Friday, February 6, 2009

Hooray for mismatches

Michigan filled the final opening in its 2009 schedule on Friday with a game against Delaware State on Oct. 17. Delaware State, by the way, is a historically black college in the FCS that finished 5-6 last season.

You're probably expecting the typical complaint here about the OUTRAGE of scheduling an FCS opponent and the indignity of it all, but here's my dirty little secret: As a Michigan fan, I wanted the worst possible opponent to fill that opening.

Here's the thing: Rich Rodriguez is entering a crucial year, with many fans furious over the team's 3-9 record last season. He isn't in danger of being fired, even if he finishes with another losing record -- the school invested a ton of money into buying him out of his contract with West Virginia, and athletic director Bill Martin has no interest in conducting another coaching search -- but there's a lot to be said for positive momentum, both on the field and among the fans and media.

The schedule isn't particularly difficult next year ...

... so I don't think Michigan will struggle to reach a bowl game, but you never know. Utah didn't look like such a tough opponent heading into last season, but I'll bet that in hindsight, Martin is wishing he'd gone out and scheduled Michigan Tech instead.

And for all the criticism about scheduling, I don't think people always realize that finding an opponent in real life is nothing like picking your opponents in NCAA Football 09. Michigan's administration has admitted that it doesn't want to lock itself into another home-and-home series besides Notre Dame, so the top-tier options are all but eliminated. And with a lot of non-BCS schools looking to soften their schedules in an effort to get bowl-eligible, there aren't a whole lot of teams jumping at the chance to travel to the Big House.

Martin had this to say in his official statement:

"It's very difficult to line up an opponent this late in the process and we appreciate the efforts made by each institution that we spoke with."

Delaware State obviously wasn't the first choice, but at the end of the day, it might be the best. No one will remember after the season that a win over an FCS school was part of Michigan's resurgence, just like nobody remembers that Florida hammered The Citadel, Alabama routed Western Kentucky and Texas Tech beat two FCS opponents last year.

In a few years, I'll be back to whining about the lack of a premier nonconference game other than the annual tradition-fest against Notre Dame. For now, though, I'll take wins wherever they're available.

On a mostly unrelated note, if you're not familiar with the long-standing feud between Delaware State and Delaware, which refuses to play its in-state counterpart, check out this 2007 article by writer and Delaware alum Jeff Pearlman. It'll make you appreciate some of the great rivalries in college sports.

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