Let’s be honest and accept that there are three levels of Division I football in the United States. The first level is the highest level, the BCS level with the likes of the Ohio States, Florida States, Alabamas and Auburns. In the old days, they were called 1-A, but now they use the FBS/BCS moniker.
There are five power conferences---the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12---and for all intents and purposes, they call the shots in college football. The next tier are the five other so-called Division I leagues featuring the Mountain West, Mid-American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and American Athletic. It is this tier where the University at Buffalo, aka Buffalo resides. There is nothing wrong with this level of football, in fact, some of it is played at a high level and it is this level where a Ben Roethlisberger or Khalil Mack can be found. The third level is the old 1-AA level, the FCS level which features Buffalo’s SUNY brethren Stony Brook and Albany, along with William and Mary and Delaware.
The question of whether there should be three levels of Division I football is better left for another day, but the Bulls certainly used all three levels when they created their 2014 schedule. And, that isn’t a good thing. The Bulls, as usual play eight MAC games, leaving four non-conference games to balance out the slate. Scheduling is always precarious and not easy. Do you take on the big boys, hope for a miracle and cash a big check? Do you play like schools knowing you have a chance to win, but even if you win, you’ll be taken to task for playing a soft schedule? The third choice is the worst option, and unfortunately, that’s the choice that Buffalo took.
The Bulls are hosting Baylor, and anytime a power conference school comes to your home to play, it’s a big deal. Of course, last year, the Baylor Bears throttled the Bulls 70-13 en route to the Big 12 championship and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. All in all, this is a great game for Buffalo; they’re playing a high profile school and they’re playing them at home. It should draw a great crowd at UB Stadium, but we know that Western New York remains a bit fickle about college football.
The September 6 game at Army is also a fine choice. Besides Syracuse, the Bulls and Army are the only Division I schools in New York State. Truth is, the Bulls and the Black Knights should play every year, or as scheduling allows, eight out of ten years. To me, this is a natural rivalry. Two New York schools, two schools that are really playing in the second tier of Division I football. On paper, this is a no-brainer. And, if you’re a Bulls fan, this is one road trip worth taking. West Point is a special place. It’s not a big-time atmosphere, but it has a bit of a Notre Dame feel to it. You enter the parking lot, do the tailgate, and then hop on a school bus to get to the stadium. At game’s end, you hop on another bus and return to the tailgate. It’s different than most places and if Buffalo played Army home and home, my hunch is that many Bulls supporters would be in the stands at venerable Michie Stadium and they’d go more than once. If you do go, make sure you get an upper deck seat away from the Army sidelines so you can look at the water and huge castles in the background.
The Duquesne game is the head scratcher. For starters, the Dukes are at the lower end of the FCS level. They play in the Northeast Conference, a league that allows just 36 scholarships. In contrast, the other FCS schools allow 63 and for schools at the Bulls’ level, 85. From the get-go, this is not a fair fight. This is a game that Buffalo needs to win and win big just to avert attention. Last year, the Bulls struggled to beat Stony Brook, a 63 scholarship team; imagine of Duquesne puts up their Dukes and gives the Bulls fits? There are always reasons why these games appear on the schedule. Teams can cancel, leaving some to scramble mightily for a replacement. A few years back, Syracuse, at the last minute scheduled Rhode Island, a game that generated very little interest in Central New York. Sure, the Bulls will look good with its shiny 1-0 record, but why Duquesne? The reason given was that somebody backed out and there was a sudden void, but more effort needs to be made to get a tougher opponent.
The final non-conference opponent is Norfolk State, from the MEAC. Once again, why this game? How many people in Western New York could tell you where Norfolk State is? To Norfolk State’s credit, they go after bigger name schools when they do their scheduling. They’ve played at Rutgers twice, collected a decent sized check and actually put a bit of a scare into the Scarlet Knights in one of those games. And, as a fan of the FCS level, I like seeing the top FCS schools play the FBS schools. Unless you’re a Florida fan, who didn’t smile when Georgia Southern went to The Swamp and knocked off the Gators last year? And, Appalachian State’s win at Michigan will always be the standard bearer for the FCS. I wouldn’t call this bad scheduling on Buffalo’s part, but when you couple it with the Duquesne game, it is bad scheduling.
The Bulls took a page from the Bobby Knight/Bill Parcells book. When it comes to scheduling, they would say play somebody you should beat, somebody who should beat you and somebody where it’s 50/50. With the Bulls schedule, this fits to a tee. They should beat the two FCS schools, they should lose to Baylor and the game at Army is a toss-up. They should be 2-2 at the worst, but those two wins would be against the FCS schools, with only one counting towards bowl eligibility. I would prefer Buffalo to play Army, Navy, Louisiana-Lafayette and Temple than what they’re doing in 2014 , but I’ll cede to one game against a better quality FCS school because it’s a way for those schools to make some money. Buffalo-Delaware or Buffalo-Villanova sounds much better than Buffalo-Duquesne. Even the Norfolk State game, surrounded by Army, Baylor and say, Tulsa would be suitable. The Baylor game is the marquee, but wouldn’t it be better to play SMU and give the fans a competitive game? And, scheduling a Stony Brook over a Duquesne would be more competitive as last year proved.
A team backed out and Norfolk had been on the schedule forever so the current administration does not totally own this schedule. While it's easy to attack the Bulls for doing what they did in 2014 Im still going to enjoy the season. But UB's scheduling practices may be watched closely by fans in the future.
Scheduling two FCS schools each year is an absolute no-no, just like playing Auburn, Tennessee and Wisconsin a few years ago was. That’s like the guy making $9 an hour buying drinks for the night; it looks good, but at the end of the night, you’re even more broke than you were before you went out.
Make Army a consistent, talk to Navy and now that Connecticut is in a lesser conference, why not a home and home with the Huskies, and heck, call all the AAC schools. If Buffalo wants to be a top MAC school or perhaps even more, the non-conference slate must be a good one.