The big talk in college football the last couple days has been about the wussified trend of BCS teams doing everything they possibly can not to schedule each other. We don't have to look very far to see teams scheduling multiple games against 1-AA teams (Rutgers, USF), let alone 1-A cupcakes. So it shouldn't be a surprise when we hear that big-time non-conference college football games are vanishing.
There were 11 games matching Top 20* teams in 1978, 15 in '88, eight in '98 and just four in '08. In other words: over the past two decades, the number of Top 20 nonconference matchups has decreased by half every 10 years. And the Top 10 matchups have virtually disappeared, going from five in '78 to seven in '88 to two in '98 and one in '08.
Seriously, conferences are getting so large and teams are so afriad to schedule OOC, let alone travel, it's like we're heading to the point where conference will just expand to 13-14 teams, you'll just play everyone in your conference during the season and then we'll sort it out when it's all over. You think I'm crazy?
In the "be careful what you wish for" department, Syracuse is one of the few programs out there bucking the trend. SU has played more ranked non-conference opponents in the past five seasons than any other program in the nation (8). The thing is though, when you're USC, you can afford to schedule Ohio State and Texas and Notre Dame and Virginia every year because there's a good chance you're going to win. If you're Syracuse, there's a good chance you're going to lose...badly. Yeah, that's great that we played 8 ranked OOC teams. But guess what, we went 0-8 against them (I'm supposing).
Unfortunately, everyone (including we the fans) looks at Syracuse's scheduling and says "What are you, insane?" There's no incentive for an established program to schedule hard, let alone a rebuilding one. It is nice to be able to look at the upcoming seasons and see some name opponents on there, but it's also nice to see a couple cupcakes from time to time. Not too many, just enough to ensure we can keep up with everyone else.
For a school like SU, playing a Kansas-State-calibur schedule versus playing the kind of schedule we have been could be the difference between sitting home again in December and playing in the International Bowl. It's not much but it's exposure and practice time that the program can't afford to continue missing out on. Besides, it's not like the bowls give a crap about your SOS. That's for national title contenders to worry about.
SU's schedule is what it is, and I do like what I see in upcoming seasons. The Orange look to be settling into a groove that includes 1 quality BCS opponent (Penn St, USC), 1-2 decent BCS opponents (Virginia Tech, BC, Northwestern), 1-2 smaller conference teams (Toledo, Akron, Buffalo) and a 1-AA. It's better, though still daunting. If I'm buying season tickets, I certainly don't want to see a home schedule filled with directional schools I've never heard of, what's the fun in that? That said, I'd rather not be the program at the top of the "toughest schedules" list year in and year out...especially when we're at the bottom of the "winning football games" list.