by Kevin Burton
Made a comment yesterday about Ohio State’s successful start to the new college football season. One friend pointed out that Florida Atlantic is hardly a worthy opponent for THE Ohio State University.
You’ve probably noticed that the first weekend of the season is filled with completely unwatchable mismatches. Some people call them “cupcakes.” For some of these games don’t think David vs Goliath, think David’s pet hamster vs Goliath. No chance, no way.
But why? Why did we get Florida Atlantic at Ohio State?
I can assure you it wasn’t because someone in the Ohio State athletic department ran his finger down a list of phone numbers, meaning to call the Florida Gators and accidentally got Florida Atlantic instead.
If they can, coaches schedule the first games at home and against teams they think they can handle. The better teams have gathered top talent from around the country but need to find out how the pieces work together. It’s like a dress rehearsal. It’s a happy day in the sun for alums and tailgaters, thrilled to have football back.
For the visiting team it is a big payday that helps pay for the basics of the football program and maybe the whole athletic department.
Florida Atlantic got $1.4 million to visit Columbus, according to 24/7 Sports. The seating capacity at Ohio Stadium is 104,944. Florida Atlantic drew 102,308 fans for its entire home schedule last year, according to NCAA figures. The attendance figures don’t even speak to merchandise sales.
That difference in income has to come from somewhere if the smaller programs are going to stay afloat.
But from the early-season cupcakery, you do get the occasional upset. Saturday Georgia State went to Tennessee and beat the Vols 38-30. Georgia State, a member of the Sunbelt Conference, was paid $950,000 to serve as cannon fodder for Tennessee. Suddenly they turned into the cannon. The win left them feeling like (almost) a million bucks.
If you are one of the power teams in this equation, you want to get off to a quick start. You never want to let the underdog get it into their head that they have even a chance to win. If that doesn’t happen, it’s tough for this Ohio State fan to take.
The day in 2007 when Appalachian State upset Michigan at Ann Arbor I was out doing something and missed the first tier of games. As I was headed home listening to the radio, an announcer said there had been a huge upset in the top ten. He went to commercial without saying what the upset was.
I was thinking the worst. Could that be Ohio State?
The Ohio State teams of that era were good, but they were not exactly mowing people down like say Nebraska in the 70s or Clemson today. They often squeaked by mediocre opponents, even in the National Championship season.
In September of 2004 ninth-ranked Ohio State hosted Marshall and managed to play nearly 60 minutes of football to a 21-21 standoff. It took a 55-yard field goal by kicker Mike Nugent on the last play of the game to avoid overtime, more stress and potentially big-time Big-10 embarrassment.
Marshall would finish that season 6-6.
So when the commercials were over and the announcer said it was Michigan that had lost, I was relieved, maybe even a little surprised. I was thrown off my game enough that my usual automatic anti-Michigan gloating was delayed at least half an hour.
In another supposed mismatch yesterday Missouri was a 17-point favorite but lost at Wyoming 37-31. That’s not good for Mizzou but it’s a little more understandable on the road. Coaches and girl scouts agree, cupcakes are best served up at home.