The trend is there: the big teams, all 25 of them or so in D-1, bulking up once fluffy schedules padded with the Citadels and Western Michigans of the world in order to bolster their strength of schedule and get access to the priveleged circle of hefty bowl payouts. The prototype for this type of scheduling has been USC under Pete Carroll, though they'd always packed on a decent slate even before the arrival of Lucky Charms.
Pete Carroll, guarding his pot of gold at SC with competitive scheduling, aggressive recruiting, and his golden shillelagh, frequently found in the mouth of Heismanpundit.
(Come on: big chin, white poofy hair, all that jumping around he does in white pants...dude looks like he should be sitting atop a pint of gold while throwing a brick at a British cop. Sensitive thing to say to someone who plays ND every year, but there it is. Pete looks like Lucky Charms, and shall henceforth be known as that from this point on, joining our cast of nicknamed coaches along with Evil Sweatervest(Tressel), Ahab(Carr), and CRDP (Cool Ranch Dorito Phil, aka Phil Fulmer, who is very, very fat.)
The effects of the shift away from the 80-3 poundings of Northwesteastern Multidirectional State Tech to actually scheduling competitive matchups have already cropped up in the most unexpected places.
1. First, the temptation in leaping to this conclusion seems strong: trend exacerbates the trend of a league within a league in D-1. Teams wanting to add clout to their schedules face the choice of grabbing an out of conference matchup from a relatively small pool of teams. This may seem exclusionary at first, kneecapping rising mid-majors looking to make their bones against an ailing or snoozing power. Au contraire, actually; the effect means programs attempting to schedule have to reach down more than ever in an attempt to plug the holes in their slates which inevitably occur when ADs piss each other off, programs fall off the map for a few years, or other acts of god occur. You'll see more and more mid-majors getting their shot than ever before, and less and less regional glad-handing in the form of "ass-beating for paycheck" games.
Even Georgia, who's taken a firm spanking from the blogosphere for its tasty red velvet cake OOC scheduling, has gotten into the act lately. We can't shit on them for cowardly scheduling when they took the potentially nut-cutting matchup with Boise State for their first game of '06. Circumstances be damned--that deserves some applause, if only because Boise and Louisville are the two non-BCS teams no one wants to touch. Say this much for them: they can't be called scared money without serious qualifiers added.
2. One conclusion we're happy to leap to is this: good season with tough scheduling could become great easily, and bad seasons with stout scheduling could become fiascos in short order. We're thinking of FSU, now playing in an increasingly competitive ACC, forced to add in a game on top of playing Florida every season, stuck with a string of quarterbacks bent on sbowing up at strange dorm rooms at three in the morning, writing bad checks, and exhibiting outright flaky behavior on and off the field, leaning into the tail end of the Bowden years with a more and more pronounced limp thanks to institutionalized nepotism and the rise of legitimate competition in their league. (And this is the tail end, FSU fans. That's not us saying it, it's the Grim Reaper: average life expectancy for an adult male in the States after the age of 75 is 11.5 years, which means that's about how much longer you've got to endure the playcalling of Jeff Bowden.)
The Bowden era's winding down--it's just numbers. Hold me closer, Tony Danza...
Point being: if you go undefeated in a USC-style schedule, there's very little semantic "fuck-with" room in arguing championships and comparative schedules. Call it the Supermodel rule of scheduling: eat just one creampuff more than your competition and you're out of the running. ("Your fat ass will never wear Versace again, bitch!" ) On the other hand, a faltering team could go to the jackals in a most rapid way under the new wisdom, stumbling on one land mine and falling face first into the rest of them along the way. Witness Maryland last year in the new ACC; a few bad games, and a program that had won thirty games in three seasons goes 5-6 in a hurry, with a very grumpy Friedgen making College Park a living hell for his assistants.
Peaks get loftier; valleys, though could become veritable snake pits for teams out of sync, which won't do anything for the three-year standard now applied across the board for coaches to show dramatic improvement in their programs, no matter how miserable they might be. (Hello, Ole Miss. Good day, Eastern Carolina...) And social mobility for the Boises, Fresnos, Southern Mississippis, and Troys of this world speeds up dramatically. The game has indeed gotten faster, and predators could quickly become prey in shocking fashion under the new regime.