Scheduling a Packed House


September 11, 2005

(at UA 31, NAU 12)


Well, I definitely liked the 24-3 half better than the 7-9 half.

Nothing beats a Saturday night at Arizona Stadium when the Cats are playing well and the crowd is loud. The west side looked almost full, and most of the students were there before the game started. Well done!

Strategically random game thoughts:

It sure was nice seeing Anthony Johnson with 4 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. At this point he looks like a 6-6 giant on our team. The bad news is Mike Jefferson appears to be saving his all strength for the ASU game yet again.

It brought a smile to my face to see the Exceptionally Tall Horn Player has another year of eligibility left with the band. Why is that guy not on the team blocking field goals?

But the highlight of my night just may have been watching Nick Folk kick the ball 80 yards on the fly after the safety. That guy has a leg the size of Isaiah Fox.

After hearing the intro to "Crazy Train" for the twentieth time I have to ask: Is Ozzy Osbourne a UA sports booster? Are we waiting on a big check so our team can start getting dressed in The Prince of Darkness Locker Room? And even if you're only going to play songs that were released before most of the students were born, there are a thousand more appropriate choices than "Rock You Like A Hurricane" at this point in time. Not a good night for the music guy.

Everybody wants a clever nickname for their school like Point Guard U or Tailback U. For Arizona football it's Oh Great Something Bad Just Happened To Our Already Thin Group Of Defensive Linemen…U.

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Little brother NAU was in town this past weekend which gave the snooty football fans a chance to complain. "Pish posh, old bean! I'd rather torch my second-favorite summer home than watch these ruffian footballers engage in an athletic contest!"

Being the open-minded chap that I am, I try to view things from their perspective. The biggest argument is always a financial one. They claim scheduling lesser quality teams keeps people at home, which affects the bottom line.

On the other end of the spectrum you have Johnny Bandwaggoner. "Give me a winning team, or give me somebody else's winning team!" he cries. He wants to the see the home team triumph, period. In Johnny's eyes, it is losing that keeps people at home which bothers the bottom line.

So which is it? If we put on our banker hats, what is the perfect out-of-conference schedule? Will three big name opponents fill up Arizona Stadium, or will a guaranteed 3-0 record spin the turnstiles?

Since the pre-Pac-10-season interconference games are the only ones we control, those are the only ones we'll be looking at. We'll let the numbers speak and the money talk. Here are our out-of-conference home games for the past ten years.

YEAR (Team Record)
Result / (Rank) Opponent / Attendance

2004 (3-8)
W NAU 49,741
L #17 Utah 52,790
L #20 Wisconsin 50,275

2003 (2-10)
W UTEP 40,264
L #13 LSU 46,110
L #19 TCU 40,515

2002 (4-8)
W NAU 48,446
W Utah 44,243
W North Texas 37,917

2001 (5-6)
W Idaho 44,250
W UNLV 47,031

2000 (5-6)
L #18 Ohio State 57,367
W San Diego St 44,973

1999 (6-6)
W Middle Tennessee 48,573
W UTEP 47,776

1998 (12-1)
W Iowa 52,634
W Northeast Louisiana 39,218

1997 (7-5)
W UAB 36,309
W SDSU 39,195

1996 (5-6)
W UTEP 40,388
W Illinois 43,012

1995 (6-5)
W Pacific 48,434
W Georgia Tech 46,786

The best evidence in favor of playing tougher teams is the 1998 season. We drew 52,000 for the Big Ten's Iowa but only 39,000 for Northeast Louisiana, and winning certainly wasn't a problem that season.

The worst year for the anti-NAU crowd was 2003. We only drew 46,000 for the LSU game and that includes the hordes they brought with them. They were the highest ranked non-conference team we've seen in the past ten years but eleven other games had more people in the seats. It's easy to see that our 2002 team being bad and the 2003 team being worse was a bigger factor in getting people to the game than which team was standing on the west sideline.

Another potential strategy is to mimic someone else's successful strategy. The University of Southern California Trojans are clearly the model program in the conference (and the entire country) right now. Here's who USC has played/will be playing at home during their current four-year run of really big trophies:

2005
Arkansas
Fresno State

2004
Colorado State
Notre Dame

2003
BYU
Hawaii

2002
Auburn
Notre Dame

Not exactly a list of BCS bowl regulars.

Personally? I want to see the team win. But to me conference wins are more important than non-league games, so I want the team to be challenged in September so we can be better in October and November. That said, "challenged" does not equal three beatdowns. If we start worse than 2-1, we've overscheduled in my opinion.

Obviously the best answer is to be good enough to beat anybody. If you can bring big-name schools to town and send them home with an L, everybody in Wildcatland is happy.

I also realize if you're not at that level, it's really a guessing game. Even if your goal is to bag at least two wins, you don't know for sure how good your team's going to be in three or four years when the schedule gets made. It's even harder to predict how good the teams you just scheduled are going to be.

From 2000 to 2002 Utah was 17-17, including an 0-2 record against us. We renew a home-and-home series with them for '04 and '05, assuming I'm sure that we'll beat them both times. But as we all know, Utah hires Urban Meyer, turns into the 1985 Chicago Bears, and beats us twice in the middle of an 18-and-counting game winning streak. Oops.

One final note: From 1995-2004, the top five most-attended non-conference home games were:

2000 Ohio State 57,367
2004 Utah 52,790
1998 Iowa 52,634
2004 Wisconsin 50,275
2004 Northern Arizona 49,741

Since three of them were from last year, including that Lumberjack team "nobody" wants to see, maybe the answer to filling Arizona Stadium is simple: Hire Mike Stoops.

See you at the Stadium.



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