Major College Programs To Be Hampered By Tough Schedules
by Trevor Whenham - 07/22/2008
There's a trap I seem to fall into every college football season. I get excited about a team based on their roster, their returning players, or their coaching staff, and I don't pay enough attention to the schedule a team is facing. A schedule, though, can make the difference between a good season and a lousy one. An easy schedule can make an average team look really good, and that can be costly as the season rolls on into bowl time. A tough schedule can make a team look like it has real problems, when really it just can't catch a break. I don't want to get caught in the same trap again this year. With that in mind, here's a look at four teams that are, in my mind, going to be negatively impacted by the schedule that they face.
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Miami - I am a bit more bullish on the Hurricanes than a lot of people seem to be. I'm not saying that they are going to win the ACC, but I think that Randy Shannon is the right guy to head the program, and I think that he is moving things in the right direction. The Canes have questions at quarterback and elsewhere, but it has become popular to dump on this team in the media and elsewhere. They can still attract some talent, and they still have the pride of their storied program to motivate. This team would set up well as one that would have value because the public will underestimate them. The problem, though, is that they have a brutal schedule. They will get an easy win from Charleston Southern to start the season, but then this young team has to travel to Florida and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks. Unless this team really surprises, this stretch will be enough to zap the will from two young quarterbacks and an inexperienced team. After potentially challenging home games against North Carolina and Florida State they play their last non-conference game against a tough Central Florida team that is coming off a conference win. The season doesn't let up any at the end, either. They play three of their last four games on the road - Virginia, Georgia Tech and NC State. Their lone home game, against Virginia Tech, will be no relief. Miami almost certainly will end up with a record that is worse than how they actually played.
Virginia - We'll stay in the ACC for a while because they deserve credit for being one of the few conferences that doesn't seem to fear making a non-conference schedule that isn't a total joke. Virginia is a team that was solid last year, is well coached, and is returning key players this year. They are a team that could do some damage in the ACC. Their AD didn't make it easy for them, though. They open up with perhaps the toughest possible game - USC. At least it's at home, but still. Later, they travel to potential upstart Connecticut. Their ACC schedule has a few bumps that they may or may not survive, but the whole time an ugly trip to Virginia Tech to finish the season will be looming. This is one of those teams that could play their very best and still have some unavoidable losses. Tough break for a team looking to keep the momentum going.
Arizona State - Some people are talking BCS for this team. I think that Dennis Erickson is as good of a coach as there is in the college game, but that might be a bit optimistic. They have a couple of problems that concern me, but none bigger than their schedule. It's brutal. I don't think that there is a team in the country that faces a tougher three-week challenge than the Sun Devils do starting on Sept. 20. On that day they host Georgia, and then they follow that up with consecutive trips to Cal and USC. There is good news, though - if they can survive that unscathed then they will have proven themselves as a legitimate contender, and it only gets easier for them from there. The challenge wouldn't be so immense if the three games weren't grouped together, or even if USC wasn't the last one.
UCLA - Again, I am sticking with the same conference because the Pac-10 knows how to schedule. I picked these two teams, but others deserve a nod for not ducking competition as well. When a lot of top teams are scheduling 1-AA patsies or major conference weaklings, USC is hoping that the road to the national championship travels through Virginia, Ohio State and Notre Dame. That's impressive, but no tougher than what UCLA faces as they try to rebuild under a new regime. They open their season by hosting Tennessee and then traveling to play a BYU team that has realistic national ambitions. Arizona might provide a little respite if they don't get their act together, but then Fresno State, another small conference team that wants to go all the way this year, comes into town. Add in trips to Cal and Oregon, and a one-two punch of Arizona State and USC to end the year and it could be less than fun to be a Bruins fan this year. If it weren't for the schedule then this would be a tempting team to like. They showed last year that they have their bright moments, and the coaching change was not only much needed, but it also significantly increased the talent of their leadership.