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Michigan vs. Cal? I Don't Think So.

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Now that my introduction is over, let's delve into something a bit more...substantiative.  Recently, this site has discussed the possibility of a Michigan vs. Cal rivalry, brought to us by our good friend (apparently) carp from California Golden Blogs.  This was borne of a post in which he lamented the fact that Cal, despite being a major program in a major football state, does not have a true OOC rivalry.  Sad story indeed.

First, let me qualify my general negativity in this post.  I like Cal.  I like the uniforms, I like Jahvid Best, hell I kinda like Berkley in that "holy hell, would you look at that?" kind of way.  It's just that...Michigan isn't looking for new rivalries, especially ones that involve early trips west of the Mississippi.  We're already public enemy #1 on nearly every opponent's schedule.

Ok, maybe I'm being a little arrogant.

The first reason (barring the fact that it's pretty hard to just "create" a rivalry out of thin air) why I really don't want to play Cal on anything that could be considered a "basis" is this:  for well mannered Big Ten teams, traveling west early in the season = death.  It's that simple.  Look at this season alone:  Michigan State and Ohio State both suffered losses early as a result of traveling west.  Wisconsin won, sure, but against a MWC team that, as it turns out, isn't really that good despite their coach's level of awesome regarding facial hair.  Look at the past.  Michigan vs. Oregon.  Michigan vs. Washington.  Iowa vs. Arizona State.  That west coast trip messes with your head, man.  So I wouldn't so much say that I'm being arrogant as I'm being respectfully fearful.  West Coast trips are baaaaad juji for Big Ten teams, and frankly, I don't need to see a(nother) National Championship wrecking loss to Cal (Oregon) in week 3.

Like some of the commenters in that thread, I am tired of playing Notre Dame every year.  But that is an already established rivalry that was a marquee matchup as late as 2006.  As soon as both programs have "returned to glory" (I just threw up a little) that game will be back to being fairly sweet.  I could certainly do with a little life injected into the OOC schedule, but a long trip out west for a contrived rivalry isn't what I'm looking for, mostly because I'm too afraid Michigan will lose.  Better to stay at home, beat up on ND when they're bad, and go undefeated than to go out for an uber-risky game in Berkley that could very easily hand you a loss, at least as it stands under the current parameters of the BCS, etc.

Here's where the arrogance starts.  There is a strong argument to be made that an early OOC loss doesn't hurt you that bad provided that it is to the right team, and that you are in the National Title hunt to begin with.  For example, this year, Ohio State went out and played USC.  Two teams, both in the top 5, both with National Title aspirations.  It turned out to be pretty much a worst-case scenario for the Buckeyes, and they still only dropped 8 spots to number 13.  Given all the teams ahead of them who play each other, 13 isn't a bad spot to be in week 3.  Now imagine if OSU had played USC a little tighter.  Maybe lost Michigan-Texas style on a last second FG.  How far would they have dropped?  Maybe 2 spots to #7? Even given a royal beating, they were still in the hunt after that loss.  OSU vs. Texas is another good example of this.  Texas didn't drop hardly at all when they lost to OSU in a tight game in '06 (6 spots to #7, for those keeping score). 

My hesitation with a team like Cal is that, frankly, they're not the right team to do this with.  There are only about 10 teams that are "loss-worthy" in any given year.  USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama (this year).  These are the teams, this year, that it would be acceptable to lose to early in the season.  Not only is Cal not on this list, but I don't think they've ever been anywhere close to this list.  I'm all for scheduling tough OOC matchups, but I want to be sure that we won't be punished too harshly in the polls if we lose.  I don't think Cal is good enough, now or historically, to be that team.

So thanks, carp, for the offer and the interesting subject it brings up.  There is plenty more to discuss about how to fix OOC scheduling, but until OOC scheduling is fixed, and everyone is playing risky games, I don't want any piece of Cal.  Take it as a back-handed compliment.  Your team is juuuuust scary enough not to play, especially given your location.  The risk far outweighs the reward.