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Brad Rock: Big boys suddenly chicken to play Y., U.

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 21 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

It was in a car with newly appointed Ute athletic director Chris Hill, on Halloween afternoon 1987, that I made my first and only attempt at being an A.D. myself.

The Utes had just escaped with a 31-27 win over Boise State, so I told him everything I knew about scheduling.

"You shouldn't play those guys any more," I said. "You have nothing to gain."

My thinking was that anything less than a blowout looked bad; losing was unthinkable. And playing them certainly didn't enhance the Utes' schedule.

Twenty-two years later, a lot has changed. BYU and Utah — and Boise State, for that matter — are trying to load their schedules with big-conference opponents. The idea is to boost their credibility as they position for BCS bowl acceptance.

Problem is, a lot of top teams don't want to play them.

Too much chance of disaster.

And, realistically, what do those teams have to gain?

Scheduling came up last week in an article by Deseret News sports writer Jeff Call, who quoted Cougar athletic director Tom Holmoe saying, "We'll play BCS teams, any of them. None of them want to play us."

I didn't like the sound of that. It reminded me how BYU ended up playing Northern Iowa in 2008 to fill a scheduling gap.

The story went on to say BYU doesn't have a single automatic-qualifying BCS school scheduled beyond next year.

BYU, then, is dying to play big-name teams, but the big-name teams don't reciprocate. Realistically, why should they? Name schools don't need to play good Mountain West teams to stay high in the BCS ratings, or the polls.

So they schedule dumplings.

Why play Boise State when you can play Delaware State? Why play BYU when you can play Wofford? Why play Utah in the regular season when you could end up losing the way Alabama did in the Sugar Bowl?

Big team scheduling these days looks like the scene from "The Wizard of Oz," where Dorothy first meets the Wiz.

Oz (thunderously): "I am Oz — the Great and Powerful. Who are you? Who are you?"

Dorothy: "If you please, I am Dorothy — the small and meek. We've come to ask ..."

Oz: "Silence!"

That's how it works when you're dealing with the heavyweights.

One is great and powerful, the other small and meek.

Meanwhile, the football giants line up the weaklings. Florida, currently No. 1 in the BCS rankings, schedules Charleston Southern. No. 2 Alabama plays North Texas, Florida International and UT-Chattanooga. Georgia lines up Tennessee Tech. Arkansas schedules Missouri State, while South Carolina chooses Florida Atlantic and The Citadel.

In other words, they play teams that have no realistic chance of winning.

But it's not just the Southeastern Conference that loves to pick the low fruit. Georgia Tech of the ACC plays Jacksonville State. Texas Tech, of the Big 12, puts North Dakota on its schedule, while Kansas grants Northern Colorado an audience. Nebraska courts a hat trick of nobodies by booking Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State and UL-Lafayette — in the same season. Iowa State takes on North Dakota State and Army.

In the Big Ten, Michigan plays Western and Eastern Michigan, as well as Delaware State. Wisconsin selects (Don't pronounce it "Woof!") Wofford.

What, Kentucky Christian was booked?

There's a theme here: Big schools aren't obligated or inclined to play nonconference teams that actually might beat them. They can get to BCS bowls on the strength of their league play.

So they play nobodies.

For now, Utah is faring better than BYU in the scheduling department. It has Iowa State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington State and Colorado on its future schedules. But it's getting harder to get those kinds of games.

Beat up on Alabama and soon people stop returning your phone calls.

It could be that the best nonconference team the Utes will be able to schedule in a few years will be that pesky little so-and-so from long ago — Boise State, currently ranked fifth in the nation. (Utah is scheduled to play the Broncos in 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

Who knew that, two decades later, the Broncos might actually be doing them the favor.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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