Having gone 4-8 last season and 3-9 the season before, it's hard to say that Virginia Football has suffered as a result of weak out of conference scheduling like the Virginia Tech basketball team has. After all, you've got to win your easy games before you can think about challenging yourself with the Ohio States and Auburns of the country. Still, would it be worth the risk to skip the cupcakes and launch yourself into some higher level competition?
Virginia's opponents last season went a combined 55-54 on the season, placing them 64th in the NCAA's strength of schedule rankings. This, however, doesn't account for the fact that the Hoos played two FCS teams (Richmond, VMI), who, combined, went 9-13. The other two opponents were a directional Michigan and Southern Cal.
This fall, Virginia takes on William & Mary (FCS), Indiana, Southern Mississippi and Idaho.
William & Mary went 7-5 last year, including respectable losses to North Carolina and JMU. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what the Tribe's record was - they're still an FCS team. Indiana finished the season going 5-7, including an entertaining 20-83 shellacking by Wisconsin. Southern Miss went bowling last season and finished 7-6 on the season, though their wins included teams such as Louisiana Tech, Prairie View and Marshall. Finally, Idaho also went bowling and finished with a 6-7 record, though as one might suspect, their scheduling also leaves much room for doubt.
If Virginia Football really wants to get back onto the scene, I'd love to see them start scheduling teams already there. I think it's common sentiment that Virginia generally plays to the level of their opponents. Wyoming 2006. Directional Michigan 2006. Wyoming 2007. UNC 2009. Miami 2011. USC 2011.
Speaking of that game against the Trojans last year...was there any way for us to lose that game? I mean, morally lose that game. Let's say, hypothetically, it was a 52-7 blowout loss for us. Fine. The school is in a rebuilding year anyway, the team was of questionable talent (save a couple stars), and, well, everyone expected that. But instead, we played a very competitive four quarters, and for many, it should have been a win (fake field goal grumble grumble). It still turned out to be a notch in the L column, but tell me you weren't inspired with hope for the season following that game.
By comparison, remember William & Mary in 2009? Sure you do. It was, after all, the straw that broke Al Groh's back. (Okay fine, so in that sense, the weak scheduling was helpful.) Was there any way to come out ahead in that game? A blowout win would have said that the Hoos did what they were expected to do. A weak win would have said "Wow, I can't believe they only scraped by." Any loss and, well, you saw what happened.
The benefit of scheduling a tougher opponent is that it also impresses recruits. No one signs to go to the ACC or SEC (Yep, I really did just try to put those two football programs in the same category) to play against the Idahos of the world. A win at Southern California at least registers Virginia on the map of California recruits watching that game. A loss does no damage (admittedly, a blowout loss could hurt, though how much recruiting does UVA really do in California?)
The bottom line: It is not a stretch (and indeed well known) to say that Virginia Football scheduling has not been the most challenging. The Cavaliers should be taking bigger "risks" in scheduling tougher opponents, but really, the risk is in scheduling the cupcakes. Michigan-Appalachian State 2007. Virginia Tech-East Carolina 2008. Virginia Tech-JMU 2010. Yeah, this entire post was just an opportunity to list the Hokies twice in that list.
In 2012, Virginia has two acceptable opponents. Penn State finished 6-6 last season, but the name alone pushes them into the respectable category. And of course, TCU. The Horned Frogs finished with a perfect 13-0 record last season and is exactly the type of opponent we should be scheduling. Joining the 2012 slate are Richmond and Louisiana Tech. The Richmond game is really what worries me off that schedule. I understand the appeal of Coach playing against his former team, but when you're trying to make good headway into Virginia state recruits, and you're not really recruiting against Richmond, this could be a big trap on that front. This is different from the VT-JMU game in that VT's name can persevere over a major upset like that, whereas UVA is still building their name back to...the 90s.
Virginia has lined up for 2013 Penn State and VMI early in the season, as well as an October game against Ball State and a November game against UTSA. That's Texas-San Antonio, which you've never heard of because 2011 is its inaugural season, as an FCS Independent. The Roadrunners expect to be in the FBS by the time the Hoos play them in 2013, in the WAC.
In 2014, Virginia plays UCLA, Richmond and Kent State, and travels to UTSA to return a game. The only games scheduled thus far in 2015 are UCLA and William & Mary to open the season.
What do you think, fans? The schedule is pretty much set for the next three years, but do you agree that Virginia is actually taking a greater risk by scheduling weaker opponents, or do you think those teams are just what Virginia needs to build some confidence before heading into ACC play?