Wall Street Journal brought us dire news this April: the gourmet cupcake boom had busted. America's public had sadly lost its interest to shell out five bucks for damn muffins with icing, dashing the entrepreneurial desires of trillions of pretty 25-year-old girls who watch the Food Network.
Good news, though: the cupcake is still alive in college football. Each team gets three or four non-conference matchups, and some are determined to make the most of them by refusing to play anybody difficult.
For what it's worth, most BCS teams play at least one other BCS team out-of-conference. But some schools, whether by choice or by circumstance, opted to get strange. This remains a sign that college football is just really confusing, silly and great.
The Still Probably 0-4 Award: Memphis
9/7 vs. Duke, 9/14 @Middle Tennessee, 9/21 vs. Arkansas State, 11/9 vs. UT-Martin
The Sagarin ratings had UT-Martin at No. 112 last year. Memphis? No. 123. Not to tell the Tigers what to do, but at this point wouldn't it make more sense to take the payouts from bigger schools to lose games instead of seeking out mid-majors to lose to? I just hope that dude can punt the living HELL out of the ball.
Honorable mention, Colorado.
9/1 vs. Colorado State, 9/7 vs. Central Arkansas, 9/14 vs. Fresno State
Sagarin underdogs in all three.
The Wannabe Award: Cincinnati
8/31 vs. Purdue, 9/7 @ Illinois, 9/14 vs. Northwestern State, 9/21 @ Miami (OH)
It's last call at the conference realignment bar, and after Cincinnati saw Jim Delany leave in a cab with Rutgers last Saturday, it knows he's down for anything. But how to get him to notice? The Christmas card gambit didn't work last time. Perhaps a pair of wins against the Big Ten's weakest squads will show Delany the Bearcats mean business? It should also reveal the urgent necessity of capturing the thriving Cincinnati media market, or at least whatever portion of that media market wasn't in attendance at Ohio State's spring game in Cincinnati. As you said yourself, Jim, realignment ain't dead, and all the prettiest options have already gone home with someone else.
The "You Don't Need The Help" Award: Louisville
9/1, vs. Ohio, 9/7 vs. Eastern Kentucky, 9/14 @ Kentucky, 9/21 vs. Florida International
Yo, Cards: you have Teddy Bridgewater, and you're playing in the AAC. I think you'll be just fine. But hey, you're playing an SEC team!
The Additional Words Award: Arizona
8/30 vs. Northern Arizona, 9/7 @ UNLV, 9/14 vs. UTSA
Arizona, Nevada, and Texas would be a pretty tough non-conference schedule for anybody. Northern Arizona, Nevada-Las Vegas, and Texas-San Antonio, on the other hand...
The Welcome Mat: N.C. State
8/31 vs. Louisiana Tech, 9/7 vs. Richmond, 9/28 vs. Central Michigan, 10/23 vs. East Carolina
"Wow, Dave Doeren led the Wolfpack to four non-conference victories!" It should be noted that Louisiana Tech, Central Michigan, and East Carolina all had winning records last year, so these won't be walkovers.
The Defense Against Insubordination award: Texas A&M
8/31 vs. Rice, 9/7 vs. Sam Houston State, 9/21 vs. SMU, 11/2 vs. UTEP
Four opponents, only one of which is a BCS opponent, none from out of state, all forced to go into the Hate Barn and lose by what should be copious margins. We get it, Aggies: you're the biggest bullies in Texas.
Honorable mention: Texas Tech
8/31 @SMU, 9/7 vs. Stephen F. Austin, 9/21 vs. Texas State
At least they play a road game!
The Bill Snyder lifetime achievement award: Kansas State
8/30, vs. North Dakota State, 9/7, Louisiana-Lafayette, 9/14, UMass
Snyder's gone on record saying he doesn't really like playing road non-conference games, and it doesn't really help his team to play tougher non-conference opponents. Sure, NDSU is perpetually an FCS contender and the Ragin' Cajuns won nine games last year.
The PLEASE LET US BE BOWL ELIGIBLE award: Duke
8/31 vs. NC Central, 9/7 @ Memphis, 9/28 vs. Troy, 10/12 vs. Navy
6-7 last year, thanks to three non-con wins and a Belk Bowl loss. This year, their lone BCS opponent and lone road game is Memphis.
Honorable mention: Minnesota
8/29 vs. UNLV, 9/7 @ New Mexico State, 9/14 vs. Western Illinois, 9/21 vs. San Jose State
The funny parts here: a game AT New Mexico State, and the fact they're gonna lose to San Jose State.
The Loophole Award: West Virginia
8/31 vs. William & Mary, 9/14 vs. Georgia State, 9/21 vs. Maryland
You're only allowed to play one FCS team and have it count. However, Georgia State is this year's team transitioning from the FCS to the FBS. Not only that, they were awful in the FCS: Georgia State is in just its fourth year of football at any level, and went 1-10 in the Colonial Athletic Association last year. Playing them in your non-conference schedule allows you to duplicate the preposterous ease of playing a FCS opponent with none of the bowl-eligibility consequences.
And WVU's power conference opponent is Maryland. All things told: West Virginia's opponents won three FBS-level games last season, and they're not playing any road games. I'm pretty confident this is the worst non-conference schedule in college football.
Honorable mention: Alabama
8/31 vs. Virginia Tech, 9/21 vs. Colorado State, 10/5 vs. Georgia State, 10/23 vs. Chattanooga
Welcome to FBS, Georgia State! Here's the heavy favorite for this year's national championship.
And the overall winner for excellence in the field of poor non-conference scheduling: Vanderbilt!
9/7: vs. Austin Peay, 9/21: @UMass, 9/28: vs. UAB, 11/30: vs. Wake Forest
Vandy had been scheduled to play two Big Ten squads: a 10-win Northwestern squad that beat the 'Dores in Evanston last year, and an Ohio State team that went undefeated. But last October, they announced with no warning they'd be canceling those games, mailing their opponents that they'd be backing out of their series due to the new SEC schedules.
Is it possible that Vandy genuinely couldn't coax the SEC into scheduling conference games on the same dates as their previously set games against the Wildcats and Buckeyes? Sure. But it sure was convenient that it allowed them to ditch their only two tough opponents while instead playing four teams that combined for seven FBS-level wins last year. To you, Vandy, I doff my hat, for a scheduling achievement unmatched by any other college football team this season.