Posted by: marcmwm | August 28, 2008

Separating the ‘cakes from the stakes . . .

My ratings system is straightfoward. You might call it flawed and I might give you that point. My idea was to give a readers an idea of who and what kind of teams are on non-conference schedules around the Big Ten.

The range goes from BCS schools to FBS (mid-majors) and FCS (formerly Division I-AA, you know, the Northern Iowas).

Here’s were you’re going to get me: I gave a plus for BCS schools with no distinction. So, Ohio State’s monster matchup at USC got the same plus that Northwestern’s cotillion against Duke (ACC is BCS) received. So, yeah, that ain’t right. But still, I think you’ll come away with a better idea of what kinds of teams are on Big Ten schedules.

I came away thinking that none of the schedules are as good as they could or should be.

(PS — Iowa stacks up fairly well with two BCS matchups. Florida International is kind of an FBS, but a road trip to Pittsburgh is heady stuff in this day of the Northern Colorado and Southern Illinois.)

Big Ten teams face their share of patsies

By Marc Morehouse

College football schedules take their hits this time of year.

A lot of fans are just happy to have their football back and will happily pay $50 to watch their Football Bowl Subdivision team whip up on a Football Championship Subdivision team. The translation for those still not totally into the alphabet soup of college football, that’s the Iowa Hawkeyes (FBS) against Maine (FCS).

This weekend in the Big Ten, that’s Indiana (FBS) against Western Kentucky (FCS). It’s Ohio State against Youngstown State. It’s Penn State against Coastal Carolina.

Some fans are happy to have their football back. Others wonder if an FCS opponent — or a lesser FBS school — is worth the $50, the money for eats, parking and partying.

The Hawkeyes have a streak of 30 sellouts on the line this weekend. As of Tuesday, Iowa had 2,600 tickets left for Maine and 3,400 for Florida International, a lesser FBS school from the Sun Belt Conference. Love ’em or hate ’em, these games aren’t going away anytime soon.

The market for non-conference games for FBS schools exploded when the NCAA approved a 12-game schedule for the 2006 season. Games with FCS schools suddenly became a commodity. This season, Iowa is paying Maine $400,000 for its visit to Kinnick Stadium. As it turns out, Maine is a bargain. In 2006, Iowa paid Montana (FCS) $650,000.

This week, Iowa added Arkansas State (Sun Belt) and Eastern Illinois (FCS) for 2009 and 2010.

Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul offered his football player answer.

“You look at last year, there were upsets everywhere,” Kroul said. “I don’t think it really matters who you play. You can say some teams are better than others, but that’s only on paper.”

Then, Kroul gave his paying fan answer.

“If you know football enough, it’s exciting,” Kroul said. “It’s fun just to see a team, how they interact with each other, who they play offensively and defensively. So, yeah, I’ll still pay $50 and I’ll still be happy with what I’m seeing.”

Big Ten schools vary on non-conference scheduling, but the opponents fall uniformly along the lines of Bowl Championship Series (major conferences), FBS (mid-majors) and FCS.

Here’s a quick, objective breakdown that obviously doesn’t put extra weight on Ohio State’s trip to USC. A game against a BCS school earns a plus, an FBS school is a zero and an FCS school is a minus.

l Illinois: Missouri (BCS), Eastern Illinois (FCS), Louisiana-Lafayette (FBS) and Western Michigan (FBS). Grade: The Fighting Illini get an even, but should earn extra credit for Missouri right out of the gate. The Tigers are on the schedule through 2011.

l Indiana: Western Kentucky (FCS), Murray State (FCS), Ball State (FBS) and Central Michigan (FBS). Grade: Objectively, this is a minus-2, worst in the conference. But Ball State and Central Michigan are upper-tier in the Mid-American Conference and could easily win at Bloomington.

l Iowa: Maine (FCS), Florida International (FBS), Iowa State (BCS) and Pittsburgh (BCS). Grade: Plus-1 if you don’t take away points for FIU, among the bottom 25 of 120 FBS schools.

l Michigan: Utah (FBS), Miami (Ohio) (FBS), Notre Dame (BCS) and Toledo (FBS). Grade: Plus-1. Notre Dame is a staple, but last season’s home loss to Oregon might keep other BCS schools away from Ann Arbor at least until Rich Rodriguez has things the way he wants.

l Michigan State: California (BCS), Eastern Michigan (FBS), Florida Atlantic (FBS) and Notre Dame (BCS). Grade: At Cal and home against Notre Dame make it plus-2, the highest score.

l Minnesota: Northern Illinois (FBS), Bowling Green (FBS), Montana State (FCS) and Florida Atlantic (FBS). Grade: Minus-1. They might win back some pride after 1-11 last season, but they won’t win fans.

l Northwestern: Syracuse (BCS), Duke (BCS), Southern Illinois (FCS) and Ohio (FBS). Grade: Plus-1 and the only team in the country with a legitimate grudge against Duke football.

l Ohio State: Youngstown State (FCS), Ohio (FBS), USC (BCS) and Troy (FBS). Grade: Plus-1, but that’s just pure grading. Obviously, they get big bonus points for agreeing to play at USC.

l Penn State: Coastal Carolina (FCS), Oregon State (BCS), Syracuse (BCS) and Temple (FBS). Grade: Plus-1, but only if Coastal Carolina is a game and not a travel destination.

l Purdue: Northern Colorado (FCS), Oregon (BCS), Central Michigan (FBS) and Notre Dame (BCS). Grade: Plus-1. This is the second team to play Central Michigan. The Chippewas return quarterback Dan LeFevour, the MAC offensive player of the year last season.

l Wisconsin: Akron (FBS), Marshall (FBS), Fresno State (FBS) and Cal Poly (FCS). Grade: Minus-1. Mitigating factor: The Badgers travel to Fresno, which will be a bear trap. Aggravating factor: The Badgers backed out of Virginia Tech and added the Cal Poly game.

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