Schedule Plus and Minus

There's simply no way to make every team happy in every respect concerning a schedule, as we are reminded every year when the Big East football slates are finalized and announced.

That point was again driven home when West Virginia's 2008 schedule came out. Although it addressed the main complaint of a year ago (a dearth of prime October Saturday home games), other shortcomings were quickly pounced upon by a segment of the population that is always in attack mode. Dismissing that group makes it easier to take a fair look at WVU's schedule and see where the strengths and weaknesses lie.

Before starting, however, understand that it is impossible to make a perfectly balanced schedule for every Big East team. The odd number of games, venue availability, television considerations and the conference's desire to build drama all combine to result in a schedule that appears to have inequities. Of course, each school and its supporters trumpet those issues without acknowledging the same for those of its foes – but we never seem to get around to talking about that.

In the case of the Mountaineer slate, the first obvious good thing is October. WVU doesn't venture out of Morgantown during the month, and has three prime Saturday games with which to entice fans with the promise of crisp fall days. Now, did the previous coaching staff really care about that? Probably not. It was just something else to complain about, which, as we have seen, is the thing that Rich Rodriguez led the nation in.

Still, it's nice, when moving into the conference slate, to start off with two games at home. WVU opens the league season with Rutgers, and then gets Syracuse the next week. It could certainly be a lot worse. Add in the home game against Marshall the last weekend of September, and West Virginia has 43 days before it hits the road again for a trip to Connecticut. There's certainly no complaints heard in that quarter!

Despite playing two of its first three games on the road, which would usually be cause for concern, WVU also has little to bark about here. What amounts to a tuneup with Villanova, followed by a familiar trip to Greenville, N.C. to take on East Carolina, is good preparation for the intersectional matchup with Colorado and the home stretch in October. West Virginia also got nice space between its two big out of conference games (Colorado and Auburn) with more than a month separating the games with the Big XII and SEC teams. In a perfect world, putting the Marshall or Syracuse game between the ECU and Colorado tilts would have been desirable, but with what amounts to an open date between the games, that wish would be almost unreasonable. Overall, there can't be much complaint with the way the first eight games of the season play out.

Moving into November and December, a few issues arise. Remember, however, that every team is going to have some negatives. For West Virginia, those are borne mostly from the fact that it is the flagship program of the conference. Being one of the top dogs results in your most meaningful games being played late in the season, as the Big East conference wants to keep interest alive throughout the fall. If West Virginia, Pitt, Louisville and South Florida played the majority of their games in October, the league race might be decided by the time that leaves start falling. Thus, the in-house marquee matchups, or at least those perceived in that manner by the league, come at the end of the year.

Thus, West Virginia ends the season with a home game against Cincinnati, back-to-back road trips to Louisville and Pitt, and a home finale against South Florida. That is by fat the toughest stretch of games the Mountaineers will face during 2008. Add in a previous week's road trip to Connecticut, and WVU's three-road, two-home game conclusion to the season certainly isn't the best slate on the docket. It's certainly not an impossible stretch, however.

Of larger concern is the Dec. 6 date for USF. That game encroaches mightily on the beginning of the contact period for recruiting. Last year, the contact period began on Nov. 25. This year, the start date will likely be Nov. 24. With West Virginia playing two games after that date, it will be unable to flood the road with the full number of coaches allowed to being making in-home and other visits to recruits. While some visits, especially to nearby recruiting locales, will certainly be shoehorned in, WVU won't be able to deploy and fan out in full force.

In effect, this puts West Virginia at least one week behind many other schools, which conclude their schedules by the end of November. However, WVU can also turn this to an advantage, pointing out that only schools of high quality and regard play games on the first weekend in December, as that date includes conference championship games and key "made for drama" matchups. And while it isn't the best of situations, it certainly is not a crippling defect in the schedules of those teams that play on that date. Teams in the SEC or ACC championship games, or those, like West Virginia, getting good exposure with key conference finales, don't appear to have been affected too much by the delayed start over the past couple of years. The NCAA, of course, could move the start date back a week or two, and thus level the playing field for all schools, but that's a matter for the future.

So, overall, West Virginia's schedule certainly doesn't have any more negatives than any other school that might be picked at random. True, it's backloaded, and does have a couple of quick turnarounds, but you can likely find instances of that in any other schedule that belongs to a Top 40 program.

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