There's been consternation lately about LSU's out of conference schedule for the 2008 football season. The fans have been on us. The media has been on us. Case in point:
In case you missed it, one of those guys called us "cowardly" and told us to "grow a spine" in our non-conference scheduling. He specifically compared us to USC, pointing out their "aggressive" non-conference scheduling. We play Appalachian State, Troy University, North Texas, and Tulane out of conference next year, all at home. USC plays Virginia, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, with Virginia on the road.
Granted, I like when we play at least one quality out-of-conference opponent. It makes for a more exciting home slate of games, and it puts us on television one additional time. We also, like last year, get some serious bragging rights if we win. I commend teams who play tougher OOC games, and we aren't this year, but why are we the bad guys here?
But let's look a little closer. The world is not all about out-of-conference scheduling. There is also an in-conference slate. If you look at ESPN's own Revised Top 25 for 2008, you see that LSU plays 3 of the top 10 teams, two of them on the road. USC only plays one of the top 10, and two more in the top 25. It is actually a little easier to schedule tough games out of conference when your conference slate isn't a killer.
And why are we suddenly "cowardly" when we have scheduled a non-conference game against a BCS opponent each of the last 6 years. In 2002, we played Virginia Tech. In 2003, we got Arizona in Arizona. In 2004, it was Oregon State. In 2005, Arizona State allowed us to play on their field at the last minute. In 2006, Arizona came to Baton Rouge. In 2007, we lit up Virginia Tech, one of the best teams in the country. In those years, we sprinkled in games against a Ben Roethlisberger-led Miami of Ohio team and perennial mid-major power Fresno State (who happened to be having a bad year). After 6 consecutive years of scheduling at least one quality OOC game, we take a little break this year. Cut us some slack.
And by the way, we were 5-1 in those out of conference BCS-quality games, with one lucky win (Arizona State 2005) and a few blowouts. Only the 2002 Virginia Tech team, when we were breaking in a new quarterback, was able to beat us.
Thirdly, while our OOC schedule is certainly not as strong as USC's, a couple of those teams are not bad opponents at all. Troy beat Oklahoma State last year, gave Georgia all it could handle, scored 31 points on Florida, and went 6-1 in its conference. Appalachian State famously took Michigan down, and won the FCS championship. OK, North Texas and Tulane were terrible.
Yes, those are guys we would never do a home-and-home with, but Troy and Appy State are teams that have shown they can hang with and even beat quality opponents. They aren't Ohio State, but they might be as good as Notre Dame. They're probably better than Stanford. Would the media be pleased if we took mid-major Troy off and added BCS-level Duke? Or perhaps Northwestern? Would you prefer Baylor? How about Temple? Troy is stronger than all of those teams.
So, to recap, if you're going to criticize our schedule, give us credit for the difficult conference schedule, acknowledge that we have been playing quality OOC games every year for more than half-a-decade, and don't overlook the medium-quality opponents we actually have.