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Cupcake Wars: Scheduling In The New Age Of College Football

Gene Smith's in it for wins, not to win hearts and minds.
Gene Smith's in it for wins, not to win hearts and minds.

Kudos to Gene Smith, and congratulations to the 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes on a well-deserved, well-earned BCS National Championship! It was a long and arduous season filled with ups and downs, twists and turns but a prize at the end well worth its weight in BCS crystal! This season will live on in the hearts and minds of Ohio State football fans forever as one of the culminating events of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus.

And to think, the architect of this entire season was Gene Smith, the man who, just a few years ago, was in the doghouse with much of the fan base. Now, "Tatgate" and the bowl ban that succeeded it are all just ever-shrinking dots in the rear view. For it was Gene Smith who peered into his crystal ball and found the piece of the puzzle missing from the 2016 Buckeyes that put it all together:


This dispatch from the future probably isn't accurate. I mean, yeah, I'm hoping and praying that it is. I certainly want Urban to win a title (or two) and for the events and repercussions of 2010-2011 to eventually fade into the distant past. This part is fine. But let's be perfectly honest - will any of us be heaping kudos on Gene Smith anytime soon? Not likely. But he did take an admirable first step on Thursday when he added Tulsa to the schedule in 2016. You see, Gene Smith realizes what is the strongest foundation in terms of reaching the national championship game in the current setup: you have to be in the SEC. Failing that, you have to win out of conference. And you have to win easy.

No more of these big time home-and-home series against USC, Texas and Miami (FL). Those get you on ABC on Saturday nights, but if you lose one of them (and the Buckeyes were 2-4 in those games) that's your season going up in flames. Instead, you need to lower the bar: USC is the Utah School of Carpentry. Texas is Texas State A&M. The U is actually University of Miami Dentistry and Dade County Rec Center. Those teams don't get you prestige, they get you something more important: easy wins.

There's precedent for this, too. Look at the last nine BCS national champions and look at their out-of-conference (OOC) schedules. To be the best, you clearly have to beat...a loosely organized group of one and two-star guys who didn't get offers from anywhere else:

Year Team Record
2003 LSU 13-1
Out Of Conference 17-32
2004 USC 13-0*
Out Of Conference 25-22
2005 Texas 13-0
Out Of Conference 17-17
2006 Florida 22-28
Out Of Conference 22-28
2007 LSU 12-2
Out Of Conference 25-25
2008 Florida 13-1
Out Of Conference 27-25
2009 Alabama 13-0
Out Of Conference 21-27
2010 Auburn 14-0
Out Of Conference 21-27
2011 Alabama 12-1
Out Of Conference 30-21**
* Two wins vacated for USC in 2004
** All FCS teams are included in this, namely Georgia Southern, which went 11-3 2011 and lost to Bama 45-21

Do the math on this, and what you'll see is that each of the last nine national champions, with the exception of 2008 Florida and 2011 Alabama (see ** for a good explanation as to why for Alabama) all played OOC slates that pretty much sucked. LSU's non-SEC opponents in 2003 went 17-32. Two of the teams, Louisiana-Monroe and Arizona, won three games COMBINED! The average record for each champion's OOC slate is 23-25, two games below .500.

That is how scheduling is supposed to work in this new age of college football. Considering teams are ranked WEEKS BEFORE any player has taken the field, early losses can be huge pains for any team trying to play in the last game of the season. But you put a few baked goods in the first few weeks, and the sailing gets much smoother much sooner.

The SEC utilizes this strategy better than anyone in the country. The conference that has supplied winners of the last six national championships have some of the best thinkers in the world figuring out how to ease into a football season. LSU has a laughable OOC schedule this year, which includes North Texas and Towson, all part of a season that features four road games total. FOUR. Florida hasn't played an OOC game outside of their state in years. These two schools alone have four national championships and one runner-up performance to their names. It's genius.

Lori Schmidt, everyone's favorite fedora'd sports reporter for WBNS, posted the other day about team strength of schedule in the B1G and the SEC. She didn't comment; I will. The B1G teams come in with an average SOS of 21. The SEC is at 41. It's a lot easier to make a case for a BCSNCG berth when you don't have to worry about early season OOC losses. Just ask Alabama.

Now before I get the tomato of homerism thrown at me, I'll be the first to admit that Ohio State has tried to match the SEC by scheduling the likes of Youngstown State, along with all the #MACtion you can handle from year to year. This season's slate is no exception, with Cal, UAB, and UCF on tap. But remember, the Cal series was scheduled when Aaron Rodgers was was throwing touchdowns in Berkeley, and no one could have possibly known just how mediocre Cal could become since then.

But overachieving and scheduling teams like Virginia Tech ('14 & '15) and 11-time pre-season national champion Oklahoma ('16 & '17) isn't how you spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S in this era of college football. And should (*gasp*) the Buckeyes lose one of those games, these scheduling moves will certainly hurt more than help when it comes down to making the BCS Final Four.

Gene Smith has taken two important steps to getting the Buckeyes back into the national championship picture. The first step, of course, was hiring Urban Meyer. The second? Putting Tulsa in The 'Shoe in a few years. Whether you agree with soft scheduling or not, you can't argue with the success it has predicated over the last decade. And with these two steps, after the 2016 season, we very well may be praising Gene Smith as a scheduling guru after all.