Florida State Must Schedule Smarter: Wins Matter, Schedule Doesn't

We went over this a lot in the off-season.  Everyone knew that FSU had the toughest schedule in the country.  How soon we forget.  So I'll say it again:  there is no reward for tough scheduling if your team plays in a major conference.  None.  So while FSU plays the toughest schedule in the nation (11 opponents made a bowl last season, 10 will this year), others are reaping the benefits of playing a normal or light slate.  Florida State plays Florida every season.  That is all they need in the non-conference slate.  Stop scheduling the South Florida's, the BYU's, the Colorado's.  Next year FSU is going to play at Oklahoma.  That is dumb.  Sure, FSU might get some acknowledgment from football experts, but the majority of pollsters simply focus on record alone.  Get some Florida International, Arkansas State, and North Texas.  Pay the money for the guaranteed wins.  It cost a good bit but it is worth much, much more.  The way to get ranked is to schedule yourself into the rankings.  Let's take a look at the teams in the top 25, and their schedule strength's.  I have to seriously question whether many of the teams in the top 25 are better than FSU, but they haven't had to play anywhere near the caliber of schedule as that of the Noles.

I am going to look at the record of each team, not including 1-AA Schools.  To date, Florida State has faced the 12th most difficult schedule in the country.  But are voters accounting for that?  No, they are not.  They only see wins and losses.  Here is Florida State's: 7-1  Miami (1-1), BYU (3-0), South Florida (3-0).  Only 1 team, other than FSU, has defeated FSU's opponents.  

Ranking Name Record (1A Competition Only) Schedule Strength
1 Florida 3-0 95
2 Texas 4-0 101
3 Alabama 4-0 70
4 LSU 4-0 48
5 Boise State 4-0 35
6 Virginia Tech 4-1 4
7 USC 3-1 36
8 Oklahoma 2-1 81
9 Ohio State 3-1 42
10 TCU 2-0 47
11 Cincinnati 3-0 84
12 Oklahoma State 2-1 104
13 Penn State 3-1 83
14 Georgia 3-1 6
15 Houston 2-0 79
16 Kansas 3-0 150
17 Iowa 3-0 11
18 Ole Miss 1-1 117
19 California 2-1 28
20 Michigan 4-0 105
21 Miami 2-1 1
22 BYU 3-1 20
23 Missouri 3-0 91
24 Nebraska 3-1 78
25 Oregon 3-1 3
NR Florida State 1-2 12
NR Clemson 2-2 10
NR South Carolina 3-1 24
NR Washington 2-2 7

 

I am just astounded at the voters.  While the AP poll has a few voters who recognize only on-field play and eschew pre-season notions, that doesn't matter because the AP Poll doesn't factor in the BCS.  Only the coaches poll matters, and their poll is pretty clear.  Coaches don't have time to watch the games of other teams, and they definitely don't have time to consider silly questions like "their record is X-X, but against whom did they compile that record?"  No, the coaches poll, the poll that factors in the BCS, seems to be concerned only with record, no matter how compiled.

Ranking Penn State ans Ole Miss is simply preposterous.  Ditto Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri. It's not that they aren't in the top 25 teams in the country.  They might be, but they haven't even had the opportunity to prove their meddle.  Penn State plays three of the worst teams in the country, falls short of expectations in each (failed to cover the spread), and then loses at home in their only game against a halfway decent team, committing 4 turnovers.  Has Ole Miss done anything to warrant being in the top 25?   Kansas as well.  But those teams continue to beat up on the sisters of the poor, and the voters continue to fall for their act. 

Meanwhile, Florida State, South Carolina, Clemson, and Washington have faced at least three bowl teams each, most from BCS conferences, and all are unranked.  I'm not arguing for FSU to be in the top 25.  They probably should not be, but what in the world is going on in this poll?  Clearly, those who schedule a difficult slate of teams are not rewarded.  They don't seem to get how difficult it is for a team to play a grueling schedule and be up and ready each week.  Every team will come out flat a few times per season.  Elite teams will win games against average opponents when they come out flat, but good teams often will not.  Good teams will lose to an average team if they come out flat.  This is particularly true when the average team is very motivated to play the game, which to the good team is just another game on their slate, but to the average team, is their game of the year.  Simply reducing the chances a team has to lose, through scheduling, makes a ton of sense.

So there is a lesson to be learned.  Not every team is running the same race.  Some aren't even running remotely similar races.  If it's only time that matters, it makes sense to run the shortest possible race.  Florida State will continue to schedule Florida, but the other three non-conference games need to be automatics, or close to automatics.  With UF in the non-conference schedule, even three cupcakes filling the four additional slots wouldn't hurt FSU, especially when the coaches poll isn't paying attention.  Of course, the one thing that FSU must do is avoid the 1-AA schools ("FCS" if you are politically correct).  That seems to be the only thing that the media notices and is willing to chastise.  So why is FSU unnecessarily scheduling losable games?  It seems to be a combination of money and a fundamental lack of understanding of the scheduling game.  While FSU needs to put butts in the seats, and has a unique problem getting fans to their games due to their location in the northernmost point in the state, the decision to schedule higher-profile games just to maintain attendance is short sighted.  The money lost when FSU falls from the rankings after dropping a game that they shouldn't have scheduled, and the long-term detriments to recruiting far outweigh an extra 5,000 tickets sold.  Games against football's worst teams also cost more money, typically over a million dollars.  But the benefits of scheduling and beating New Mexico, or Rice, or Tulane  far outweigh the financial costs.  Fans just want to root for a consistent winner, no matter who the team is playing.  Florida State would easily be in the top 15 if they had scheduled like Penn State or Ole Miss.  I doubt recruits would be dropping Florida State if the Noles were in the top 15.  I haven't even touched on the idea of booster contributions, but most boosters are equally dumb like the coaches.  They want to see a ranked team and do not care how the team gets that ranking.

Florida State's asinine scheduling also puts unnecessary pressure and and a negative spotlight on the program.  Because few (if any) teams face the week-in and week-out grind that FSU faces.  We can't reasonably expect people to sympathize with something they don't see or understand.  Every team experiences letdowns, they are impossible to avoid.  What a team can avoid is scheduling opponents who can take advantage of the scheduling team's down week, like a talented but inconsistent USF program that sold their entire season on the Florida State game.  FSU just couldn't match their intensity, or the intensity the Noles showed the previous week against #7 ranked BYU.  Smart scheduling also means avoiding scheduling teams who require the scheduling team to unnecessarily get up for a game, like playing that cross country road game against BYU.   Instead of BYU and USF, why not Florida International and Rice?  Then Florida State would be sitting at 3-1, with just a lass second loss to nationally ranked Miami.  I don't like the process any more than you, but Florida State scheduling tactics are largely to blame for their current predicament.  Florida State needs to stop being other team's game of the year, particularly those teams which are just talented enough to beat FSU if the Noles have an off-week. 

Think that weak scheduling wouldn't get FSU to the National Championship game?  Think again.  With UF and thee nobodies, FSU would have to beat 8 or 9 bowl teams, including Miami and Florida, and play the ACC championship game against either Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, or maybe Georgia Tech.  12-0 (or 11-1 in some years) would guarantee Florida State a shot at the National Championship.  The game against Florida erases any concerns voters might have over the quality of the ACC.

Finally, and this really confuses me, is Bobby Bowden.  Never mind the academic cheating scandal and the resulting vacated wins.  If Florida State really wanted to secure the all-time wins record for Bowden, they would have scheduled in such a fashion as to allow him to stay ahead of Joe Paterno, like Penn State did last year, with Oregon State, Coastal Carolina, Syracuse, and Temple (not to mention their 4 or 5 freebie Big 10 wins), or this year, with Temple, Syracuse, Akron, and Eastern Illinois.  The very idea of chasing the all-time wins record, when Bowden and Paterno are running different races, was not realistic in 2007 or 2008, and the Noles future schedules make it all but impossible for Bowden to beat out Paterno. 

If Florida State ever wants to get back to the top, they have to make a lot of changes.  Removing Bowden and the relics of his decade of incompetence is first and foremost, but FSU cannot continue to pass on three free wins per season.  Play the game the way the voters want you to play it.  It's record, not resume.  10-2 against sisters of the blind, in the mind of the voters, is much better than 7-5 against one of the most challenging schedules in the nation.  This current approach by the Noles is like shooting long distance jumpers before the advent of the 3-point shot in basketball.  While the smart observers can tell the difference, college football is a game of the masses, determined not by those who truly follow it, but by those who were once involved and commit but a passing glance to the game.

Florida State can one day win at this game, but only if they decide to play by the rules.

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