The Pac-10 deserves credit for playing a legitimate non-conference schedule. In an era where the easiest way to make it to a BCS bowl game is to load up on patsies easier than high school girls with insecurity issues, the Pac-10 year after year schedules tough games that teams from other conferences wouldn’t even blink twice at.
Can you imagine if Florida started their season on the road against Boise State, a team that was playing for its season in week one? That would never happen in a million years. Instead, they schedule tune-up games against Charleston Southern and Troy – one FCS team, and one team that should be an FCS team – and in what shouldn’t be a shock to any of us, they combined to beat the living hell out them 118-9. To give you a better idea of how bad these teams are, the best athlete to come out of either one of these schools is Bobby Parnell, a pitcher for the Mets, who in his short and uninteresting career carries an ERA of 5.49. Impressive.
But maybe that’s the smart play. Ever since 2004 when the BCS took strength of schedule out of the equation, there has been no reason to play a team within sniffing distance of the top 25. At the end of the season, the only thing that matters to the voters is who has the smallest number in the loss column, given you play in one of the 6 BCS conferences, that is.
Since the Year of the Monkey (AKA 2004), the Big 10 has 9 BCS appearances, followed by the Big 12 and SEC with 8 apiece, and the Pac-10, Big East and ACC follow behind with 5 each. Of those last three conferences, not one has earned more than a one bid in a single year. The ACC and Big East aren’t deserving of more than one, but to think, the Pac-10 has not had an at-large BCS big since the 2002 season, when Washington State won the Pac-10, forcing USC into the Orange Bowl.
So why does the Pac-10 keep scheduling these difficult non-conference games? It’s like shooting yourself in the foot right before you run a marathon: you might be able to recover by the end of the race, but chances are the damage is too great and you’ll just lag into mediocrity (I don’t know why, but I’ve been making a myriad of marathon analogies lately).
There are a few arguments as to why scheduling more challenging opponents is beneficial. If you win, the voters might take it into consideration. It prepares you for rugged conference play. National TV exposure. But I don’t think any of these arguments are worthwhile, and the stats back it up.
The Pac-10 has players just as talented as the SEC, Big 10 or Big 12, but they put themselves in a situation where they are destined to fail. They are the only conference with a complete round-robin schedule, thus, there is no chance that more than one team escaping conference play unscathed. And they play difficult non-division games that are basically a lose-lose situation (if they win, they get barely any extra credit for it, and if they lose, they’re out of the BCS race).
The Pac-10 deserves, and for the most part, gets respect for these two things, but last time I checked, respect doesn’t equal BCS trophies. The SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 have found ways to exploit the system, putting the odds in their favor to get multiple teams into the BCS. Why hasn’t the Pac-10 figured it out?