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The Downside Of Scheduling Patsies

My father recently phoned me to complain vigorously about Texas' computer problem. His chief complaint is that Texas very well might be, when it's all said and done, deserving of a place in the BCS title game, and yet, not in a position to receive that berth due to a very glaring computer problem. The conversation, which got quite intense, while remaining civil, included two points that are worth discussing.

First, I brought up the point Brian makes so eloquently: Texas does not have a "computer problem" so much as the computer system is screwing Texas. His counterargument, which is fair, is that each team plays under the same rules. Given the uniform treatment applied by the computers, no one team can complain - even in the face of a second-class computer system that isn't allowed to factor in Margin Of Victory - that it is being treated unfairly.

Most importantly, he argues, he's dismayed by the lack of outrage by Texas fans over the Longhorns current scheduling pattern. While it is true that the Horns faced Ohio State, the remainder of the non-conference schedule is, to put it mildly, disappointing. North Texas, Rice, and Sam Houston State are stuck somewhere between bad and atrocious.

Scheduling apologists will argue that a patsy-cake road to the title game is the proper way to go. The reasoning goes something like this: "Texas doesn't need a devastating non-conference schedule to play for the title. Why bother? Win all its games, and Texas is in."

I'd like to kindly disagree. Texas fans have tasted the nectar of the MNC gods, and by golly, we'd like some more of it. Oh, sure, we'll all be very happy and content with a Big 12 title and a shiny bowl berth. But that's short of what we -really- want, and what this program is built to achieve, right now. We want titles. National titles. And it's not at all clear that a soft schedule is the path of least resistance.

Bear with me on this. The problem with a soft schedule is twofold:

1. There is zero margin for error. By going soft with the schedule, the likelihood of emerging atop the one-loss scram diminishes greatly. We're seeing this truth before us as we speak. Texas' likelihood of playing for the national title is much more closer to "nil" than it is "possible." And the reason for that is that our schedule sucks. A lot. The odds are that another one-loss team will finish ahead of us.

2. There is too much left out of the control of the team itself. The other major problem with softy scheduling is that the destiny of the team is taken from the team's grasp. It's absolutely plausible that a team with an awful schedule can run the table and -still- be left outside of the BCS title game. It happened to Auburn in 2004. It might happen to one of the Big East teams this season. It could very easily happen to Texas in a year in which the Big 12 was way down (like this season) and Texas' schedule was a laughingstock of every computer that counts. Further, I find it disagreeable that the team should avoid tough tests on its road to the title game. Have a peek at USC's 2006 schedule. Whatever you think of the Pac 10, if it runs the table this season, its non-conference victories will include Notre Dame, Arkansas, and Nebraska. That's a far cry from the filler Texas wasted its time with.

As I conclude, let me preempt a few of the likely objections. Some might say that Texas needs certain games, like the Rice game, for recruiting and displaced fanbase reasons. And that's fine. Play a Houston team every season to keep the alumni in Houston happy, and to help with regional recruiting. That does not excuse Sam Houston State or North Texas.

Second, I'm aware that we've been told that the Sam Houston State game was only scheduled because the twelth game was thrust upon us at the last minute. I'll concede that point, and note that this argument is for future schedules. A glance at the 2007 schedule, for example, yields non-conference games against Rice, TCU, and Central Florida, with an open date still to be announced for the season opener. Let's hope that the opponent is a good one, because that's another pitiful non-conference slate of games. There's no guarantee that TCU will be good, we can be pretty certain that Central Florida and Rice will be middle of the pack at best, horrific at worst.

It could be the same sad song for Texas again next season. Which would really be a shame.

Your thoughts on scheduling? Am I right that Texas ought to be amping up its non-conference schedule, rather than trying to tiptoe into the title games with a patsy schedule? If not, please explain.

Update [2006-10-23 14:13:5 by HornsFan]: One point of clarification here. My argument is only valid so long as the BCS formula remains the way it does. If, say, the computers were allowed to take into account margin of victory, strength of schedule wouldn't be so vital to a team's chances of making the title game. As is, though, strength of schedule is critical. Keep that distinction in mind as we discuss.