It must be exciting to be a big-time college athletic director and get to schedule football games. You can make better deals than Monty Hall; it's just a matter of how much nerve you have. How many teams can you arrange to play at home? How many tomato cans can you line up without getting ridiculed in the press? How much money can you make for old State Tech?
A good athletic director can make Cupcake U think it's blessed to visit State Tech's Memorial Snake Pit Stadium and stagger away with a loss, a splitting headache and, of course, a hefty check. He may even earn his team a shot at the national championship if he can get one more Rice or Bowling Green on the schedule.
Florida's two big state schools have done themselves proud in the scheduling business this season. Start with Florida State, most everybody's preseason No. 1 pick. Sure, the Seminoles slipped up by booking Miami for their opener. The Hurricanes won 31-0, and now Florida State, which is 7-1, is having to work its way back up the polls. But the Seminoles' task was made easier by a three-week run against gridiron monsters Georgia Southern, East Carolina and Louisiana Tech. Final tally: Florida State 139, Pastries 34. Next week vicious Virginia Tech (2-6) visits Tallahassee. Hats off to Seminole athletic director C.W. (Hootie) Ingram. If only he can get those Hurricanes off the slate in the future....
That's just what the University of Florida did. The Gators were once scheduled to open against Miami this year, but the Hurricanes beat Florida in 1986 and were looking stronger for the future, and hey, who needs that? You think schedules are etched in stone? Ha! Games can be changed as fast as broken chin straps. And because Florida had to add another conference game to its '88 schedule, it siezed the moment and dropped Miami. The Hurricanes had no choice but to agree, and later their game with the Seminoles was moved up to accommodate television.
With Miami out of the picture (that is, until the teams meet again in 1992), Florida opened its season at home by savaging Division I-AA Montana State. The numbers run up by the Gators were 69,000 filled seats, meaning big income from ticket sales, and a 69-0 W. Great job, guys. What was in it for Montana State? "Certainly not a victory," said Bobcat coach Earle Solomonson. Nope, just cash. One hundred seventy-five grand, guaranteed.
Georgia deserves a nod for inviting William and Mary to a 59-24 party last week in Athens (does that count as one win or two for the Dawgs?). And don't forget No. 1-ranked Notre Dame, which is renowned for its perennially tough schedule. This week the Fighting Irish dine on Rice, which has the longest losing streak in Division I: 14 games. And Nebraska did a 48-6 job on UNLV on Oct. 1 before squeaking past Kansas 63-10 the next week. But then Nebraska can't help playing Kansas, because both teams are in the Big Eight.
The independents usually do the best job of picking patsies. For example, South Carolina outscored Western Carolina, East Carolina and Appalachian State 90-9 this season. But this year a conference school deserves special recognition for scheduling brilliance: The Most Delicious Home Cookin' Award goes to Auburn, of the SEC, for lining up an amazing eight home games, plus one—against Alabama in Birmingham—that's not quite here or there. Two of those games at Auburn were against Kansas (56-7) and Akron (42-0). Take a bow, athletic director Pat Dye, who also happens to be the Tigers' coach.
And now, a wholly different award, The Whoops I Thought You Were An Eclair Trophy, is presented to Wisconsin of the Big Ten. The Badgers lined up guaranteed nonconference wins against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois—and then somehow lost to both. Nothing could help the BAD-gers, who are now 0-8.
Maybe mismatches aren't all bad for the underdog. Its players usually get a nice trip and, as they say, the opportunity to play against the best. And losing is relative—Akron was probably less embarrassed by the Auburn wipeout than by its 27-16 loss to Central Michigan.
But what does Cupcake U's willingness to be cannon fodder say about its attitude toward its players, who prepare for a game they know they probably can't win? What about their fans, who would like to think their team has at least a shot?
And what do the big-time guys carry away from these matchups? A winning record, yes, but not one worth boasting about. In time, maybe Florida can convince people that Indiana State was a worthy opponent, and that the Sycamores were tougher than the score (58-0) of this year's meeting between the two schools indicates. Or maybe the Gators can say that they thought they'd scheduled Larry Bird's alma mater in basketball. That'll work, won't it?