Cupcakes. Everyone has them, nobody likes them. Feldman put together a relatively arbitrary list of schools with the easiest OOC schedules. While putting these schools in order seems kind of pointless, we can all agree the ten schedules on the list are flat out bad.
Interestingly enough, four of the eleven Big Ten programs were mentioned. Indiana takes the top spot overall with four home games against Western Kentucky, Murray State, Ball State and Central Michigan. Other conference foes who made the cut: Northwestern (#3), Minnesota (#7), and Iowa (#10). Iowa is especially interesting to me because they play two BCS programs. Yes, Iowa State is terrible and has an impressive road losing streak, but it appears Bruce isn't buying the Pitt hype, because they are a road game for the Hawkeyes yet still included as part of his tenth weakest schedule in the nation*.
LTP gave a good breakdown of the direction Northwestern is taking to try and move themselves out of the proverbial cellar. There OOC for 2008 includes Syracuse, at Duke, Sothern Illinois and Ohio. Not exactly running the gauntlet, but that's probably the idea.
Our recent scheduling suggests we're trying to bank on a 4-0 nonconference to help gain an annual bowl trip by winning a minimum of 3 conference games. You can be faulted for that strategy. If we go bowling four consecutive years, expect the scheduling philosophy to change.
As much as I hate boring football, I think this is the right move for Northwestern**. Getting into bowl games is the easiest way to start gaining some credibility. I know the weaker bowls get made fun of a lot, but the bottom line is the term "bowl team" gets thrown around all the time, and if Northwestern can become part of that group on a consistant basis, no matter how they acomplish it, it will increase both their status and scheduling options. As LTP points out:
Northwestern football is the perfect bad storm for these teams. These programs view these games as a lose-lose. Northwestern still doesn't carry the cache of a "name" program (despite my daily beating of the purple drum!). Yet, coaches realize an August 30th opener in Chicago could be devastating as they know we're dangerous.
While the amount of fear may, understandably, be overstated, I do agree with the general basis. Northwestern is good enough to not be a 100% walkover for major BCS programs. However, a win against Northwestern, played OOC for teams like Texas or Florida, isn't going to carry any more weight in the eyes of voters than most mid-major programs. So why take the risk? Either schedule a team that lends credibility to your win count or take pay for the sure thing. Northwestern doesn't fall into either of those categories.
Four straight years of bowling and all the sudden some of the "haves" will be able to use the Cats to brag about how many "bowl teams" they beat play. It will help Northwestern in the long run, but I won't deny that it sucks to have to play four terrible OOC games every year until a string of success can be put together.
So what is Penn State's excuse? Or any other "brand name" program for that matter. Why does Penn State need Coastal Carolina when simply going .500 in OOC will more than likely land them in a bowl game and have almost no impact on their status or drawing power.
The simple answer appears to be that home games are king. It's all about the 'one and dones', getting the $1 million plus for hosting a have-not without having to make a less profitable return trip.
But could there be other reasons? Ohio State doesn't love money any less than the folks in Old Main, yet they continue to schedule two game sets with the likes of USC, Cal, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Miami (give them time). Penn State has the fan base and name brand to schedule all of those teams. The hold up is clearly on our end. Yet, for some reason the few OOC away games we do play have been at Boston College, Temple and Syracuse. Notre Dame and Nebraska were legitimate, but that should be the norm, not the exception. Put simply, you cannot blame the weak schedule entirely on money. Too many schools are making just as much of it by doing the opposite of what Northwestern is doing, and Penn State has the negotiating power to make it happen.
*Always good to get an indirect Pitt jab in when you can.
**For the record, I am in no way encouraging this. My point is simply that I understand the logic.