Northwestern plays Western Michigan this week, which is bad news for fans of good football. I can't really complain too much — after all, I got to cover games featuring all BCS conference opponents in the past two weeks, while my brethren in Wisconsin had to endure Badger beatdowns of UMass and Tennessee Tech. However, had it not been for a change in the schedule, NU would be traveling to Nashville to play Vanderbilt this week. Just guessing, but that game seems like it would be infinitely more entertaining than the one I'll be watching at Ryan Field on Saturday.
When it comes to creating schedules, Northwestern might be the best there is. Not from an entertainment perspective — I'd love to see NU play teams the caliber of, say, UCLA or Louisville — but from a winnability and perception perspective. The Wildcats schedule mediocre teams from BCS conferences — there are games they can (and probably should) win, but they will still be commended for playing teams from top conferences. Schedules are planned out far in advance, so it's not a perfect science, but there's a good bet that in any given year, Syracuse, California, Duke and Vanderbilt will be winnable games. Then NU throws in an FCS team and a lower-level FBS team, and voila: a schedule that's winnable and draws praise. The Wildcats are scheduling tougher in the coming years, with Notre Dame and Stanford both joining the non-conference slate. Wins will be harder to come by, but at least the entertainment and exposure values will be even better.
So if NU put on a scheduling clinic with this year's non-conference schedule, Vanderbilt is the polar opposite. The Commodores were supposed to be playing NU and Ohio State this year, but instead they have four games against the Little Sisters of the Poor. So here is a step-by-step guide of how not to put together a non-conference schedule, courtesy of Vanderbilt.
Step 1: Schedule Northwestern and Ohio State
This is actually a good thing. Northwestern is a solid program but also a winnable game. The Ohio State game gives a supposed "program on the rise" like Vanderbilt the chance to gain more respect with a major upset on what would likely be national TV. Nice work, Vanderbilt. But wait...
Step 2: Realize you were supposed to leave the Northwestern game open for an SEC game
Vanderbilt is playing South Carolina this week and
conveniently forgot that it had to leave that week open for the SEC.
Step 3: Decide the Ohio State game will be too hard
Step 4: Cancel the Northwestern and Ohio State games
Step 5: Send written letters to NU and OSU to let them know of the changes and hope the media doesn't ridicule the moves
Step 6: Form a new non-conference slate of Austin Peay, UMass, UAB and Wake Forest
Step 7: Non-conference schedule ensures yet another coveted Music City Bowl appearance
High fives all around in the Vanderbilt athletics offices! And another million dollar raise for coach James Franklin and his program on the rise.
Well done, Vandy. Well done.