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Can You Even Name the Mascot? Five Worst Non-Conference Games of 2009

Tim Cary

I understand that not every non-conference game can be quite as riveting as the looming September showdown between Ohio State and USC at the Horseshoe.  Really, I get it.  

Some games just can't quite hope to compare to a titanic struggle between top-flight teams from two Rose Bowl/BCS conferences.   

Some matchups aren't destined to showcase a pair of eventual double-digit win squads on national television.

Some games on the 2009 schedule are even (gasp!) scheduled simply to be an easy win for a Big Ten team and an easy paycheck for Mid-Major U.  
But why do the matchups have to be...well...THIS bad?

I tell ya what - let's use this as a measuring stick from now on.  It's a simple rule.

If you can't automatically name the mascot for the school your team is playing (for example, who knew Appalachian State's football team was called the MOUNTAINEERS before 2007?), your athletic director probably shouldn't be scheduling them for a football payday.  

And on that note, without further ado, First and Big Ten presents...the five WORST non-conference games of 2009.

5.  Arkansas State at Iowa, October 3

Unlike some of the opponents on this list (and although the average Big Ten fan might not know it), the Arkansas State RED WOLVES actually play in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-A).  ASU competes in the Sun Belt against slightly more familiar names such as Troy and Florida Atlantic and finished the 2008 season with a .500 record.  

The Wolves shouldn't be considered a pushover for the Hawkeyes; this is the same program that hung 83 points (no, that's not a typo!) on Texas Southern a season ago and upset Texas A&M in College Station.  While ASU probably fails the "could you identify their mascot?" test, they should at least play some decent football.

4.  New Mexico State at Ohio State, October 31
The educated guess here is that New Mexico State should provide a slightly easier challenge for the Bucks than, say, USC.  The AGGIES are coming off a 3-9 season in which they dropped their final seven ballgames, costing former coach Hal Mumme his job.  

At least NMSU competes in a more familiar conference, butting heads with Boise State and Fresno State, among others, in the WAC. Despite the slightly more high-profile overall schedule, new coach DeWayne Walker will still have his work cut out to keep his squad competitive against Terrelle Pryor and company in Columbus.

3.  Wofford at Wisconsin, September 19
As a Boilermaker supporter, I know not to take the name Wofford for granted.  Purdue fans remember that the only basketball team to win at Mackey Arena in the 2007-08 season was not Michigan State, not Ohio State, but instead, the underdog TERRIERS from Spartanburg, South Carolina.  

On the football front, Wofford posted an impressive 9-3 record in FCS (formerly Division 1-AA) last season and advanced to the playoffs before losing in the opening round to James Madison.  The Terriers will have a few chances to make noise on the national stage, as they take on South Florida in the season opener before traveling to Madison two weeks later.

2.  Montana State at Michigan State, September 5

The only sure thing in this season-opening matchup is that MSU will come out on top.  When the Montana State BOBCATS head to East Lansing, they will be looking to put another scare into a Big Ten school.  The smaller MSU hung tough in the Metrodome last September, finally falling to Minnesota 35-23.  

Michigan State is probably hoping for a result closer to the Bobcats' trip to Manhattan, Kansas (also early last year), in which the visitors were severely outclassed by KSU in a 69-10 shellacking.  Montana State will be looking to improve on a 7-5 (FCS) record in 2008 when they open their season in Spartan Stadium.

1.  Towson at Northwestern, September 5

Memo to NU: if you're going to schedule an FCS team to open the year, can't you at least pick a competitive one?  The Towson TIGERS only managed one conference win in the CAA a year ago, finishing 3-9 overall.  

For a Wildcat team coming off an Alamo Bowl appearance and dreaming of big things, a game against Towson probably won't provide a meaningful season-opening measuring stick - or much drama, for that matter.

BONUS.  Delaware State at Michigan, October 17
I've ripped on other schools for playing sub-.500 FCS teams (the DSU HORNETS were 5-6 in 2008), but considering Michigan's track record with FCS teams, I'm not sure this is an all-bad matchup!  This one's also interesting because DSU actually forfeited a game to conference rival North Carolina A&T (due to a scheduling conflict that would have cost the team a major Ann Arbor payday.)  Besides all that, I liked the press release that accompanied the announcement:

"DSU hits the the team's first-ever meeting with the Michigan Wolverines (Oct. 17).  With a capacity of 106,201 Michigan Stadium will be the site of the largest crowd to ever witness a Delaware State football game."

No offense, devout Hornet fans, but if the Big House held 30,000 people, it might very well still be the largest crowd to ever witness a Delaware State football game.  Now just don't spoil the party by pulling an App. St. and winning, okay?


Michigan agrees to home-and-home series with Connecticut.  This Bleacher Report article breaks down a lot of the relevant facts and figures, including the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the news: that the new deal could be tied to either Rich Rodriguez's Big East connections or the schools' current men's basketball series.

Spartan legend George Perles thinks Michigan State could win 10 games in 2009.
  Perles told the Detroit Free Press he's "never seen the entire athletic department in better shape" and pointed to a favorable schedule (that doesn't include Ohio State) as he proclaimed, "We've got a chance.  I think we'll be in that 10-game winning area." (Personally, I'd suggest they settle on a quarterback before making too many lofty predictions, but what do I know?) 

Purdue's Kyle Adams knows there's more to life than football.  In this Bleacher Report interview, the Boilermaker tight end discussed his offseason trip to Haiti with the school's FCA program.

Hawkeye fans want their water tower painted.  The Des Moines Register explains why Iowa supporters are ready to see a logo on the structure outside Kinnick Stadium.  The petition is available here, if you're so inclined.



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