The new college football playoff: will it hurt FCS schools?

As a fan of an FCS program, one thing stood out to me in all the hoopla about the new four-team FBS playoff. It may have just become a lot tougher for the department of athletics at an FCS school to balance its budget. Why?

Strength of schedule is apparently going to be a factor in determining which teams make the playoff.

From a June 21 article by Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel:

Weighing schedule strength could prove beneficial beyond just the playoff. Unlike the AP and Coaches’ Poll, which tend to place the most importance on simply not losing, a committee could theoretically elevate, say, an 11-2 Pac-12 team over a 12-1 Big Ten team if the former played three power-conference foes in September, while the other played three MAC or FCS schools.

“How do you encourage people to play [tough games]?” said [Big 10 commissioner Jim] Delany. “And I’m talking about our people and other peoples’ people. I don’t think we served ourselves particularly well with the 12th game.”

Delany wants his league to play a challenge event of sorts against the Pac-12, beginning in 2017 (or thereabouts), which would account for one non-conference game for each school in both leagues. Some of the Pac-12 schools aren’t so crazy about the idea, in part because of that conference’s nine-game league slate.

The Big 10 only has an eight-game conference schedule, though there has been talk of that changing. Not all Big 10 schools are in favor of moving to nine, however. For Wisconsin, which is evaluating its future schedules with a possible strength of schedule component in mind, one gets the impression that proposed contests against the likes of Notre Dame or Alabama may not be as likely if the conference adds a league game.

Notre Dame, which plays a difficult schedule almost every season, is not surprisingly also on board with measuring a school’s SOS in evaluating playoff fitness.

West Virginia director of athletics Oliver Luck was direct when discussing the possible pitfalls of scheduling an FCS school in the future:

 “[The strength of schedule component to the playoff] is going to force everybody to look at their non-conference schedule and figure out if we can still play a I-AA school.”

That sounds ominous if you are an AD at an FCS school which needs to play (at least) one FBS opponent every year to help balance the budget. Larry Leckonby of The Citadel (with department expenses in FY 2012 of $10.1 million) is in such a position:

For 2013, Leckonby said budgeting is complicated by the fact that The Citadel will have only five home football games [during the 2012 season]. A home game is worth about $130k. The game at N.C. State will bring a guarantee of $375K…

…To help make up the numbers, Leckonby said basketball will be asked to play three guarantee games next year. Basketball guarantees can bring in from $50k to $80K or so, depending on the foe.

Leckonby confirmed that 2013 football non-SoCon foes will be CSU and VMI at home and at Clemson and at East Carolina for a 12-game schedule. In 2014, the Bulldogs will play at Florida State and at VMI, with Charlotte and Coastal Carolina coming to Johnson Hagood Stadium on one-year deals.

In 2014, the regular season for FCS schools will also be 12 games, as in 2013, but The Citadel is only playing one FBS team that year instead of two. Otherwise the Bulldogs would play seven road games, with two of them against FBS competition, and only five home games. Thus, the games against Charlotte and Coastal Carolina.

Back to Mandel: from a recent SI “mailbag”, he suggested that FBS teams “may (hopefully) see a decline in FCS foes, simply because of the blight that puts on one’s schedule, but we’ll still get plenty of games between the Big Ten and MAC, the SEC and Sun Belt.”

Well, I obviously disagree with that characterization. Some of my tomato plants might suffer from blight (though not if I can help it), but playing an FCS school is not a “blight” on an FBS team’s schedule. Of course, Mandel went to Northwestern, a Big 10 school; perhaps he’s hoping that the conference can avoid embarrassing losses to FCS opponents by simply not playing those games at all.

I got a slightly more positive response from Mandel’s SI colleague, Andy Staples, on Twitter. Just slightly. After saying he was “thrilled” there would possibly be fewer FBS/FCS matchups, he did acknowledge that smaller schools need those games.

I received a few negative tweets on the subject from the Twitterverse. My personal favorite was this one:

“we want your money” not a valid reason. Sorry.

Yes, how dare money-grubbing schools like The Citadel attempt to defile the pristine pastureland of major-college football.

The real reason the strength of schedule issue is getting so much play from people like Jim Delany is because of the recent dominance of the SEC. With six straight BCS titles, that league has demonstrated it can A) win the big game, and B) schedule its way to the big game. I am sure Delany and company would like to force the SEC powers to replace their annual “series” versus Southern Conference teams with games against, say, Big XII schools.

If the Pac-12 and Big 10 can have what I described earlier in this post as a “challenge event”, why not the Big XII and SEC? You could have a high-profile game like Florida-Texas, for instance. That’s right, the Gators would play a non-conference regular season game outside the state of Florida (which never happens).

I suspect there would be few “big-time” matchups, however, even if a Big XII-SEC challenge came to pass. One reason for that is RPI, even with strength of schedule a consideration.

The commissioners want strength of schedule emphasized and to give conference champions some preference. They are also working on power rankings, similar to the RPI used by the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee.

I’m not a professional mathematician, so this is going to be dangerous, but here goes…

RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is formulated by a team’s winning percentage (generally 25% of the total), along with its opponents’ winning percentage (50%) and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents (25%). That’s the basic concept; there are usually small built-in bonuses and penalties (for road games, etc.).

Sure, Texas could play Florida (in this example, I’m assuming both the Longhorns and Gators are outstanding squads, as opposed to what they have been for the last two seasons). However, in such a matchup one team would obviously lose. Strength of schedule or no strength of schedule, any loss is going to be extremely harmful to a playoff aspirant, since there are only twelve regular season games.

What Texas and Florida would really want is the value of the other’s SOS without having to play, and risk a loss. Instead of playing each other in a Big XII vs. SEC “event”, they could schedule (presumably lesser) opponents of each other. Texas could play Kentucky while Florida faces Kansas. This would take advantage of the opponents’ opponents winning percentage (built up by playing an SEC or Big XII league schedule), not to mention the team’s own winning percentage, without having to play a truly elite opponent.

I think you would see a lot more of those kinds of games than Texas-Florida, LSU-Oklahoma, etc. In some cases, it would be more than justifiable.

Southern California already plays nine Pac-12 games, plus Notre Dame out of conference, each season. There is no real benefit for the Trojans in participating in Delany’s challenge, and having to face a Big 10 opponent like Ohio State or Michigan in another regular-season game.

In addition, there is a “connectivity” issue with RPI. This is especially problematic in college baseball, which is a much more regional sport than college hoops, and as a result teams from parts of the country with fewer baseball schools tend to get hosed by the RPI (and the reverse is also true). I would guess that college football would be even worse in this respect, because there aren’t nearly as many games, and so there would be far less connectivity.

Even if the football playoff selection committee uses a different version of RPI (or “power rankings”), it is likely to run into similar problems.

All of that is assuming that the landscape for non-conference scheduling changes at all. I realize I’ve just written several paragraphs about the potential for FCS schools to lose out on guarantee games, but ultimately I think that most FBS schools will ignore strength of schedule when putting together their non-league slates.

When he wasn’t calling FCS schools a “blight” on FBS schedules, Mandel was making a good point about the need for big-time programs to play as many home games as possible, for financial reasons. Those schools need to buy at least two guarantee games every season.

Another factor is the simple fact that not many schools will need to schedule with the post-season in mind. Only 3% of the entire FBS is going to be in a playoff each season, as opposed to the NCAA basketball tournament, where 20% of D-1 teams make the field. Unless there is a dramatic shift in college football’s hierarchy, Mississippi and Iowa State aren’t going to be in the mix for a playoff berth in football. Neither are Indiana or Oregon State. Playing an FCS school isn’t going to cost those schools a shot at a national title, but it will be good for their budgets and (usually) win totals.

Strength of schedule matters in college basketball because many more teams have a chance to advance to post-season play. Playing a weak non-league slate can hurt middle-of-the-pack schools in major conferences. In football, those schools aren’t in the running anyway.

I think that in the future a school may occasionally adjust its schedule for a potential title run. For instance, Florida State may decide it has a great chance to win it all in 2014. If the Seminoles go 12-0, they are a lock for a playoff berth — but what if FSU slips up and finishes 11-1? Would the ACC be strong enough as a league for Florida State to get a bid anyway?

FSU does play Florida in non-conference play, so its schedule strength should be helped by that matchup. Florida State has so far only announced one other OOC opponent for 2014. That school? The Citadel.

It wouldn’t surprise me if FSU were to decide (perhaps in the winter of 2013) that it needed to replace The Citadel with a BCS opponent in order to shore up any lingering questions about its schedule strength. In that case, though, FSU would buy out the game, so it wouldn’t be a total loss for the military college (and I could see Florida State arranging for The Citadel to play another FBS team to make up for it, perhaps another ACC school).

It may be, then, that the threat of guarantee games drying up for FCS schools is overstated. I hope so. It does bear watching, however.

For many FCS schools, annual games against FBS opponents are not only important for budgetary reasons, they are a recruiting tool and often a way to energize the fan base. They also help programs maintain a connection to major-college football, which at the very least is of some historical interest. Occasionally, they become something more. It’s not strictly about the money.

It’s just mostly about the money.

Will the conference realignment train make a stop at the SoCon station?

It was inevitable that the never-ending saga of conference realignment would eventually impact the Southern Conference. To recap, some recent (and related) developments in the world of college athletics have included the following:

— As part of a CAA implosion, Virginia Commonwealth is joining the football-free Atlantic 10 (which will have 14 teams for basketball after adding VCU and Butler to replace Temple and Charlotte). Old Dominion, which has had a football program for about three hours, is making a big move to Conference USA. Georgia State, with even less football history than ODU, is joining the Sun Belt.

George Mason is staying in the CAA for the moment, although that may be because there isn’t room in the A-10 for GMU…not yet, anyway.

— Georgia State isn’t alone as a new member of the Sun Belt, as that league is also adding Texas State, but Florida International and North Texas are moving out (to C-USA). Denver is another Sun Belt school on the move, as it is heading to the WAC in a month, assuming the WAC will still exist in a month.

— Denver doesn’t have football. South Alabama once didn’t have a football program either, but now it does, and it will stay in the Sun Belt for all sports. The Jaguars begin league play in football this season.

— Arkansas-Little Rock would be the only non-football school in the Sun Belt, as things stand now. That is expected to change this week with the addition of UT-Arlington, which will give the Sun Belt 12 overall members, with 10 of them playing football.

— Another football newbie, UT-San Antonio, has already managed to join multiple FBS conferences (jilting the WAC for C-USA). UTSA thus has already joined more leagues (two) than it has played football seasons (one), a historic accomplishment.

— Appalachian State wants to move up to FBS land. To do so, Appy has to be invited to join an FBS conference, which has been problematic. The folks in Boone would love to hook up with C-USA, but the feeling may not be mutual. Not only did C-USA invite ODU instead of Appy, it is also bringing in Charlotte (UNCC to you old-timers out there). Let’s review some basic gridiron facts about Appalachian State, Old Dominion, and Charlotte:

– 0 (number of football victories by Charlotte in its history)
– 68 (number of football victories by ODU in its history)
– 67 (number of football victories by Appalachian State since the beginning of the 2006 season)

Ouch. That sound you hear is Appalachian State fans collectively grinding their teeth. (Incidentally, the Mountaineers have 555 wins over the program’s entire history.)

The lesson, as always: markets matter.

— Middle Tennessee State did everything it could to wangle an invitation to C-USA, but like Appalachian State, MTSU didn’t get the call. Again, markets matter. Murfreesboro and Boone lost out to Norfolk and Charlotte.

— Georgia Southern is going to try to raise a bunch of money so that it can move to the land of milk and honey, too. It’s supposed to be an eight-year fundraising campaign, which in today’s climate may be too long a period of time. Eight weeks would be better.

Georgia Southern’s late-to-the-party approach is probably due to the fact it has taken a while for the powers-that-be in Statesboro to warm up to the idea of being an FBS school, much to the annoyance of a vocal section of its fan base. It has been almost three years since GSU released a self-study (entitled “Football Classification Analysis”) that revealed just how difficult a move up to FBS could be for Georgia Southern. I wrote an extensive (warning: VERY extensive) post about the report when it first came out: Link

— Also on the “we want FBS” list: Liberty, a school that has had big-time gridiron aspirations for decades (as a Sports Illustrated story from 1989 illustrates). Liberty is ready to go; just give it 48 hours.

— Delaware is one of several schools being mentioned in what would become an expanded (and expansive) MAC. This article states that moving to the FBS “has been discussed favorably among members of the UD board of trustees and other high-ranking officials.” Whether that discussion has been about football only (and placing its other sports in another league) is open to question.

Meanwhile, no current all-sports MAC schools are being linked to another league, which comes as a surprise to at least one writer.

— James Madison, another CAA football-playing school trying to figure out its future, has also been linked to the MAC — but wait, there’s more. JMU reportedly has also drawn interest from the WAC. That would be the WAC which is a year away from being a two-school (New Mexico State and Idaho) football league, as things stand now.

Presumably the WAC is trying to put together western and eastern divisions to keep the conference alive, or maybe try to swing a Sun Belt-WAC merger of some sort. Good luck with that.

The MAC is adding Massachusetts for football but losing Temple, so it will be at 13 teams and may want to add another one — or three. Appalachian State is a possibility for this league too. Oddly, Appy may not be a factor in the Sun Belt sweepstakes, at least not yet, which will disappoint this columnist.

Honestly, I’m not sure why the MAC would feel the need to expand, but then I thought the SEC was fine at 12 schools. In today’s climate, if your conference has “only” 12 members, then it clearly needs to add even more schools and get to at least 14 if not 16 members, because otherwise the world will end (per the Mayans and/or Mike Slive).

The SoCon is holding its spring meetings at the end of May/beginning of June. According to Chattanooga AD Rick Hart, conference expansion will be the main (if not exclusive) topic of discussion. League commissioner John Iamarino stated that he had a short list of schools to target if that became necessary. Will it become necessary?

That depends on what Appalachian State and Georgia Southern do, of course, and it will also depend on what other conferences do. The league to watch is probably the CAA, but the confusing trail of realignment for SoCon schools will also pass through the MAC, Sun Belt, Big South, Atlantic Sun, and possibly the OVC. (No, I’m not buying the WAC — at least, not yet.)

The CAA’s problem is basically twofold (see this excellent overview). It has to decide whether it should continue being a player in the world of FCS, and it has to decide what its geographic focus will be. How it makes those decisions will go a long way in determining how much the SoCon could be affected.

Brian Mull of the Wilmingon (NC) Star-News wrote a solid piece from UNC-Wilmington’s perspective. UNCW is a non-football school at the southern end of the CAA. UNCW needs travel partners, and schools like the College of Charleston and Davidson would be ideal on that front. Mull also discusses other schools in the league as well, like UNC-Greensboro and (to prop up the football side of the CAA) Furman, Elon, and Appalachian State. UNC-Asheville of the Big South gets a mention.

He isn’t the first person to connect Davidson and the CofC to the CAA. As soon as ODU announced it was jumping ship, my twitter feed started humming with tweets from the likes of Jeff Goodman and Andy Katz, among others, all with the same “CAA must go after Davidson/CofC” message.

Just how interested would those two schools really be, though? I have my doubts.

The argument that the two would benefit from a move to a multi-bid hoops league falls flat, in my opinion, because the departures of VCU and ODU lessen the “value” of CAA hoops to the point where the conference is no longer a solid bet to get multiple bids on a semi-regular basis. Heck, even this past season CAA regular-season champ Drexel didn’t get an at-large bid to the NCAAs.

Combine the loss of VCU and ODU with the realization that league hoops stalwart George Mason and FBS contenders JMU and Delaware are all far from certain to stay in the CAA, and the move would be mostly lateral from an on-court perspective.

Another reason for Davidson and the CofC to move on could be the CAA’s new TV contract with NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), which on the surface appears to easily surpass the SoCon’s PBS arrangement. However, with the recent defections of ODU and VCU (not to mention Georgia State), that NBCSN/CAA contract will likely be renegotiated. It is hard to determine just how much exposure schools like Davidson and the College of Charleston would get with that deal.

Is it worth the increased travel costs, loss of traditional rivalries, and/or the general effect on the schools’ total sports portfolio? As far as other sports are concerned, for example, I’m thinking about CofC baseball, which would definitely be hurt by a move to the CAA.

That isn’t to say there wouldn’t be positives for a school like the College of Charleston. For one thing, this isn’t your mother’s CofC. It now has about 10,000 undergraduate students, or roughly 1,000 students for every available parking space downtown. It’s a midsize state school looking to attract good students, including those valuable out-of-state students with their out-of-state tuition payments. Moving to a league with a more northern geographic scope might be seen as beneficial, as part of an overall strategy of recruiting students from the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states.

I think Davidson would be a much tougher sell. It’s a small school that isn’t going to get bigger. It’s been in the Southern Conference since 1936, with the exception of a brief three-year fling with the Big South more than two decades ago. That Davidson/Big South dalliance could be described as one of those affairs that scares people from ever straying again. I’m not sure Davidson is ready to trade in bus trips to Furman for airplane flights to Northeastern.

When trying to analyze future league membership, the potential loss by the SoCon of Appalachian State and/or Georgia Southern should be viewed differently than if Davidson/CofC/UNCG were to leave. If Appy and GSU depart the conference, a football replacement (or two) would be needed, which would not be the case if one or more of the non-football schools left the league.

The last two schools to be admitted to the SoCon were each smaller schools (Elon and Samford, both private universities), and I suspect that trend will continue.

I don’t see Coastal Carolina having much, if any, chance of joining the Southern Conference. CCU in the SoCon is a non-starter for Furman, The Citadel, and Wofford (and probably Davidson and Samford as well). Adding Coastal Carolina to the conference is of no benefit to those schools.

I thought Coastal Carolina might have a decent shot at getting a CAA invite, but there seems to be some resistance to CCU from that league as well. The leading football-school candidate for the CAA appears to be Stony Brook.

At this point, Coastal Carolina might have a better chance of moving out of the Big South and into another league by going the FBS route. That would be a costly move, but maybe CCU could ask its new football coach for a loan. After all, he has the money.

Here are some football-playing schools that might be good SoCon fits:

– VMI: yes, a back to the future move. Would VMI accept? Probably. Leaving the SoCon was not the best decision ever made by its administration. It would help if VMI had a travel partner of sorts, though…

– William&Mary: another back to the future candidate, and a Virginia school to pair with VMI. If the CAA completely collapses, William&Mary will become a school needing a new (and appropriate) home. Truth be told, at least part of its fan base would prefer the Patriot League, and I can understand that. If the Patriot League doesn’t expand, though, and the CAA can’t get its act together, I could see the Tribe back in the SoCon.

– Richmond: not happening. Richmond basketball is in the A-10 and UR isn’t giving that up anytime soon. Richmond as a football-only member of the SoCon? Possible, I suppose, but I doubt it (and wouldn’t support it, either).

– Mercer: hired former Furman coach Bobby Lamb to start a football program; however, it’s going to be non-scholarship. If it were scholarship, Mercer would be a very strong candidate.

– Presbyterian: PC would be a decent candidate if there weren’t already three football-playing schools in the league from South Carolina. Thus, it’s not likely to be invited, although Presbyterian would certainly be more palatable to Furman/The Citadel/Wofford than would Coastal Carolina.

– Jacksonville: I wrote about JU when I previewed The Citadel’s season opener last year. JU has potential, but it’s another non-scholarship football program.

– Gardner-Webb: It would rank behind most of the other schools I mentioned as far as likely SoCon contenders are concerned.

Incidentally, I am on board with smaller schools being the focus of the Southern Conference when/if it looks for new membership. I’m biased, so I want what is best for The Citadel. What is best for The Citadel, in my opinion, is to compete in a Division I all-sports conference with “like” schools.

Of course, there really aren’t any schools like The Citadel (save maybe VMI), but ideally the other schools would be similar in terms of enrollment size, academic standards, budgets for varsity athletics, etc. If you have a couple of days and want to read more about my ideas on “peer institutions” and what The Citadel should be doing going forward, I wrote a manifesto a month or so ago that Leo Tolstoy would have considered a tad lengthy.

What do I think will happen? I think Davidson and the College of Charleston will stay in the SoCon. I suspect Appalachian State will move to FBS within twelve months. Georgia Southern may stay at the FCS level for a while longer, unless the two schools are a “package deal” for an FBS league (likely the Sun Belt). VMI will wind up back in the SoCon.

I could be wrong about all of that, of course. There are no guarantees.

It’s all speculative at this point, though. Anybody can say anything, especially on the internet. On Saturday night a couple of tweets showed up on my timeline indicating that Clemson was going to move to the Big XII — “from all indications the board of trustees will approve”. I had never heard of the original tweeter, but the information (or misinformation) spread like wildfire. More than 36 hours after the initial tweets, no other source had confirmed the story. This is fairly typical.

At least that rumor was about Clemson. I’m starting to get tired of the Florida State-Big XII angle. Hey, if anyone wants to start a fun rumor, try this one:

FSU and Clemson are staying in the ACC, because they know that Notre Dame is joining the ACC as part of a joint entry with a mystery school. While eating lunch at a Bojangle’s in suburban Greensboro, an ACC official accidentally dropped an artist’s rendering of the new 16-team league. A quick-thinking cashier took a picture of it. I’ve acquired a photo of this mock-up. Consider this a TSA exclusive. It’s a “done deal”.

Happy conference realignment, everybody!

Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Wofford

Date and time:  Saturday, October 30, at 1:30 pm ET

Television:  SportSouth and FCS-Central; Tom Werme and Sam Wyche on the call from Spartanburg

This, somewhat amazingly, is going to be the fifth year in a row the game between Wofford and The Citadel has been televised.  I believe it’s the third consecutive time Werme and Wyche have called the game; in 2006 the game was televised by South Carolina ETV, while the last three (and Saturday’s game) have all been carried by SportSouth.

Tangent:  The Citadel doesn’t appear on television that often, which is understandable, but this week there are two Big XII matchups that won’t be televised, which is less understandable.  One reason for this is the Big XII has a poor TV contract, and the other is that one of the matchups is a Texas A&M home game.

Aggies AD Bill Byrne is well-known for his aversion to pay-per-view telecasts, or regional broadcasts where the school doesn’t receive a payout.  He apparently believes televising home games hurts attendance.  He is almost certainly wrong about that, at least in the long term.  I actually wrote a little bit about this subject in last year’s Wofford preview.

A school with a tradition as grand as that of Texas A&M should have no trouble with home attendance in the first place.  At any rate, television is a great promotional tool for a school’s football program and the university in general, and it’s very surprising that in 2010, there is still someone in a position of authority who doesn’t believe that.

Byrne may be the final holdout, after the 2007 death of longtime Chicago Blackhawks owner “Dollar Bill” Wirtz.  As a result, Texas A&M was the last FBS team to appear on TV this season, when it finally had a game against Oklahoma State televised.

When I initially started writing this post, my idea was to use the bulk of it to discuss Kevin Higgins’ status as head coach of The Citadel.  However, I changed my mind about one-third of the way through it, for a couple of reasons.

One is that I felt I had not had time to thoroughly research a couple of points I wanted to make.  I didn’t want to write some hurried screed lacking proper foundation, particularly on this issue.  Also, I’m not sure writing about a coach’s tenure immediately after his team commits nine turnovers lends itself to treating things with proper perspective.

It’s just a blog, but I do have some standards…

What I’m going to do, I think, is wait until The Citadel’s bye week, and then in lieu of a normal preview (since there won’t be a game to write about) I’ll post my thoughts on the coaching situation.

Because of the last-minute change in approach, this preview is going to be shorter than normal.  That is probably just as well, because to be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure what to say about Saturday’s game against the Terriers, other than the Bulldogs can’t possibly play worse on offense than they did against Georgia Southern.  At least, I hope not.

Wofford was 3-8 last season, as it struggled with a lot of injuries and what was considered a bad case of fumbleitis, although not as bad as the Bulldogs’ fumbling problems this year.   The Citadel has fumbled 33 times, losing 19.  Through eight games last season, Wofford had fumbled 19 times, losing 13.

Wofford lost one fumble in its ninth game, against The Citadel, but unfortunately that didn’t keep the Terriers from scoring 43 points.

Last season one of Wofford’s key injuries was to fullback Eric Breitenstein.  He’s back this season, and leading the nation in scoring, averaging just over two touchdowns per game (he scored four times against Furman while rushing for 234 yards).  Breitenstein has scored at least two touchdowns in his last six games.

Mitch Allen struggled last year for the Terriers, but the quarterback has been much improved this season.  Allen had a season-high 178 yards rushing against Western Carolina (one of three Terriers to rush for over 100 yards in that game).  He also has a 3.9 GPA in Physics, which a professor at another Southern Conference school once told me would be the equivalent of a 2.9 GPA at The Citadel.  (Hey, I’m just reporting the facts here.)

While perusing the statistics, I was surprised to see that Wofford’s opponents actually have had a slight edge in time of possession.  Wofford is converting 43% of its third down attempts, which is a little lower than what the Terriers would like but better than last season.   Wofford as usual has not shied away from going for it on 4th down, and the Terriers are 8 for 11 in that category.

Mike Niam is a 6’3″, 245 lb. linebacker for Wofford.  He played in two games last season for the Terriers, leading the team in tackles both times, before tearing his ACL.  He returned for spring practice, then had to have surgery on his knee in the fall, when it was discovered he had torn his ACL again.  He missed the first five games of the season, but returned two weeks ago — and has led the team in tackles in both games since returning.

Wofford’s best defensive player, though, is DE Ameet Pall, a Canadian who leads the nation in sacks per game (1.5).  He has 10.5 sacks total on the season (3 of those against Furman — boy, that was a tough game for the Paladins, wasn’t it?).  Peet has 15 tackles for loss overall.  At least one observer rates him ahead of GSU defensive tackle Brent Russell, which is really saying something.

Wofford placekicker Christian Reed is 8-10 on FG attempts but has missed four PATs this season (including a stretch of three misses in a row).  The Terriers have only punted 25 times in seven games; just five of those have been returned (although for a 13-yard average that probably concerns Terrier coaches).

Wofford games don’t feature a lot of penalties.  The Terriers are being flagged about five times per game.  Wofford opponents are only averaging three penalties per contest, which I find a bit curious.

One injury of note for Wofford:  center Trey Johnson broke his arm in last week’s game against Elon.  He will be replaced by redshirt freshman Jared Singleton, who played most of that contest after Johnson got hurt.

Last season’s game against Wofford was one of the more disappointing games I’ve seen at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  (Unfortunately, this year I’ve seen two games at JHS that were even more disappointing.)  The Bulldogs played poorly in all aspects of the game, and the score reflected that.

Kevin Higgins thinks that the matchup with Wofford on Saturday will be “a great football game“.  I’m glad he thinks it will be, since he’s the head coach.  Of course, last season he thought the Bulldogs were “going to war“.  That wasn’t quite the case.

I just watch the games from a safe distance, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think it’s going to be a great game.  Wofford has confidence, experience, and is at home.  The Citadel (at least offensively) lacks confidence, experience, and is on the road.  The Bulldogs have lost 11 straight SoCon games away from home, and most of them weren’t close losses.

I would like to be wrong on Saturday.  Very wrong.

Final note:  Jean Marshall, who for many years was the ticket manager for The Citadel’s department of athletics, died last week at the age of 80.  I was just one of many people who had the chance to interact with Ms. Marshall over the years.  As was stated in The Blue and White (probably by Andy Solomon), “She was a favorite of many and will be missed.”  Condolences to her family.

Why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in the first place?

I didn’t touch on this in my preview of the game between The Citadel and Arizona, but I figured I could make a quick post out of the question:  why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in football in the first place?  I’m sure fans of both schools are a little curious about that.

Well, for money, of course.  The Citadel has to play at least one football “guarantee” game every season to balance (or attempt to balance) its budget for athletics.  On the other hand, surely The Citadel could find an FBS opponent a little closer to home, an ACC or SEC team, or even a Big East squad.  After all, the Bulldogs have played teams from all those leagues in the last few seasons, along with a Big XII team (Texas A&M), a Big 10 outfit (Wisconsin)…oh, wait a second.  I see a pattern — a pattern created by none other than Les Robinson.

That’s right, The Citadel’s national tour of BCS conferences is a result of one of former AD Les Robinson’s grand ideas.  You can read about it here:  Link

The game against the Pac-10’s Arizona is the last of the “BCS series” for The Citadel, which in the past five years has traveled to play against the aforementioned Texas A&M and Wisconsin, along with Pittsburgh of the Big East, Florida of the SEC, and North Carolina and Clemson of the ACC.

Just prior to that five-year run the Bulldogs traveled to Oxford to play Mississippi and Tallahassee to tangle with Florida State.  The coach for all these games has been Kevin Higgins, so keep that in mind when evaluating his 25-32 record at The Citadel. I think there is a good chance Higgins is the only head coach in the country to have played teams from all six BCS conferences in the last five seasons.

After this game the Bulldogs will have completed the Robinson Quest, having played teams from all six BCS leagues.  Robinson even set up a “bonus” two-game series with Princeton of the Ivy League.  I am not sure current AD Larry Leckonby is crazy about scheduling the likes of Arizona or (to a lesser extent) Wisconsin, as the travel for those games eats into the guarantee.  It was also a significant issue for the game at Princeton.

I can certainly understand that, and in the future I expect most, if not all, of The Citadel’s football guarantee games to come against SEC/ACC schools.  However, I don’t think it hurts the school to travel out of its home region on occasion.  I agree with the comment Robinson made in the linked article about such games providing needed national exposure.  Another thing they provide is an opportunity for alums living outside the southeast to attend a game.

The Citadel brought a very good crowd to the Princeton game last year.  I can attest to the number of PA/NJ/NY alums in attendance, most of whom showed up with their families, and some with friends too.  We need to play games like that once in a while, if only for those fans.

The game against Arizona will give some of our alums on the west coast a chance to see their team in action.  Admittedly, a game against UCLA or Stanford might have been a better bet in terms of Bulldog supporters showing up — I’m not sure how many alums live in Arizona — but still, it’s in the general area.

Anyway, I hope the following gives a little insight into how this game came to be.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing any other matchups on the gridiron between The Citadel and Pac-10 teams in the near future, but you never know.

College baseball bubble, 5/29

Just a quick update…for the breakdown prior to conference tournament play, see this post:  Link

The Saturday morning report, with changes noted from what I wrote in midweek:

– Locks (36):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, Baylor

Change: Six teams that were not locks earlier in the week are now:  Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, and Baylor.

– Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

Congratulations to Stony Brook and Rider for clinching automatic bids on Friday out of the America East and MAAC, respectively.

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

Change: Florida Gulf Coast did lose in its tournament.

That means 55 spots are taken, with 9 still to go.

— Florida Gulf Coast University’s loss in the Atlantic Sun tournament will hurt, but it may still draw an at-large bid, making the A-Sun a two-bid league.  Could be close for the Eagles.

— The Big 10 is not likely to be a two-bid league.  Minnesota is in the driver’s seat for the auto bid.  I won’t completely discount this league getting a second team (Michigan), only because it’s the Big 10, and not because it deserves one.

— Wichita State is in the final of the MVC tournament and plays Illinois State for the title on Saturday.  The Shockers could lose today and still get in the NCAAs, but I tend to doubt it.

— Texas State is still alive in the bloodbath that has been the Southland tournament.  Could Texas State get an at-large bid, if needed?  Possibly.  Like FGCU, it would be a close call.

— The Big East has two locks and likely will get a third team in the field.  That team would have been Pittsburgh, but the Panthers went 1-2 in the tourney.  Also, St. John’s could steal a bid.  If the Johnnies win the tournament, is this a 4-bid league?

— Results in the Pac-10 on Friday broke almost perfectly for that league getting 8 teams in the field.  Stanford locked up a bid, and there were big wins for Oregon State and California.  Washington also won, but I think the Huskies are the ninth team and will not make it.  Oregon State and Cal both probably need one more win.  Arizona is still in good shape, but the Wildcats need to beat the Beavers at least once during the weekend to feel 100% secure.

— The Big XII is going to be a five-bid league.  It also has four completely meaningless games in its tournament today, thanks to the wonder that is pool play.

— The Southern Conference will be at least a three-bid league.  Elon should be that third team, despite losing a fight and a game on Thursday.  The Phoenix can still win the SoCon tourney, but if Elon doesn’t and either Western Carolina or Appalachian State does, I’m not sure the committee is taking four teams from this league.  The Citadel and the College of Charleston will be in the field of 64.

— Southern Mississippi plays Rice in the C-USA title game on Saturday, and the Golden Eagles probably have to win that game to get a bid.

— Liberty is still alive in the Big South tournament, but with more conference tourney upsets looming, it looks like the Flames must win that tourney to snatch a bid.  That will be a tall order, as Liberty will have to beat High Point once and Coastal Carolina twice.

— The Sun Belt could become a three-bid league if a team other than Florida Atlantic wins its tournament.  Either Arkansas State or Troy will be in the final, and FAU has to beat Florida International to get to the other side of the title matchup.  It would be interesting to see Garrett Wittels continue his hit streak in the NCAAs, but I think FIU has to win the SB tourney to make it.  Of course, they may just do that.

— Boston College is probably out of the mix for an at-large after going 1-2 in the ACC tourney (a result that helps North Carolina).  North Carolina State beat Clemson in its opener and probably needs one more win to feel good about its chances.  At this point, I think the Wolfpack might need that win only to further differentiate itself from BC.

— I still think the SEC will get 8 bids.  Kentucky is still in the mix, but I just don’t see it.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Kentucky’s name popped up on the selection show, though.

So, there are nine spots to fill.  As of Saturday morning, I think they might go like this:

Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon State, FGCU, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, California, Elon, Liberty

Still alive:  Texas State (if needed), Southern Mississippi, Washington, Michigan, Boston College, Wichita State (if needed), Kentucky

Examining the college baseball “bubble” with one week to go

This will be a huge week in the college baseball world, obviously, with conference tournament action all over the country (along with some key regular season games in the Pac-10, which does not have a league tournament).  I decided to break down the potential field and see what teams are in, what teams are out, and what teams have work to do.  Admittedly, I’m not the only person who does this — you can read fine efforts from the folks at Baseball America and Yahoo! Sports, just to name two — but I’m the only person who will do it on this blog.  So there.

I’m going to approach this from the point of view of a fan of a “bubble” team who wants to know the ideal scenario by which his team can make the field, by the way.  The Citadel, while not a true “lock”, is probably safe at this point (and well it should be). However, I would like to see any potential roadblocks to the NCAAs removed.  In other words, I’m for the chalk.

RPI numbers mentioned below are as of May 23 and are from Boyd Nation’s website.  For the uninitiated, the regionals include 64 teams, 30 automatic qualifiers (by winning their respective league bids) and 34 at-large selections.  Three leagues do not hold post-season tournaments, so their regular season champs get the auto bid. Several smaller conferences have already held their post-season events and so we know what teams will be representing those leagues.

There are 15 leagues that will definitely only have one team in the field, the so-called “one-bid leagues”.  Dartmouth, Bethune-Cookman, Bucknell, and San Diego have already qualified from four of these conferences.  The other eleven leagues are the America East, Atlantic 10, CAA, Horizon, MAAC, MAC, NEC, OVC, SWAC, Summit, and WAC.  That leaves 49 spots for the other 15 leagues.

(There are also a few independents, along with the members of the Great West, a league that does not get an automatic bid, but none of those teams are serious candidates to make a regional.)

There are several leagues that will also be “one-bid” conferences, unless the regular season champion doesn’t win the conference tournament, and even then the favorite might not be good enough to get an at-large bid anyway.  Bubble teams should definitely be rooting for the top seed in these leagues, just to make sure no spots are “stolen”.  These leagues are as follows:

— Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast University dominated this conference.  With an RPI of 40, FGCU probably stands a decent (not great) shot at getting a bid even if it loses in the A-Sun tourney.  This is unfamiliar ground for the Eagles, as the A-Sun tourney will be their first post-season experience in Division I.

If you’re wondering why you have never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University, it’s because the school (located in Fort Myers) has only existed since 1997.  The baseball team has only been around since 2003, first as a D-2 program and now at D-1.  It’s an amazing story, really; there are a few more details to be found here.  It just goes to show you how many good baseball players there are in Florida, and for that matter how many young people there are in Florida (FGCU has an enrollment of over 11,000).

— Big 10 – Michigan has an RPI of 65, which isn’t really that great, and didn’t even win the regular season title (Minnesota, with a losing overall record, did).  It’s barely possible the selection committee will throw a bone to the all-powerful Big 10 and give a “snow bid” to a second team from the league, but I doubt it.   Incidentally, the Big 10 tournament will be held in Columbus, but Ohio State did not qualify for the event.

— Big South – Coastal Carolina will almost certainly be a national seed.  If the Chanticleers win the league tourney, the Big South is probably a one-bid league. Liberty has an RPI of 51 and has beaten no one of consequence.  Bubble teams should definitely root for CCU.

— Conference USA – Rice will be in the tournament.  The only other team with a shot at a potential at-large bid is Southern Mississippi, but with an RPI of 67, it’s likely the Eagles need to win the C-USA tourney.  Otherwise, it could be bad news for the Minnesota Vikings.

— Missouri Valley – Wichita State will be the top seed at the MVC tourney, tying for the regular season title with Illinois State but holding the tiebreaker.  If the Shockers (RPI of 56) don’t win the league tournament, they could get an at-large bid, but I don’t see it. Still, you have to watch out, given the tradition of Wichita State, that the committee doesn’t give a “legacy” bid.

— Southland – There are three teams (Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Northwestern State) that are semi-viable at-large candidates, but I suspect all of them really need the auto bid.  Texas State won the regular season title, has an RPI of 50, and probably would be the one best positioned for an at-large spot, but I don’t think that would happen. Bubble teams should pull for Texas State anyway, just to make sure.  Southeastern Louisiana has an RPI of 48 but dropped all three games of its final regular season series to Northwestern State, at home, and thus finished third in the league.

Let’s look at the remaining “mid-majors”:

— Big East – Louisville should be a national seed.  Connecticut has had a great year and may wind up hosting (but as a 2 seed).  Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great RPI (53), but has a fine overall record, will get the benefit of the doubt for its power rating because it is a northern school, and is probably in good shape.  The Big East appears to be a three-bid league.  St. John’s has a good record but an RPI of 74.

— Big West – Cal State Fullerton will host and could be a national seed.  UC Irvine should also make it out of this league (which does not have a post-season tournament).  I don’t see anyone else getting in.  It’s a two-bid league.

— Mountain West – TCU will probably host a regional.  I think New Mexico (RPI of 42) is getting in, too, although an 0-2 MWC tourney could make the Lobos a little nervous.  The MWC should get two bids.

— Southern – The Citadel (RPI of 37) won the regular season by two full games, winning its last seven league games (and its last eight games overall).  It was the only school in the SoCon to not lose a home conference series, and went 8-4 against the schools that finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the league, with all of those games being played on the road.

What The Citadel was not good at was winning on Tuesday.  It was 0-7 on Tuesdays until winning at Winthrop in its final Tuesday matchup.  On days other than Tuesday, the Bulldogs were 37-13.

Regionals are not played on Tuesdays.  The selection committee is aware of this, and probably aware that The Citadel has a top-flight starting pitcher (potential first-round pick Asher Wojciechowski) and a very good Saturday starter (6’7″ left-hander Matt Talley) who pitch on Fridays and Saturdays.

That’s a lot of verbiage to say that, even if the Bulldogs go 0-2 in the SoCon tourney, I expect them to be in the NCAAs. They better be.

The College of Charleston should be in the NCAAs too, with an excellent record and RPI (24).  The only other team with a shot at an at-large bid out of the SoCon is Elon (RPI of 43), which tied for third in the league (but is the 4 seed in the conference tourney).  The Phoenix had a better record against the ACC (6-1) than in the SoCon (19-11).  The SoCon should get at least two bids, and possibly three.

— Sun Belt – Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Lafayette will be in the NCAAs.  Then there is Western Kentucky, with an RPI of 36 and some nice non-conference wins (Texas A&M, Texas State, Baylor, Vanderbilt, Kentucky).  However, the Hilltoppers finished 16-14 in league play, tied for sixth, and will be the 8 seed at the Sun Belt tournament. Can an 8 seed out of the Sun Belt get an at-large bid?  I’m not sure about that.

That leaves the four leagues that will send the most teams.  The easiest of these to evaluate, in terms of at-large possibilities, is the SEC.  The other three are a bit more difficult to figure out.

— Southeastern – Alabama’s sweep of Tennessee in Knoxville locked up a berth in the SEC tourney (and the regionals) for the Tide and also knocked the Vols out of both events.  LSU took care of business against Mississippi State, and then got the benefit of Kentucky’s meltdown against cellar-dweller Georgia.  The Wildcats were eliminated from the SEC tourney (and likely the NCAAs) after a 20-0 loss in Athens on Friday night.  Ouch.  The SEC, which some were suggesting could send ten teams to the NCAAs, will send eight — the same eight teams playing in the league tournament.

— Atlantic Coast – Six teams are locks (Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech).  Then there are the other two teams in the league tournament (Boston College and NC State) and one that isn’t (North Carolina).

I think it’s possible that two of those three get in, but not all three.  North Carolina didn’t even make the ACC tourney, but has a really good RPI (21) and just finished a sweep of Virginia Tech.  The Heels actually tied for 8th with BC, but the two teams did not meet during the regular season, and BC wound up prevailing in a tiebreaker, which was based on record against the top teams.  That’s also UNC’s biggest problem — it was swept by all three of the ACC heavyweights (Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami).  It also lost a series to Duke, which is never a good idea.

On the other hand, UNC did beat NC State two out of three games (in Chapel Hill). The Wolfpack has an RPI of 49, not quite in UNC’s range, thanks to a strength of schedule of only 77 (per Warren Nolan).  By comparison, UNC has a SOS of 15 and BC 16, typical of most ACC teams (Miami has the #1 SOS in the nation; UVA is 9th, Clemson 11th).

The records for the two schools against the top 50 in the RPI are similar.  Both are better than Boston College (8-20 against the top 50).  BC, which is only 29-26 overall and has an RPI of 45, would be a marginal at-large candidate but for its quality schedule and, of course, its sweep of NC State in Raleigh.

What NC State does have to offer for its consideration is series wins against UVA and Georgia Tech.  That’s impressive, but it’s probably not enough to get the Pack an at-large berth on its own.

I suspect that UNC will get in, despite not making the ACC tournament, but it will be close.  BC and NC State both need to do some damage in the ACC tourney, which is a pool play event, meaning each team will play at least three games. The Eagles and Wolfpack each need to win at least twice.  UNC fans need to root against both of them, because even though at-large bids (supposedly) aren’t doled out by conference, a run to the ACC title game by either BC or NCSU probably would move them ahead of the Heels in the at-large pecking order.

— Big XII – Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M are locks.  Kansas State (RPI of 35) is on the bubble but is in good shape.  Baylor (RPI of 41), Texas Tech (RPI of 54, and now with a .500 overall record), and Kansas (RPI of 52) are also in the running for an at-large bid, although the latter two schools hurt themselves over the weekend and are in now in serious trouble.  Both must have good runs in the Big XII tourney (which, like the ACC tournament, is a pool play event).

Baylor, Kansas, and Kansas State are all in the same “pod” for the Big XII tournament, so they may be able to separate themselves from each other (in a manner of speaking) during the tourney.  How that will affect the total number of bids for the Big XII is hard to say.  It wasn’t a banner year for the league, but I could see as many as six bids.  I think, barring some upsets in the league tournament, it’s going to be five.

— Pac-10 – Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, and Oregon are locks.  Arizona (RPI of 19) probably is too, although the Wildcats would do well not to get swept next weekend at Oregon State.

There are nine teams in the conference still fighting to make the NCAAs.  In this league, there is only one punching bag — Southern California.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Washington has the worst RPI of the contenders (55) and is only one game over .500 overall.  The Huskies play Southern Cal in their final series, which will probably help Washington’s record but may not help its NCAA case.  Oregon State, as mentioned, hosts Arizona and may need to win twice.  The Beavers (with a solid RPI of 32) did get a much-needed win on Sunday at Arizona State to improve their conference record to 10-14.

Stanford (RPI of 44) looks to be in good shape; the Cardinal host Arizona State next weekend and likely need to win just one of the three games (and may be able to withstand a sweep).  On the other side of the bay, however, things are not as promising, as California (RPI of 39) has lost seven straight and finishes the season at Oregon needing to show the selection committee a reason to believe.

At least seven teams from the Pac-10 are going to make the NCAAs, and possibly eight.  I don’t think all nine contenders are going to get the call, though.

Okay, now let’s break things down.  Just my opinion, of course.  Here we go:

— Locks (30):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette

— Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

— Bubble teams that are in good shape (6):  Arizona, Kansas State, UC Irvine, New Mexico, The Citadel, Pittsburgh

That’s 55 teams in total.  If there are no upsets (hah!), then nine other bubble teams will make the NCAAs.  I’ve got them listed in two groups; the “decent chance” group, and the “need some help and/or no conference tourney upsets for an at-large” group.

Decent chance for an at-large:  Stanford, North Carolina, Baylor, FGCU (if needed), Oregon State, Elon, NC State

Need a lot of things to go right:  Boston College, Liberty, Wichita State, Western Kentucky, Michigan, Texas Tech, Kansas, California, Washington, Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State, Southern Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, St. John’s

That’s how I see things, as of Sunday night.  Most of the action this week begins on Wednesday.  Let the games begin…

Breaking down the broken: Pac-10 basketball

You’ve probably read or heard that Pac-10 basketball is not exactly top-of-the-line this season.  I was looking through some stats this morning and was struck by just how poor the league has really been on the hardwood.  It’s too much information for a Tweet, obviously, or even a regular post on a message board, so I figured I would stick it on the blog…

Last season the Pac-10 was 102-37 in non-conference play, a solid record of success that led to the conference receiving six bids to the NCAA tournament.  This season, however, the Pac-10 is only 75-44 out of conference (through 1/10/10), which is a very mediocre record for a power league. 

In fact, the Pac-10’s winning percentage out of league play is exceeded by both the Missouri Valley (71-32) and the Mountain West (79-38) and is roughly the same as that of the Atlantic 10 (113-70).  Indeed, the Pac-10 is currently 8th in conference RPI, behind the MWC and A-10 and just ahead of the MVC.

As a comparison, the cumulative records of the other BCS conferences:

ACC:  129-30
Big East:  152-37
Big 10:  94-38
Big XII:  136-30
SEC:  123-46

Incidentally, when the SEC was widely (and justifiably) mocked last year for not having the usual number of NCAA-quality teams for a major conference, its non-league record was 131-51.

The Pac-10 was 16-23 last season against the other power leagues, not great but not embarrassing.  This season, the league is 9-24, with none of those nine victories occurring in a “true” road game.  Only one school in the conference, Arizona, has more than one win against BCS opponents.

The Wildcats have two, a neutral-site win over habitual Big XII cellar-dweller Colorado (by four points) and a home victory over ACC bottom-feeder North Carolina State (by two).   Arizona has not been as successful against Mountain West squads, as it is 0-3 versus teams in that league, including a 17-point loss to San Diego State and a 30-point beatdown by BYU that was played at the McHale Center (as was a defeat at the hands of UNLV).

Losing at home by 30 is embarrassing for a proud program like Arizona, but it’s far from the worst loss this season by a Pac-10 club.  That honor probably has to go to Oregon State, which last week lost 99-48 to Seattle – and that game was played in Corvallis.  The Beavers have also lost to TAMU-Corpus Christi by 24 points and dropped a home game to Sacramento State.  All three of those opponents, by the way, have losing records.

Oregon State followed up that hideous loss to Seattle by beating Oregon – in Eugene, no less.  Oregon was 2-0 in the league following a road sweep of the Washington schools, but nobody should have been too shocked to see the Ducks blow their home opener in the league, since they had already lost at home to Montana (and have also lost to solid WCC outfits Portland and St. Mary’s, the latter setback yet another loss at McArthur Court).

Meanwhile, UCLA did the heretofore unthinkable, losing to Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State in the same season (neither Big West club currently has a winning record).  Those two games were played in Anaheim, as was the Bruins’ 27-point loss to Portland.

Southern California may be the Pac-10 school that acquitted itself the best in non-conference play, having beaten Tennessee by 22 and winning a tournament in Hawaii (which included wins over St. Mary’s and UNLV).  In keeping with the rest of its conference brethren, the Trojans did manage to lose at home to Loyola-Marymount. 

Alas, the Trojans are now ineligible for postseason play thanks to the O.J. Mayo/Tim Floyd follies.

With all that, the Pac-10 will struggle to be a three-bid league.  It doesn’t help that the league appears on its way to not having a “tiered” group of contenders and non-contenders.  Despite no team playing more than three games so far in league play, every school has at least one win and won loss in conference action.  There could be a lot of 8-10, 9-9, 10-8 conference records, and that (along with Southern Cal’s self-imposed probation) could lead to the league’s worst-case scenario. 

Could the Pac-10 only have one team advance to the NCAA Tournament?  I doubt it, but it’s certainly not out of the question.  What isn’t out of the question is that leagues like the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 (and possibly the Missouri Valley) will expect – not hope, but expect — to receive more NCAA tourney bids than the Pac-10, and deservedly so.