It's not exactly a secret that the Big 12's nonconference schedule is weaker than the United States' World Cup qualifying group (and yet somehow we managed one point combined at Guatemala and Jamaica), but this weekend the league appears to have reached a new low. Before things get any worse, it may be time to take a good, hard look at whether this delicious cupcake scheduling could have a significant negative impact.
From a fan's perspective, a tougher schedule would obviously be preferred, especially when tickets are still so expensive for a 40-point blowout. From the perspective of what's best for the team and the conference as a whole, it's a bit trickier.
Before we hit the jump and try to answer some of those questions, let's take a quick look at this week's slate. We already know North Texas is terrible, and I'm willing to give Texas a pass because they're at least going on the road to face an ESS-EEE-SEE team, even if that team is Ole Miss, who has won one league game the last two years. OU is, unfortunately, enjoying an extra week to prepare for KSU.
For the second straight year, O-State plays UL-Lafayette, a team the Cowboys destroyed 61-34 a season ago. West Virginia is for some reason going to FedEx Field to take on James Madison, one of the best FCS teams in the country. Baylor plays Sam Houston State, the No. 2 FCS team in the country, but we wouldn't praise the Cardinals for playing the best AAA team.
At least that's better than Iowa State, who is facing a Western Illinois team that is so bad it lost at Mizzou 69-0 last year and calls itself the Leathernecks. Texas Tech gets New Mexico, an MWC team that is hoping to get its second win of the season for the first time since 2008.
Perhaps worst of all, TCU is playing a program so horrible it hasn't won a game against a school currently in its conference since Oct. 10, 2009. This school is only two years removed from a 6-3 loss to an FCS team, and last week, it blew an 11-point lead in the final 16 minutes against Rice. That's right: the Kansas Jayhawks. Step your scheduling game up, TCU.
Overall, the Big 12 schedule this season features 9 FCS teams and 6 BCS conference teams plus Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are the only ranked team on that schedule, and most of the other BCS teams are terrible. I'm not sure if I can recall another year quite this bad.
Already we're seeing some negative effects, as many people are actually questioning whether the Pac-12 is a stronger league than the Big 12 just because Oklahoma State forgot to take its defense to Tucson and the Pac-12 loaded up on home game vs. overrated B1G teams. David Ubben does a pretty good job of outlining the absurdity of this claim, but the fact is the lack of nonconference competition for the Big 12 is going to make it tough to convince some people, possibly including voters.
Yes, it makes sense that Big 12 coaches don't want too many challenges when every week is going to be so difficult once they reach conference play. That team in Lawrence is really the only gimme in this league, whereas even the SEC has Ole Miss, Kentucky and Arkansas (kidding, maybe.).
At some point, though, the big boys have to step up and take some risks for the good of the conference. Though he has perhaps regressed in the last few years, even Bill Snyder seems to have understood this in the past, considering he scheduled USC, Iowa, and Cal for some of his best teams.
Oklahoma gets some credit for scheduling Notre Dame and I'd be almost willing to congratulate Oklahoma State for taking a trip to Arizona if the Cowboys hadn't played Savannah State the week before. But is Maryland really the best you can do, West Virginia? Are we supposed to be impressed by a home game against Virginia, TCU? Even Texas should probably do better than a road game against the SEC's worst team, though I can understand why Mack would want to get his wins where he can considering the last couple years.
Of course, the end-all argument for which conference is better is always going to be bowl performances and national championships, which is why the SEC is the undisputed king at the moment. The Big 12 did go 6-2 in bowl games last season, so does that make it OK to schedule games weaker than the Chicago Bears offensive line last night? The league sure seems to think so.