I’m not an expert on every sport played on this planet of ours, but I can’t think of a single one where a final score of 76-0 is at all commonplace. Maybe that’s a normal cricket score? Can anyone tell me what a normal score in cricket is?
Anyway, that 76-0 is the count by which the Buckeyes bulldozed the Florida A&M Rattlers last Saturday. Some may point to that as an embarrassment for the Rattlers, but I would argue that Urban Meyer’s squad should feel more shame.
At least FAMU – a Football Championship Subdivision school from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) – was paid the tidy sum of $900,000 to endure the Buckeye beat down. That check will go a long way towards funding the Rattlers’ 10 other varsity teams. Schools like FAMU surely don’t like to engage in this practice that amounts to little more than selling the bodies of their players, but they recognize it as a necessary evil for smaller Division I college football programs.
In spite of what Saturday’s score may suggest, Florida A&M, a historically black university located in Tallahassee, has not been an eternal doormat. The Rattlers have claimed 12 Black College Football National Championships in the program’s history. They also won the inaugural NCAA Division I-AA championship in 1978. Add to that notable NFL alumni Bob Hayes and Nate Newton, and FAMU’s history can actually be called quite illustrious.
But we’re not here to talk about Florida A&M. The bigger problem here is the fact that the Rattlers were on the same field as Ohio State, and in the Buckeyes fourth game of the season no less. This is not solely an Ohio State problem, obviously. Many top FBS programs schedule at least one game each season against an FCS opponent.
The players aren’t to blame – they can only play the next team that the athletic department has placed on the schedule – but they still need to take care of business when faced with this type of contest. Kenny Guiton, Jordan Hall, Evan Spencer, Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Jeff Heuerman, Devin Smith, and, well, pretty much every other Buckeye on the roster did just that.
Should they be loudly applauded for that accomplishment? Definitely not, but we’ve seen games like this go wrong enough in recent years that it’s still nice to see the Buckeyes play exactly as they’re expected. Just ask Oregon State (lost 49-46 to Eastern Washington), defending Big 12 champion Kansas State (lost 24-21 to North Dakota State), Iowa State (lost 28-20 to Northern Iowa), and UConn (lost 33-18 to Towson) about how these games can go wrong – and that was just in Week 1 of this season. Of course, Buckeyes fans won’t soon forget Appalachian State’s shocking upset of Michigan at the Big House in the Wolverines’ 2007 season opener.
Many have argued that the Buckeyes tried to avoid this game by scheduling Vanderbilt, a bonafide FCS team and an SEC one at that, for this week. However, while the Big Ten Network announcing team did make that claim during the broadcast, it isn’t, strictly speaking, true. Vanderbilt was scheduled to play Ohio State in the nonconference portion of this 2013 season, but the game was scheduled to take place on August 31. The Commodores were replaced by San Diego State. Following some shuffling, the Buckeyes were able to rearrange their schedule so that San Diego State replace Florida A&M on September 7, Florida A&M moved to Buffalo’s slot on September 21, and Buffalo moved to the August 31 date vacated by Vanderbilt.
So the Rattlers didn’t replace Vanderbilt, San Diego State did. Florida A&M was a game originally on the schedule. While that Vanderbilt game would have gone a long way to put makeup on the pig that is Ohio State’s nonconference schedule for this season, the Rattlers would have been offered up as a sacrificial lamb all the same.
As much as I, and I’m sure many of you, hate watching games like this, they are a reality of modern big-time college football. Many will say that Ohio State could have guarded against this situation by scheduling a third BCS team in addition to Vanderbilt and Cal, but they could not have foreseen the Commodores backing out last October 1 .
In upcoming years, the Buckeyes have very respectable, if not downright intriguing, nonconference schedules. Ohio State travels to Annapolis to play Navy and also face Virginia Tech and Cincinnati at home in 2014. In 2015, the Buckeyes travel down to Blacksburg to open the season in Lane Stadium (recently named the fifth-loudest stadium in the country) and also welcome recent BCS crasher Northern Illinois to the Horseshoe. The 2016 schedule includes a trip to Norman to take on the Oklahoma Sooners.
However, many Saturdays remain open in those seasons and beyond. Unfortunately, the type of blowout that we witnessed last weekend may multiply. With the transition to the new four-team College Football Playoff beginning in the 2014 season, scheduling tough opponents during the nonconference slate may be disincentivized for top programs like the Buckeyes. Without the need to impress the BCS computers that take into account strength of schedule, the blue blood programs stack their scheduling plates with early season cupcakes, relying on the assumption that an undefeated champion of a conference like the SEC, Big Ten, or Pac-12 will never be left out of a four-team playoff. Whether that assumption proves true obviously remains to be seen, but it is surely a possibility.
Fans sick and tired of watching games decided by more than 50 points will complain about athletic departments failing to both put an entertaining product on the field and challenge their teams. However, it is hard to foresee any diehard Buckeye supporter not tuning in or heading down to Columbus to watch an undefeated Buckeyes team take on Penn State or Wisconsin or Michigan at Ohio Stadium, regardless of how pathetic Ohio State’s nonconference schedule was. The biggest college football programs are in the business of making money, and the quickest route to the most money runs straight through the College Football Playoff. And the most direct path to that playoff, of course, runs straight through the easiest regular season schedule possible.
So, unless the new College Football Playoff radically changes the incentive structure for top college football programs, we may very well witness a race to the bottom in nonconference scheduling. Maybe one day the Buckeyes, in a move dripping with Gordon Gee bowtie-adorned irony, will go so far as to schedule the Little Sisters of the Poor.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Vanderbilt does have a history of doing this sort of thing to Big Ten teams. The Commodores also backed out of a planned two-game series with Northwestern scheduled for 2013 and 2014