From a coach's viewpoint, you have to understand some things. One, we play a collision sport. We're playing with young men basically 17-22 years old. At Pittsburg State, in Division II, we had playoffs and experienced 15-16 game seasons, and I can tell you it's a grind. Reggie McNeal, our quarterback this season, was talking on one of our trips about his senior year in the high school playoffs and how by the 15th game it was punishing.
Well, yeah. But NCAA Division I-A programs have 85 scholarship athletes, plus walk-ons. That's 20-30 or so more than a Division II program. And because academics is so much more important at the Division I-A level, there is no 16-game season, including playoffs. The season is only 11 games long. Oops. I mean 12 games, since the academically-minded presidents just added another.
Here's another thing to consider as a fan: we have 85 scholarship players, and another 40 or so walk-ons. They all want to play. They all want you to see them play. In the pre-conference schedule we have a chance to schedule some games in which they have a chance to play at home. While none of those games is a gimmee, they are games that help us prepare for the grind of the eight-game Big 12 schedule and, hopefully, get some young and new players game experience before we start playing for a championship.
Oh, I see. You have to be able to blow out other teams, otherwise al the underclassmen won't get a chance to step onto the field, and that wouldn't be fair. So that means you don't have enough players to play a 16-game schedule, because your bench isn't deep enough, but you have too many players to face decent opponents. Makes sense to me.
What we need from Aggie fans is a mindset that Kyle Field is the greatest place for college football on a Saturday in the fall, and it doesn't matter who we're playing against. You want to come to watch and root for the good guys and create an intimidating environment for the bad guys. You want to do what our players do -- play for the name on the front of the maroon jersey. It makes no difference what the name is on the other team's jersey. When you fill up Kyle Field, you're helping us win, and financially you're helping every other Aggie athlete on 20 other sports teams.
Ah, so here we get to the gist of it--it's the fan's fault! There's something wrong with us if we're interested in something more than Sam Houston State getting clobbered by 75. You betcha. For some strange reason, I'd always thought that the game of football implied, you know, competition. I was a sports writer for the better part of a decade, and covered Big 12 football fairly regularly. Teams may claim to crave media attention and television exposure, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why there are more reporters and TV cameras at Floyd Casey Stadium for the Baylor vs. Colorado non-conference matchup than for Baylor vs. Louisiana Tech.
If a coach that's making millions every year wants to load up on cream puffs ala Bill Snyder, fine. Go ahead. Just don't get uppity and try to convince us that's not what you're doing. That Franchione takes offense when Old Ags suggest playing LSU or Arkansas in a non-conference series is disingenuous in the extreme. LSU is by far our longest-running non-conference rival, with lots of history there. There was a passion at those games exceeded only by the Turkey Day matchups with t.u. And Arkansas, while I have no desire to play them again, are a former SWC rival, so there's a legit connection there as well.
What probably offends me the most about Franchione's comments is the implied "all or nothing" context. That fans want every single non-conference game to be against a top 10 opponent. And, from Franchione's perspective, if we don't play 4-5 cream puffs then we'll be too banged up to have a prayer in Big 12 play. That's a crock. Jackie Sherrill had a vocal philosophy of playing one marquee matchup in the non-conference slate, one mid-level opponent and one easy win. R.C. Solcum had a policy of taking on any challenger, which meant many of his schedules were polarized with tough teams on one end and gimmies on the other.
Now that there are four non-conference games available on a yearly basis, there is absolutely no excuse for not having at least one decent game on the slate. This year's slate, with Clemson, SMU and Texas State, is almost respectable. Clemson, no doubt, will be a stout challenge in Death Valley, but any way you slice it, SMU and Texas State will be blowouts. But Clemson's legit, and validates the schedule (although I'd much rather the Tigers no be our season opener). I give the schedule a B. Next year's lineup included the Citadel, Army and Troy State. Army is a good matchup because of the schools' shared military heritage, but what is gained by playing the Citadel? Troy State's a team that can upset a major program on any given Saturday, yet we get no credit for a win. Replace Troy State with Florida State, our original opponent, and I'd give the lineup a solid A for generating fan interest and excitement. As it stands, the current schedule gets a D-minus. For 2007, Miami is the only opponent lined up thus far, so that alone earns a preliminary B ranking. But after seeing Franchione's thoughts on scheduling, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Miami quietly goes away in the next year or so, replaced by New Mexico State or the like.
Welcome to big-time college football.
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