Posted: Wednesday August 3, 2005 12:42PM; Updated: Friday August 5, 2005 12:04PM
Courtney Taylor and Auburn aren't fond of traveling in the non-conference season.
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Last week I was the sportsblogging equivalent to "Wrong Guy" in those FedEx ads. ("So we don't get French benefits?") I wrote a column about intersectional games. It was intended as a piece celebrating non-conference tilts between superpowers, but, like a great aunt who's had a little too much Gallo wine at Thanksgiving, I went off on a tangent. I singled out the SEC for ducking these games and while at it, insulted everyone south of I-40 with a General Lee reference.
Some things are sacred, after all.
And so, the readers let me have it.
"Do you get bonuses based on how much you degrade the SEC?" Anthony from Oxford, Miss., asked.
"Anybody with half a brain could figure [a certain point] out," wrote Patrick from Houston. "Evidence suggests that would leave you out, however."
"Are your articles always this bias (sic) and weak," begged Rob, "or are you just not very knowledgeable when it comes to sports?"
And then there was the reader who coined a very 21st-century insult, calling me "all headshot, and no substance." That one hurt.
Now, this is the part of the column where the sportsblogger usually fires back with the snarkiest retort he can summon. Something along the lines of "Thanks for your letter. Who wrote it for you?" But not me. I'm not even going to pull a Fonzie here ("I was wr-r-r-r-"). No, I'll go all the way:
I was wrong.
Not about everything. But wrong enough that I'd like the opportunity to correct a few things.
First, whenever you make an argument, you undermine it if any of your facts are wrong. And many of mine were. So thanks to Mike Phelan for pointing out that I misspelled the name of the Boston College player who caught Doug Flutie's miracle pass against Miami in 1984:
"Gerard's last name is Phelan," wrote Mike Phelan. "Like mine. Not Phalen. Look it up."
Thanks, also, to University of Washington assistant athletic director Jim Daves (one of the friendliest guys in college sports) for gently pointing out that the "Whammy in Miami" took place in 1994, not 1995.
"Not to pick nits," wrote Daves, "but ... the UW win at Miami ... was on the same day as Colorado's win at Michigan. It is easy for me to remember. After our win at Miami, our quarterback, Damon Huard, came up to me in the locker room and proclaimed, "Sports Illustrated has to put this on their cover. Right?"
Daves went on to say that when he told Huard why he did not think the Huskies would make the cover, Huard's response was, "In the air? He [Kordell Stewart] threw it 70 yards in the air? I won't believe that until I see the replay."
I wrote, "Shame on Auburn, Florida and LSU" for playing it safe. Well, regarding Florida, I'd like to apologize. They do tackle Florida State every year. I did write that I was considering only non-annual affairs in my intersectional list, so that UF-FSU did not qualify, but that's no reason not to give the Gators their due.
And finally, yes, I stated the 12 SEC schools will play a total of six non-conference road games this season. In fact, they will play seven: Ole Miss at Memphis. Honest mistake on my part. For the record, three of those seven games take place within 200 miles of the visiting school's campus and three more within 500 miles. Only Arkansas pulls an honest-to-goodness Thelma & Louise, making a pilgrimage to Los Angeles to play Southern Cal.
Now, in attempt to demonstrate that not all of us north-of-I-40 scribes are "bias and weak," I actually crunched some numbers. I've taken the six major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) and done a little statistical analysis regarding each of their 2005 non-conference schedules. Before we begin, a few caveats:
1. Not every conference has the same amount of schools. So absolute numbers do not mean as much as percentages. I've done both for you.
2. If, for example, Appalachian State plays two teams in the same conference, their record is multiplied by two. Likewise, because Notre Dame attended a bowl last year and faces three Pac-10 schools, it counts as three bowl teams in that stat.
3. A team's record in 2004 does not indicate how it will fare in 2005. That is, playing Utah now may not be as scary as playing them last year. So take the overall 2004 opponents' win percentage with the requisite granule of NaCl.
That said, here we go. The parameters are as follows:
1. BCS/non: Number of opponents from BCS conferences vs. number of opponents from non-BCS conferences.
2. Home/Away: Number of home games vs. road games
3. Bowl teams: Number of opponents that played in a bowl last season.
4. Overall record: overall record of non-conference opponents
5. Win/Loss: Number of opponents who had above-.500 records last season vs. number who did not.
6. I-AA: Number of opponents from I-AA schools.
Analyzing the 2005 non-conference schedules
No. of schools
So which conference is taking the highest road to Pasadena and which is taking the lowest? It depends upon what statistics you choose to emphasize. The Big 12 fares worst in three different categories: Only 16 percent of Big 12 opponents are BCS schools, the Big 12 plays the fewest number of '04 bowl teams and it also has the lowest percentage of opponents with winning records from a year ago.
The SEC, as I argued last week, has a serious case of hodophobia (that's a "d", people, not an "m"). Fewer than one of every five of its intersectional games this season involves a road trip (and three of the seven road games are within 200 miles of campus). However, the SEC's opponents have the second-best win percentage from a year ago, and the SEC faces 16 bowl teams, as many as any other conference.