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Cupcakes are tasty but does Rutgers gorge itself?

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Building a schedule can be a challenge, especially while trying to balance all considerations

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So, Rutgers Wrestling, then No. 10, lost to No. 8 Cornell and then dropped two spots in the national rankings. And I wrote about the match and the rankings in a post titled Rutgers Wrestling: the polls don’t like losing. A friend of mine, Ron, responded. He’s a Rutgers grad, a fan, a donor. But he has some issues with how things are sometimes done around here (don’t we all!) And he wrote this (I cleaned it up because when he’s wound up and types fast, you can’t understand what he’s saying):

Well, notice over the years, when RU loses they drop like a sinker. To go up we have to claw our way. Scheduling west coast lay downs to fatten W's is comparable to football scheduling MEAC cupcakes, basketball grabbing early filler weak fish has always been Rutgers way to try to get some sort of interest going. By mid season it reverts to same old Rutgers slide into the abyss. Goodale and the boys bypass Lehigh this year, but if they get shutout by PSU, they'll slide faster than Chevy Chase on the disc in Christmas Vacation. Watch out for Pikiell’s guys also as the schedule toughens now. Women’s BBall, which hasn't drawn well in a decade, will probably be holding a Boccie Tournament in the pushed back section(108) during the game just to get people in the LBAC.

O-o-okay, then. Not a happy camper.

But does he make valid points?

Respect

When you’re Michigan or Ohio State in football, or Kentucky or Duke in hoops, you have built-in credibility. And respect. Back when we were complaining about noon starts for football, it came up that Michigan and Ohio State simply told everyone they were playing THE GAME at noon. Period. They have that clout, like Notre Dame has in creating its own home television deal for football.

Rutgers certainly can't. And that goes directly back to the point made by Ron in that comment: when RU loses they drop like a sinker. To go up we have to claw our way. Rutgers simply doesn’t get respect, like a lot of lower tier schools. And if we look good against an easy out-of-conference schedule, and then fall flat, how far will we fall in polls and in respect?

How about “Pikiell’s guys”?

Men’s basketball opened this season with powerhouse Molloy College. The Molloy Lions are currently 2-4. Molloy, along with the rest of the early season opponents (before Miami) now have a combined 12-23 record. (as of this writing)

And that record has caused a few folks - including area writers (in New York who write for the Post) - to find fault with the schedule. As they also did with St. John’s’ early schedule.

The Johnnies are 2-5 against the likes of Bethune-Cookman, Binghamton, and of course, Delaware State. And Braziller has been rough on RU, too, critical of the soft schedule.

So why do it? Why bring on the soft games? Consider where Rutgers has been on the hardwood the last few (score) years. Do you want a really challenging schedule? Let our own hoops maven Dave White respond: "I get doing it this year, but I hope he doesn’t keep this up and gives us some good teams at the RAC in the next couple of years." All in favor?

Of course, the opposite can also occur. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo apologized to his team for going too hard in creating the Spartans’ schedule. Izzo opened the season with Arizona and Kentucky. Arizona and Kentucky as the first two games out of the gate! Having Youngstown St, Tennessee Tech, and Northeastern later on doesn’t quite offset that opener... along with Duke and Baylor among the season openers. Apology accepted.

Wrestlers aren’t soft!

But can a schedule be?

In his comment, Ron wrote, “Goodale and the boys bypass Lehigh this year, but if they get shutout by PSU, they'll slide faster....”

Well, that’s right, Lehigh isn’t on the schedule. But Princeton is (five ranked wrestlers and a close match at the Battle at the Birthplace), as is No. 8 Cornell, Oregon State (Receiving votes) along with the brutal schedule that is the Big Ten: No. 13 Illinois, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 2 Penn State, and No. 10 Michigan. Can you add a tougher non-conference schedule without having to pull a Tom Izzo with your team?

But are there schools that go for the gold every time out? Penn State opened with Army before taking on No. 11 Lehigh and No. 15 Stanford. It was also in the Keystone Classic tournament where it had eight champions. No. 21 Pitt was one of the three teams in the Classic.

Rutgers Wrestling has plenty of challenges on its schedule. So, when is tough too tough?

Oh, those MEAC Cupcakes!

You can’t change your conference opponents but you do control the non-conference opponents. And no one did that better than Greg Schiano and Bob Mulcahy. In his first year at Rutgers, Schiano faced Buffalo, UConn, Navy, California - not his choices. UConn was transitioning to FBS. Over the next ten years, Rutgers added those MEAC schools and a steady diet of Army, Navy, and FCS schools. By my evaluation of the schedules, of the 52 non-conference games he coached, Schiano faced 29 of those “cupcakes” including Buffalo (5 times), Norfolk State (2), FIU (2), Howard (2), Texas Southern, North Carolina Central, and Morgan State. There was also Army (6), Ohio (2), Villanova (2), and New Hampshire, among others.

That’s not happening in the future, with nine Big Ten games and a Big Ten imperative to upgrade the OOC schedule. While Buffalo, Howard, and Morgan State do appear, so do Temple, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Kansas. And maybe UCLA.

The bottom line

What’s the purpose of a non-conference schedule? To get easy wins? To warm up for the conference grind? To make yourself eligible for some post-season competition? To entertain the home fans?

It isn’t an exact science regardless of the sport. Football is the toughest, needing to plan out years in advance. The other sports are more flexible, often scheduling the year before. In any sport not called football you can plan based on where you are in your program’s growth.

It’s the philosophy a coach and athletic director develop in tandem that dictates the schedule. And that gives us more to talk about here.