Debate THIS! 2012 Schedule, Same Song, Second Verse

So Grantland-X thinks our schedule is perfect and Bayou Irish sees the schedule as overly tough, leading to either BCS joy or complete devastation.

Erroneous, erroneous on all accounts!

I ask everyone this: how did you feel about the 2011 schedule? I surely hope no one thought it was perfect nor the hardest schedule known to man. Why do I ask this? Simple, because 2012 looks a whole hell of a lot like 2011.

In 2012, we will see some of the same opponents whom stay relatively similar year in and year out. This year, I would expect Navy, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Boston College to remain more or less at the same difficulty level as they did last season. I fully expect some wiggle room in here, but overall I think everything will average out like it did in 2011.

One of the biggest challenges in 2012 will be Southern Cal. There is no doubt that the Trojans are going to be a feared team all season. Matt Barkley is a preseason Heisman hopeful and has his usual array of talented skill players on his side. If we are to compare them to any team from 2011, Southern Cal is Stanford (whom I will get to later).

Another team pointed to as a feared opponent in 2012 is perennially overrated Oklahoma. I’m not sure how many Sooner games are watched by the rest of the ND fanbase, but, living in Texas, I get more than my far share. The story has been the same as of late: start out on fire, start playing good teams, lose at the worst possible time. “Big Game” Bob hasn’t exactly lived up to his name and to make matters worse, OU has some serious questions at wide receiver after suspending damn near all of them. Despite all that, OU remains a serious threat and should be treated as such. Taking all that into consideration, this makes Oklahoma 2011’s Southern Cal.

Now we move on to Miami, a team that has been widely inconsistent for years. Guess what, we played a mediocre team from a mediocre conference last season too. That’s right, Miami is South Florida.

Now we move to BYU who shares more with 2011’s Air Force squad than you may think. Make no doubt, BYU is clearly a better team than Air Force, but both teams face similar weak schedules and when faced with tougher competition, lost (for the record, I don’t count 2-10 laughing stock Mississippi as tougher competition for BYU). Tougher game? Sure. Gigantic leap forward in difficulty? Nope.

And now we are left with Stanford, the biggest wildcard of the 2012 season. It isn’t even worth comparing them to Maryland, so we can consider this the second game that’s an upgrade. How much of one it is though remains to be seen. Stanford has had a couple of solid years, but have also lost a fantastic coach in Jim Harbaugh and an elite QB in Andrew Luck. On top of that, Stanford has graduated stud TE, Coby Fleener, one of Luck’s favorite targets and a crucial piece of Stanford’s running scheme. So yes, Stepfan Taylor may be returning to lead the rushing attack, but those are some huge holes to fill and I doubt they will be anything resembling the same team we’ve seen the last two seasons.

So is 2012 a bit tougher than Sargarin’s 25th rated SOS in 2011? Probably, but it isn’t as grim as Bayou makes it out to be.

Which brings me to Grantland-X calling this 2012 schedule “perfect”, backed up by a nice helping of circular logic: ND has lots of opportunities because the schedule is rough and because the schedule is rough losing a game or two won’t be so bad because Notre Dame will be given the national exposure to prove just how tough we are because taking on anyone and everyone is just so much fun because we have all kinds of opportunities to show WE ARE ND DAMMIT!

Notre Dame has never lacked any of the five points that Grantland lists. The problem with ND’s scheduling isn’t so much the SOS, but how the schedule is constructed. Irish Septembers are simply brutal with a 1-2 punch of Michigan and Michigan State, one of which is always on the road. After that, the breaks are far and few in between, mostly with mediocre teams, but teams that are more than capable of pouncing on a Irish team that could be reeling from a tough loss. Often, it isn’t until November, when ND’s fate is already sealed, that the schedule takes any sort of breather.

Put into different terms, Notre Dame is that dumb gambler that walks up to the craps table and immediately blows their bankroll on all the sucker bets. Sure, those bets have nice, sexy payouts, but all of a sudden the fun’s over before the first cocktail arrives at the rail. The smart player though, takes the best odds available. Of course, to win big, risks do need to be taken, but sparingly or, even better, with house money.

Switching back to football, take a look at Alabama, last year’s champ. Their out-of-conference schedule included powerhouses like Kent State, North Texas, and Georgia Southern, an FCS team.  They also had the benefit of conference opponents being dreadful (Mississippi) and below .500 (Vanderbilt, Tennesse). Yet, Alabama’s SOS ranking was ten spots above ND at 15.

Alabama took the flexibility they had and made the most of it. They started easy with Kent State at home, took on a tough opponent in Penn State on the road, then scaled back again with North Texas at home. Then conference play starts, they take a bye week before LSU instead of scheduling a game and squeeze an FCS team in toward season’s end before the Iron Bowl. Of course, like any successful gambler, they got a bit of luck with the aforementioned conference opponents that had down years in the middle of their grind.

I’m not calling for scheduling of FCS teams or sacrificing a potential OU matchup with North Texas, but for all the flexibility that we supposedly have as an independent, we sure as hell seem to bend over backwards to fit into everyone else’s schedule.

I have no problem with the Irish scheduling the best of the best and hope they continue to do so. However, I do have a problem with ND looking like the only team in college football that is failing to adapt as all other programs have.

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  • Bayou Irish

    According to the latest (18 May 2012) “way-too-early” Top 25 ESPN poll, http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7938511/college-football-way-too-early-2012-top-25, we play #11 MSU, #9 Michigan, #6 Oklahoma, #12 Stanford and #2 USC. That’s a beast of a schedule, even if you threw in North Texas. And don’t think Les Miles “No Points” didn’t pick up on your thinly-veiled dig at LSU, Tex. We can make the most, or the worst, of this schedule.

    • NDtex

      As you say “way-too-early”. I would expect most of those rankings to come down, save for USC who I think will remain top 5.

  • Bayou Irish

    No doubt some wi’ll come down, but it’s pithy to discount it out-of-hand. It’s a pre-season poll, and the latest we have.

    • http://here The Biscuit

      Also, they are equally likely to go up.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/GrantlandX Grantland-X

    One thing that I would stress is that when I call the schedule “perfect”, I’m not saying perfect in the sense that if I drew up 100 schedules, I couldn’t make a better one, but perfect in the sense that every opportunity is there for us. Like you said, the 2012 schedule really doesn’t seem THAT brutal when you break it down (as evidenced above), so why do we need to make it easier? Sure, our run of Septembers has been terrible, but starting off with Navy and Purdue is hardly a difficult start. Michigan-Michigan St back to back is certainly tough, but if you can’t win both of those, then the title run would never happen anyway.

    As for the circular logic behind why we have opportunities to weather losses, have tons of exposure, or that we have several chances for signature wins, I think that applies to several of them (such as weathering losses), but that isn’t a valid reason to make the schedule easier.

    I accept and agree that you don’t need to have the #1 SOS each year to win a title, that is very obvious. But that isn’t to say that the past champions couldn’t have won a title with a harder schedule, they just didn’t have the opportunity like we do because we aren’t locked into conference scheduling. The fan in me likes to see challenging and fun matchups, and there is no doubt that the 2012 schedule accomplishes this (without making a championship impossible. We can certainly win enough games if we have a solid QB).

    All in all, I still stand by the statement that our 2012 slate is an ideal one. But this was certainly a good response, and I really like the breakdown comparison to last year’s games. Solid work.

  • Brian

    Interesting take and good read. I wonder what the blow-hards would think of your contention that the “flexibility” endowed by our independence is actually a mirage.
    I think our end-of-season SOS will be lower than it is now but this season will certainly provide a great measuring stick for Kelly’s progress at building the program. If the Irish come away with 10 or more wins (which I predict they will), Kelly will have truly arrived.

    • NDtex

      It more or less is to a point. We have to work everyone’s conference schedule which is just annoying and results in the front-loaded gauntlet we see every year.

  • http://HerringBoneSports.com HerringBoneSports

    I can joing the chorus in thinking that the ideal schedule would be a September of NAVY, Purdue, Wake (or whatever lower tier BE/ACC team) & maybe Michigan or MSU in Week 4.

    I also doubt that ND is (or will ever be) closer to manipulating their rivals into such accomodations. At least in 2012 we have two teams that we don’t have to be perfect to beat before getting into the meat of the season.

  • http://here The Biscuit

    Yeah, this early slate is better than most have been in the recent past. But then you get into a freaking GAUNTLET.

    One part of the scheduling that people discount is the challenge of difficult games back to back to back. Playing in conferences, teams schedule cakewalks early to loosen up and get the kinks out. Not Navy and Purdue, teams that are BARELY not in high school. So that’s one thing – most teams play 2-3 warmups before starting the season. We start right away.

    But then, we play those difficult games one into the other and into the other, without those conference gimme games that everyone else has (which are actually pretty similar to Purdue, on average). So they start off easier, we dont start off as easy. Then week over week we play really tough games or at least competent opponents, and they play average to weak opponents.

    It’s really hard to be up every single week, especially with injuries and guys being human and all that. No other team, including those with a ‘harder’ SOS this or any year does this year in and year out.

    It’s this constant grind of the schedule, without the valleys and opportunites for rest, that I see as the real challenge with our philosophy.

    • NDtex

      100% agreed

    • Vairish84

      I think the bigger issue is the front-loading. As NDTEX points out, that is largely driven by the conference scheduling issues. It will likely get worse before (if) it gets better. Right now, he Big XII schools will schedule us later because they do not have as many conference games so letting teams come out is not a problem. I am certain a Purdue would gladly move back in the schedule, but we already have Purdues back there (Wake, BC). The problem is we can’t move a UM back.

      I think our weak games are stronger than most teams weak games. However, I don’t think our ‘middle games’ are that different from other teams middle games.

  • John F. Ganey

    VERY analitical —What about Injuries ??