Bruce Feldman takes on a topic dear to Pac-10 fans' hearts: Nonconference scheduling.
While it's an "Insider" story, I'm going to pull out this revealing quote from Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- made to the Denver Post -- who doesn't feel like tough nonconference schedules are worth it:
"I don't think in today's world you're rewarded for it," he told John Henderson. "Look at the AP poll last year. We beat Oklahoma State at the end of the year, 27-0, and beat another ranked team in Stanford. Well, Oklahoma State's ranked ahead of us. Why? At the end of the day when they go ranking teams, look at how it's ranked every year. AP as well as the coaches all look at the loss column and if one team has one less loss than you they're ranked ahead of you. Oklahoma State was ranked ahead of us. We just played. Please don't make it look like I'm worried about Oklahoma State. But in the end I don't know if you're rewarded for it. You're not. Everybody talks about it early. By the end of the year everyone's talking about wins and losses and you're ranked accordingly."
Stoops is touching on one of the fundamental flaws in the national polls: The failure to punish cowards and reward teams that seek out competition.
Let's say you, Pollster X, think Team A is pretty good. So you rank that team 10th in the preseason poll. But let's also say that team plays Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International in its nonconference schedule.
To me, that team needs to punished. First, even if it starts 4-0, it can't move up. And if it doesn't blow out those teams, it should be dropped a few spots behind teams that record quality wins.
A team shouldn't be allowed to schedule its way to an elite ranking. Pac-10 fans know the formula used by other conferences. Play an eight-game conference schedule -- instead of nine, as the Pac-10 plays -- and then play either three or four teams with no pulse.
A 4-0 nonconference record means a team is just three conference wins away from bowl eligibility. And then when, say, nine teams from that conference are bowl eligible, coaches and fans from said conference shake their heads with serious looks and talk about how deep their conference is and how there are no weeks off.
Balderdash: They took four weeks off. And we have no idea just how good those 7-5 and 8-4 teams are as their records help bolster the computer rankings of the 10- and 11-win teams in the BCS standings.
Now let's be clear: We're not expecting teams to schedule multiple Top-25 programs in their nonconference schedule. Consider Alabama in 2009. The Crimson Tide played three patsies, but they also opened with an impressive win over Virginia Tech. To me, that was enough to validate Alabama as legitimate: It beat a quality foe outside of the closed system of its conference.
And that's why if Boise State beats Virginia Tech and Oregon State, it figures to get a pass for its soft remaining schedule. The Broncos have proven themselves through the years against teams like Oregon, TCU and Oklahoma and shouldn't be marginalized for the conference they play in.
The good news is there's talk in the Big Ten and Big 12 of going to a nine-game conference schedule, like the Pac-10. That means more legitimate tests for teams to validate their rankings and fewer cases like Kansas in 2007, which went 12-1 purely because it didn't play Texas or Oklahoma and played the nonconference schedule noted above.
And let's not forget these guys: fans.
It's a disservice to fans that there aren't more quality intersectional games. As much as I enjoy rivalry games within conferences, there's nothing like the anticipation of two top-10 teams from opposite sides of the country meeting.
And, as fans, if you agree, you should voice your opinion to your athletic directors.