Only one thing wrong with WSU scheduling

TEN YEARS AGO I would have hated the Cougars' non-conference schedule that was recently announced, and which covers the next five years. But college football has changed, and WSU is doing exactly what they should in terms of scheduling their home non-con slate, and the level of opponent. The only quibble one might have is ...

They should have done it sooner. In 2012, Oregon scheduled their non-conference games, all at home, vs. Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. Duck fans grumbled about the level of opponent. But many other teams, such as LSU in the SEC, have been scheduling advantageously for years, decades even.

WSU will play seven of 12 games at home for four of the next five years. All of those games might also be in Pullman, with Bill Moos rethinking whether to continue the Seattle game at all. Seven home games means the non-conference level of opponent will come down - it has to be that way for schools to agree to come to WSU and not get a return trip.

In a perfect world, sure, you'd have compelling early season matchups in droves, not only for the Cougs but throughout the Pac-12 and all across the college football landscape. I'd love to see that. But the evidence in hand says it will never happen.


The top priority, and even more so today with escalating coach salaries and the Monopoly money now available through TV contracts, is not about creating compelling matchups for fans to enjoy. It's about winning. WSU is scheduling accordingly. To do otherwise would be placing more obstacles in your path than do others, both in the Pac-12 and nationally.

Take LSU for example, and look at their last 15 season schedules, from 2000-2014.

Back when college football still adhered to an 11-game schedule, LSU almost always scheduled six home games, with five on the road. That gave them an advantage. And LSU would always schedule at least two, and sometimes even all three, non-con gimmees. Sometimes, LSU was able to work it even more, and they had seven home games in a season.

Think about that. Seven home games, and only having to go on the road four times, over an 11-game schedule. That's a nice advantage to have. It usually also came with an added benefit -- scheduling a fourth, easy-win non-conference game late in the season, which allows your team to get healthier down the final stretch.

When teams began playing 12-game schedules, LSU scheduled seven home games as a regular matter of course. And, you guessed it, sometimes they even scheduled eight games at home. Yes, eight home games, with but four on the road, over a 12-game schedule.

THE 2008 LSU campaign illustrates something else. LSU didn't have a great team that year. They were 7-5 after the regular season. If they hadn't scheduled seven home games that season, with Appalachian State, North Texas, Tulane and Troy as their non-conference opponents, and played all of those games at home, they might not have made a bowl.

Last year, with the benefit of playing teams like UAB, Kent State and Furman, LSU went 7-0 at home... and then 3-3 elsewhere.

A quick checks shows that since 2000, LSU is a staggering 48-2 in non-conference games. Some of that is because they've fielded good football teams, no doubt about it. But some of it is also because of scheduling opponents that had no chance -- the UL-Lafayette's, Louisiana-Monroe's and Arkansas State's of the world. And some of it is because LSU plays so many of their non-con opponents at home. They're not alone, either. The SEC went 55-11 (.833) in their non-con games this past season. Scheduling had a lot do with it.

SHOULD WSU INSTEAD schedule some really tough non-conference opponents, and go on the road as well? Sure, if they want to put themselves at a disadvantage. It comes down to a simple question: do you want more wins, or do you want more compelling matchups and more losses?

LSU's fans year-in and year-out haven't seemed to mind the lower level of competition in their non-conference slate in the slightest. They're too busy celebrating the wins, the poll rankings, the bowl games.

Washington State's schedule of non-conference opponents over the next five years consists of Rutgers (2), Nevada (2), Portland State (2), Wyoming (2), Eastern Washington (2), Boise State (2), Idaho and Montana State.

The only thing missing from WSU's future scheduling is that it took this long to adopt the winning strategy pioneered by LSU and others long ago.

The SEC will again this season feature 8-game conference slates, allowing for four non-conference games, while the Pac-12 is locked into nine conference games. The SEC, therefore, will continue to enjoy their built-in advantage, although LSU's Les Miles doesn't see it that way. Miles and his AD complained bitterly last week that the SEC won't be going to a nine-game conference slate this season. Before you congratulate them, their entire motive behind it is to get rid of the permanent partner game LSU plays each year -- vs. Florida. They'd rather play someone in the other division who is easier to beat, and say Alabama and others have it easier than does LSU. Given the tremendous advantage LSU already has with their scheduling, it's hard to feel much empathy from this chair.

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