I wasn't completely surprised, but still disappointed, to learn that Nebraska had added Arkansas State to the 2012 schedule and South Dakota State to the 2013 schedule. Nebraska's budget is dependent on seven home football games each season, and with four conference home games each season, the Huskers need to play three non-conference games at home. In 2012, Nebraska will travel to UCLA and in 2013, the Huskers return to Southern Miss. So these games were going to be against teams that won't demand a road game in response. 25 or 30 years ago, Nebraska could get schools like Oregon and Oregon State to come to Lincoln without demanding a return trip. 10 years ago, Nebraska could get schools like Wyoming and Colorado State to only play in Lincoln. Now? Only Sun Belt or 1-AA teams are still willing to take a paycheck without demanding a return trip.
Nebraska is trying to fill out future schedules by agreeing to play 2-for-1 deals with the likes of Fresno State, Wyoming, and Southern Miss, but that only goes so far. And even if a 1-AA team fills the final non-conference opening in 2012, it's still a better schedule than what Nebraska had to play in 2008 and 2009.
I'll admit that I bought into the Nebraska got a tough scheduling break mindset last year when the initial Big Ten schedules were released. It's hard to argue that the Big Ten went easy on Nebraska: the Huskers only avoid Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue the first two seasons. But I'm starting to realize I overestimated the difficulty of the Huskers schedule. A lot of that is the result of the problems at Ohio State; the Buckeyes would be a lot more formidable if Ohio State still had Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. But as I've been working through the first four conference games, I'm realizing that I was a little too euphoric over abandoning the sinking ship that is the Big XII that I overestimated the Big Ten. I noticed that Phil Steele rated the Huskers schedule #47, and that raised eyebrows. It finally hit me when I looked at Michigan State. A good team, to be sure, but one with a lot of holes and doesn't seem to matchup well with Nebraska. And that's the leading contender to Nebraska in the west division of the Big Ten?
Note: that doesn't mean that I've changed my mind about switching conferences, nor does that mean that I suddenly think Nebraska is going to go unchallenged in a putzy conference. It just means that, well, it's starting to look like I overestimated our new conference opponents.
Speaking of changing conferences, Frank the Tank had an enlightening assessment about Texas A&M and the SEC. Namely, he thinks it's unlikely, and he raises several good points. First, my assumption that expansion would reopen the SEC's television deals with ESPN and CBS appears to be false. So expansion means more teams dividing the same pot. He also illustrates how Texas needs A&M around, much like rock stars need an entourage. I've assumed that Baylor, Tech, and Kansas State would be enough of an entourage...but Frank disagrees.
One thing that will likely lead to Big XII instability down the line is that he sees Texas and ESPN winning the battle over televising high school games. His reasoning is that since Texas doesn't own any part of the Longhorn Network, it's not an NCAA issue. ESPN merely has a contract to televise Texas sporting events, much like ESPN has a contract to televise all sorts of college games. Nobody's had an issue with ESPN carrying high school games in the past, so why would this matter - except that the ESPN channel is named after the Bovines. It's a good point, and not good for Big XII stability... And before you pooh-pooh Frank the Tank, let's remember he's been spot-on with his analysis up to now on all of these realignment topics.