This morning, John Clay has an article that proved rather thought provoking for me. In it, he discusses the fact that UK's out of conference scheduling really didn't get any better with the addition of a four-year agreement with newly-minted FBS school Western Kentucky, even if it is a neutral site game.
Clay wonders, when other SEC schools (even including Vanderbilt) are scheduling FBS opponents for home-and-homes, where is the beef in Kentucky's schedule? He fairly points out that the weakness of the non-conference schedule is a strategy, not an oversight, but the gist of his argument is that Western adds precious little muscle to a skin-and-bones NC slate, and that UK is not likely to replace either of its remaining two NC spots with FBS home-and-homes.
I am of two minds on this, the first emotional and the second calculating. I would love to see UK play a much tougher non-conference slate, with at least one more FBS team in there where we travel every other year. I am tired of hearing guffaws from other SEC teams, however tenuous their footing on the subject, about UK's non-conference schedule. If UK really is a football team on the rise, it should reasonably be expected to show it with tougher scheduling. Beating Norfolk State is just not going to get the respect of anyone, and FCS or lower teams just shouldn't be on our schedule.
Read on ...
The other side of this argument is that virtually every other SEC team's NC schedule looks at least somewhat similar to ours. Let's take a peek, shall we?
|Team/Conf||Miami (OH)/MAC||CSU (FCS)/Big South||OK St./Big 12||NC St./ACC||WKU/Sun Belt||W. Car.(FCS)/Southern|
|Louisville/BE||Troy/Sun Belt||AZ St./Pac 10||FL Atl./Sun Belt||UCLA/Pac10||Rice/CUSA|
|LA Monroe/Sun Belt||FIU/Sun Belt||Tenn. Tech (FCS)/OVC||SC St. (FCS)/MEA||Ohio/MAC||Army/Ind. (FBS)|
|EKU (FCS)/OVC||Florida St./ACC||GA Tech/ACC||Clemson/ACC||Memphis/CUSA||GA Tech./ACC|
|Result||1 FCS/3 FBS/1 BCS||1 FCS/3 FBS/1 BCS||1 FCS/3 FBS/3 BCS||1 FCS/3 FBS/2 BCS||0 FCS/4 FBS/1 BCS||1 FCS/3 FBS/1 BCS|
|Team/Conf||VA. Tech/ACC||Missouri St./MVC||LA Tech./WAC||Washington/Pac 10||Memphis/CUSA||Jackson St.(FCS)/SWAC|
|FIU/Sun Belt||TAMU/Big 12||WVU/BE||LA Lafayette/Sun Belt||SE. LA(FCS)/Southland||GA Tech./ACC|
|North TX./Sun Belt||E. Mich./MAC||Ball St./MAC||Tulane/CUSA||UAB/CUSA||Houston/CUSA|
|UT-Chat.(FCS)/Sothern||Troy/Sun Belt||Furman(FCS)/Southern||LA Tech./WAC||N. AZ(FCS)/Big Sky||MTSU/Sun Belt|
|Result||1 FCS/3 FBS/1 BCS||0 FCS/4 FBS/1 BCS||1 FCS/3 FBS/1 BCS||0 FCS/4 FBS/1 BCS||2 FCS/2 FBS/0 BCS||1 FCS/3 FBS/1 BCS|
Note: I have noted any non-FBS schools as FCS, and that could be technically wrong as I did not research the actual division standing of each one. Suffice it to say that they are really, "FCS or below." Also, BCS refers to teams in conferences with an automatic BCS bid to the conference champion. Most of the FBS teams above participate in the BCS.
A quick perusal of all this, and we can see that UK's schedule is actually no weaker, as a general proposition, than the vast majority of the SEC. Georgia can unquestionably lay claim to the toughest non-conference schedule in the SEC by a pretty wide margin, and Ole Miss the weakest, but the rest are somewhere in-between. Kentucky's non-conference schedule looks pretty much the same on paper as Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State. It can be a subject of debate as to whether having four FBS but non-BCS teams on your slate is stronger than having 1 FCS and 1 BCS, but overall, it looks to me like everyone is pretty much the same with an exception or two.
So why, I would ask, should UK risk a bowl and the attendant exposure and money to play another BCS competitor when it has yet to prove it can consistently win enough games in the SEC to make up the difference? From a purely emotion-free standpoint, it is the easiest path to getting the most recognition and money, and raising the profile of a historically downtrodden program.
Now, if UK were seriously lagging in scheduling vs. the rest of the league, I might be more inclined to let emotion rule the day. Clay's point is solid and I strongly want to agree with him, but when you look at reality, at least by the measurement I have chosen, UK's schedule doesn't stand out as particularly weak. Granted, Troy is a very strong FBS program, stronger than many BCS schools, as has been Ball State lately, so some will surely want to make an argument that those two teams toughen up their respective schedules, and I would be loath to disagree. But one of the reasons UK's schedule is suddenly seen as so weak is that Louisville has hit a rough patch, as has the Big East in general. Playing West Virginia still gets you a lot of credibility, but it wasn't too long ago that Louisville was as good or better for a stretch.
Still, my emotion-free point remains. From a purely mercenary standpoint, UK is doing the best thing for them right now. When will that "right now" qualifier have to be discarded? Hopefully really, really soon, but until UK proves its chops as a mid-pack SEC performer, I can't see how the mercenary in me could justify that decision as a wise one.