Oklahoma State Is Not Scheduling for Success in Football, Does it Matter?

[USATSI]
Written by Phillip Slavin

Technically, Oklahoma State’s 2017 season isn’t over yet, with the Camping World Bowl still on deck. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead to next season and beyond.

When the Cowboys take the field in the fall of 2018, they’ll face a non-conference lineup of Missouri State, Tulsa, and Boise State, all inside the confines of Boone Pickens Stadium.

It’s a nice schedule to help break in a new quarterback (and possibly a new coordinator … or two?) But it’s also not a schedule built for the ultimate goal of reaching the playoff. For that matter, none of OSU’s non-conference schedules are.

Between 2018 and 2023, Oklahoma State will face seven different FBS programs in the non-conference.

• South Alabama (2018, 2023)
Oregon State (2019, 2020)
Rice (2021)
Arizona State (2022, 2023)
Tulsa (2019, 2020, 2021)
Boise State (2018, 2021)
Central Michigan (2022)

Of those seven, four will have a new head coach next season; South Alabama, Oregon State, Rice, and Arizona State. The changes aren’t coming because their coaches were snipped by other programs are went to the NFL, but because they were fired or left a program they didn’t believe they could win at (we can debate whether these decisions were smart or not another day).

It was already a lineup of opponents that didn’t get me excited. But now?

Maybe Jonathan Smith will be Oregon State’s Mike Gundy. The former Beaver quarterback and Washington offensive coordinator will likely still be in charge of the program when OSU arrives in Corvallis in 2019.

Maybe Herm Edwards will surprise us all and be the next Pete Carroll. More likely, he’ll be the next Lovie Smith and won’t be on the sidelines by the time ASU and OSU face off in 2022 and 2023.

(Side note: What’s with OSU scheduling so many home-and-homes with Pac-12 teams? Since Gundy took over they’ve played Washington State and Arizona, and have ASU and Oregon State on the schedule.)

Even if things do work out, that would just be lucky for OSU. These aren’t programs with a history of success. No, neither was Oklahoma State before the last decade, but the point is, OSU is now and has been for awhile.

This season’s non-conference schedule is a perfect example of what happens when you don’t schedule well. We all thought Tulsa and Pitt would be good. They weren’t. Unfortunately we didn’t realize that until it was too late and after fans (and seemingly the team) had started to believe they were world beaters.

Then TCU brought them back down to earth. Was it a bit of a fluke? Sure. But do Pitt, Tulsa, and South Alabama have a history of success?

Here are their records since 2007 (South Alabama has only been a full FBS program since 2012).

Team 2007-2017
Pittsburgh 78-63
Tulsa 78-64
South Alabama 29-45

Pitt has had one 10-plus win season since 2007 (it was in 2009). Tulsa has had five, but in that time they’ve beaten one ranked opponent (No. 24 Hawaii) and two Power 5 teams (Iowa State & Notre Dame).

I always go back to 2012. Would OSU still have lost to Arizona in Week 2 if they had played someone better than Savannah State? Maybe, but I always put a good deal of blame for that loss on the fact that OSU would have faced a bigger challenge if it had played a scrimmage in Week 1 instead of an 84-0 blowout over one of the worst FCS teams in history.

In this day and age of the playoff, scheduling matters.

Look at Wisconsin this year. Despite going 12-1 but they didn’t break into the top four until the week before the Big 10 Title game, and fell to sixth after the loss. Why? Their best win is over 9-3 Florida Atlantic.

Or Ohio State last season. Their win over Oklahoma was touted as the primary reason they got into the playoff despite not winning the Big 10 or their division.

Or Clemson this year, which received the No. 1 seed (and the benefit of the doubt all season) because of an early season win over Auburn.

Side note: I understand the argument that Alabama got in despite a weak schedule and a non-conference schedule where Fresno State was their best win. The problem applying that to Oklahoma State is simple: Bama is always going to get a “benefit of the doubt” that Oklahoma State is not. At least not until they win four national titles in eight years.

I’m not saying OSU needs to schedule Alabama (that would require the Tide to play a non-conference true road game, and that ain’t happening). But if Oklahoma State is going to schedule so many Pac-12 teams, why not get Washington or Oregon on the schedule? If we’re going to have a Michigan team, how about Michigan State or Michigan instead of Central Michigan?

Yes, Oklahoma State has had Mississippi State, Florida State and Georgia on the slate, but those have been the exception, not the norm.

It will probably never happen regularly with Mike Gundy at the helm. But if you look at the playoff the last few years (Ohio State last year, Clemson this year) the committee rewards teams for scheduling strongly out of conference. Yes, OSU would still have to win the Big 12 (in theory), but playing and beating a respected opponent certainly wouldn’t hurt its case.