the Big Ten is not the only conference scheduing “cupcakes”. The SEC is notorious for it and you only need to look at Florida’s schedule this year as proof. I suppose the media gives Florida a “pass” on this cuz they have two NC’s in the past three years….and one on the way if Tebow stays healthy. That earns them a pass…but what about everyone else who schedules a team or two with a hyphenated name and does not dare to wander north of the maxon-dixon line OOC? I’ll believe the Bama – PSU home and home when I see it. There is a greater chance of the Monitor and the Merrimack squaring off in Charleston Harbor than the SEC venturing north of their comfortable borders. The PAC 10 props in your article were well deserved….and the smack aimed at the B 10 agonizingly accurate — with others deserving of a mud pie too.

  25. Relative to Penn St, the reason is obvious. If you can sell 100,000 seats without a home and home commitment to an opponent you will do it. Even last year, they got Oregon State without having to go to Oregon State to play in a future year. Though they paid Oregon St $800,000 for the game.

    But, that being said, I think Penn St’s current motive is to schedule cup cakes to keep pace with the win record of Bobby Bowden so Joe Pa and Bowden can keep close.

    But, good lord, can you imagine the TV execs fawning over a Thursday night game between Penn St and W. Virginia, or Pitt, or with Florida St. A LOT of teams would jigger their schedule to play Joe Pa in his waining days perhaps giving up a home and home to do it.

    Come on Penn St, get some gonads!

    As for the Big Ten and SEC both, their out of conference schedules are pathetic. The PAC10 plays 9 confernce games every year, every other conference opponent, plus some respectable Div I non-conference opponents. Maybe it hurts their rankings at year-end because they are willing to travel to do it, but at least their fans get to see some decent non-conference opponents.

  26. Mark your calendar for Sept. 11th 2010 to see PSU @ Alabama begin a 2 game series.

    Come on…. this type off “journalism” is lazy and shallow. Do you write for espn too? You can pick any conference and slam there OOC schedule year to year. Really, how hard is it to look up a conference schedule and rank them according to ones opinion? Statements like “Are you a football power or not? If you are, act like one and schedule somebody” is painfully and embarrassingly inaccurate and misleading.

    This article is grossly unbalanced and fails to examine the root cause of the problem. Worse yet , it draws attention away from the the real issue that is a fundamentally flawed system for determining a legit NC.

  27. Dean, this was never intended to be the ultimate critical piece about why college football schedules are watered down, the long-reaching arms of the BCS, or anything else.

    It was meant to be a breezy, fun piece, simply comparing the nonconference schedules of the Big Ten teams. I ranked them, admittedly with a totally unscientific system, and left it for others to weigh in and add to the discussion.

    I live and work in Big Ten country, so I focus on that conference before others.

    That so many people have responded indicates nerves are struck by how major-college teams are using the 12th games they were given a few years ago and how the BCS has tampered with the sport in many ways.

    This back-and-forth among you readers has been interesting and, I think, instructive. I appreciate all the responses so far.

  28. “Come on Penn St, get some gonads!” This is the type of ridiculous statement that a lazy article like this generates. Penn State did not schedule Alabama to preserve Jopa’s record. Again, Alabama requested to change this years schedule. Balls and bravery have nothing to due with it. Its all money.

  29. Mike I can appropriate that. Its just sad that teams have to weigh risk vs reward because current system. This type of article generates a lot of opinion and and unfortunately its opinion that decides the NC

  30. The problem with your rankings (and premise) is that you’re evaluating schedule strength differently from how many other people do. What’s harder – Oregon and Notre Dame or USC and Navy? USC will almost certainly be much better than Oregon or ND.

    Does a strong schedule mean you’re more likely to lose? You have one really hard game and one easy game vs two games that could be hard. You’re more likely to go 1-1 with a loss to USC, while there’s a chance you could go 0-2 against ND and Oregon, but not as great of a chance.

    Plus you can’t possibly rag on Illinois. Missouri and Cincinnati, with a perenially decent-good Fresno St? That’s a good OOC lineup no matter who you’re comparing it to. Clearly OSU’s philosophy is one really tough, marquee game per year (including Miami, Cal, VT, and Oklahoma among others in coming years). Is one extremely good team and 3 mediocre ones harder than 2 decent teams and 2 mediocre ones, or 4 average teams?

  31. I think who you schedule in the non-con should be proportional to where you rank as a program. I consider there to be 3 levels of programs: Top 15, 15-50, and 50-119. I believe you should schedule at least one team within your level a year, examples we’ve seen recently:

    Top 15: Ohio St. (vs USC, vs Texas)
    15-50: Iowa (vs Pitt, vs Arizona)
    50-119: Iowa St. (vs UNLV, vs Toledo)

    After you fill your 1-2 games against your own level you then schedule down. I think Ohio St. and Iowa’s schedule this year are perfect examples.

    There’s really no incentive for BCS 15-50 levels to schedule a Top 15 level in the non-con, because chances are, you’re going to play two (maybe three) in conference. For example Iowa vs Michigan and Ohio St, or Missouri vs Oklahoma and Texas.

    Every now and then it benefits you to schedule up for example, Kansas St. vs USC a few years back.

  32. Dean – No one comes on the Hlog and insults Mike’s writing without paying some sort of price. If you have a favorite horse you own, I’d consider hiring extra security at the stable. ;-)

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