So, I will admit that as a hometown fan of the Pittsburgh Panthers, and as a guy who now runs a site that in part covers Tulsa Golden Hurricane football, I hold a special place in my heart for Todd Graham. One that is full of fire, brimstone and an awful lot of Twinkies. Don't ask me why.
For those of you who don't know, or who may have forgotten, Graham began his coaching career as linebackers coach at West Virginia, followed by a year there as co-defensive coordinator. The following season he applied to be Tulsa's head coach, but lost out to Steve Kragthorpe - who would wind up bringing Graham on board as his offensive coordinator.
Graham then left to become head coach of the Rice Owls in 2006. He took over a team that had gone 1-10 the year prior and spun them into a 7-5 bowl eligible squad. He was rewarded with a contract extension that included a raise... and then left to accept the head coaching job at Tulsa three days later.
When he left Tulsa four seasons later to take over in Pittsburgh, I knew of his past and was skeptical. When he approached then-athletic director Steve Pederson about wanting to talk to Arizona State about their open head coaching position, I was unsurprised. When he was told he did not have permission to talk to them, and followed that up by resigning at Pitt so he could accept the ASU position, I was absolutely livid, but still unsurprised.
I'll not start a tirade over the relative merits of telling your team you're resigning after you've done it and via text. That stands alone. My whole point here is that I am always fully aware of which end of his body Graham is speaking from.
So it should come as no surprise to me that he made the following comments today:
"We need to consider what the fans want," Graham said, according to AZFamily.com. "Fans don't want to see you schedule four easy wins, then get two conference wins to get into a bowl game. That's un-American."
Of course, this is abject nonsense. If you take a look at the 2014 season, there were only four teams who had two or fewer conference victories and still won at least five games - Kentucky (5-7, 2-6), Oregon State (5-7, 2-7), Arkansas (7-6, 2-6), and Penn State (7-6, 2-6). Also, the two teams who did wind up bowl eligible despite only two conference wins went 8-0 out of conference and played five teams that finished the season ranked #82 or higher in F/+. That's not exactly a cupcake parade.
Now, I understand that there are plenty of other examples, like a Florida team that never would have reached bowl eligibility without playing Eastern Michigan, Eastern Kentucky, and
Idaho a lightning storm. Or Maryland, who probably doesn't reach bowl eligibility without playing James Madison, South Florida and Syracuse.
The point still remains though. The list of teams who got near or reached bowl eligibility due to having three or more creampuff teams on their schedule is pretty short, only about 5% of the teams in FBS. So what exactly is Graham complaining about? Also there's this:
Graham is right to take the perspective of fans who in many locations are indeed less-than-thrilled with cupcake scheduling, as one look at college football's current attendance numbers could tell you. The only problem: Arizona State's home nonconference opponents this 2015 season are ... Cal Poly and New Mexico. And though Notre Dame came to town in 2014 and Texas Tech will do so in 2016, FCS opponents in Sun Devil Stadium haven't been anything new for a while.
True indeed - as recently as 2010, the Sun Devils played Portland State and Northern Arizona in non-conference play, and still needed to close out the season with a double-overtime win over Arizona just to reach bowl eligibility.
Additionally, there have to be very bad teams in order for there to be very good teams, and somebody has to put those bad teams on their schedule, or they wouldn't exist.
I know that Graham was attempting to make a point, and the point he is after - don't schedule multiple creampuff games as a counterbalance to being one of the worse teams in your conference just so you can go to a bowl - but he went way over the top here. And besides, somebody has to fill up all these bowl slots, don't they?
Graham is using a bad analogy to complain about a problem that barely exists. But that sounds about right for a guy who will use any excuse to get what he wants.