For Michigan, there's nothing victorious or valiant about playing defending national champion Alabama in JerryWorld to open the season. None.
All that did was permanently kill Michigan's chances of getting to the BCS title game this season. And that's why most of the national championship contenders settled for the more tasty morsels as the first dish: North Texas, Arkansas State, Murray State, Jacksonville State, Savannah State and Northern Iowa.
Memo to Michigan: When in doubt, always open against a state school or directional school at home (just remember to leave off Appalachian State).
If anything, this week's simulated BCS standings reveal that there is no penalty for playing weak non-conference competition, even if you have to sweat it out in your not-quite-full home stadium. Of all the teams currently in the simulated BCS top 25, only three teams slid more than two spots from the preseason rankings: Michigan, Boise State and Stanford.
Michigan and Boise State (lost at Michigan State) were the only top 25 teams to lose last week -- in the only two games matching up top 25 teams. Stanford, which barely got by San Jose State, must be the victim of East Coast bias, since Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida also struggled at home against lesser competition but were little worse for the wear.
This has to be the worst legacy of the BCS era, the vanishing of competitive non-conference matchups. In 1990, two years before the advent of the BCS precursor Bowl Coalition, Florida actually opened the season against Oklahoma State, while Wisconsin faced Cal and Georgia opened against SEC rival LSU, followed by Southern Mississippi. But as the BCS made clear, that one loss -- even an early-season one -- would prove fatal, so most teams with national-title aspirations quickly figured out cupcakes must be the way to go.
That's never more evident than in the SEC, with each member required to schedule four non-conference games. Some schools might schedule one tough matchup, sometimes even on the road, but the rest are filled with the dregs of the Sun Belt or Conference USA or FCS paupers looking for fast bucks.
These were the non-conference opponents for the last six national champions, not coincidentally all from the SEC:
2011 Alabama - Kent State, Penn State, North Texas, Georgia Southern (FCS)
2010 Auburn - Arkansas State, Clemson, Louisiana-Monroe, Tennessee-Chattanooga (FCS)
2009 Alabama - Virginia Tech, Florida International, North Texas, Tennessee-Chattanooga (FCS)
2008 Florida - Hawaii, Miami (Fla.), Citadel (FCS), Florida State
2007 LSU - Virginia Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Tulane, Louisiana Tech
2006 Florida - Southern Mississippi, Central Florida, Western Carolina (FCS), Florida State
Of this sextet, only the 2007 LSU team did not face an FCS team and only the 2008 Florida team played more than one BCS conference team (boldface).
Now, this isn't an attempt to take a cheap shot at those SEC powerhouses, as they were only doing what maximizes their chances of winning the national championship. They surmised correctly that playing a soft non-conference schedule does not compromise a team's chances of getting into the BCS title game. What kills them is a loss in a non-conference game.
No team has ever won the BCS title after losing a non-conference game. And only the 2000 Florida State team, which lost to Miami, managed to even get to the BCS title game with a non-conference loss. The treasure trove of past BCS standings has made it clear that for BCS conference teams, it doesn't matter where you start and whom you play -- it's all about how you finish.
Auburn, the only unbeaten BCS conference team denied a shot at the title when it was edged by USC and Oklahoma in 2004, was No. 26 in the simulated BCS standings in 2010 before rapidly ascending the rankings, eventually reaching No. 1. The Tigers' opponent in that BCS title game, Oregon, began the season at No. 9.
The case is clear: BCS titles are not just won on the field, but are dependent on the schedule-making acumen of the athletic directors. So if you're Dave Brandon and your goal is winning the national championship and not creating an attractive matchup for the ratings-starved TV networks, then you should schedule South Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Alabama State or Alabama A&M, just not Alabama itself.
This week's simulated BCS standings:
Keys: 2011 = Final 2011 Associated Press Poll; Coach = USA Today Coaches Poll; AP = Associated Press Poll; Md = Median ranking of 36 computer ratings; JS = Jeff Sagarin; KM* = Kenneth Massey MOV; RB = Richard Billingsley; Cp Avg = Computer Average.
Explanation: This rankings method is a simulation of the actual BCS standings with the following variations: 1) The AP Poll is used in place of the Harris Interactive Poll, which is not published until after the first weekend of October; 2) Three of the six BCS computer ratings are available -- Jeff Sagarin, Kenneth Massey and Richard Billingsley; 3) The other three computer ratings -- Anderson & Hester, Colley Matrix and Peter Wolfe -- will not be available until mid-September or October, so they're replaced by the median ranking of 36 computer ratings.
While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel: