Nonconference scheduling is an inexact and unpredictable science, fraught with peril every single season. The hope is always to find the right balance between backbreaking and easy.
But sometimes, hopes are dashed. Sometimes, the perfect scheduling storm derails the best intentions. For an example, we look at what Virginia has to deal with this season.
The Hoos have not shied away from playing challenging games. But a confluence of events has left them reeling and coach Mike London with one of the toughest schedules in the ACC. It comes at the worst imaginable time for Virginia, too.
After consecutive losing seasons, the last thing this program needs is a schedule featuring 10 bowl teams. Getting to six wins against this slate should be considered a rousing success.
So how did Virginia get here? Let us watch the dominoes fall.
Virginia set a home-and-home series with UCLA in February 2009, after both teams finished with losing records the previous season. Administrators always roll the dice with games set years into the future. You never know what type of team you will end up facing. In this case, it happens to be the No. 7 team in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll with a Heisman hopeful at quarterback.
Then in August 2012, Virginia canceled a series against UTSA for the 2013 and 2014 seasons when the ACC decided to move to a nine-game conference schedule. Two months later, the ACC reversed course and decided to stay with an eight-game league slate thanks to a scheduling agreement with Notre Dame.
Virginia needed to add another nonconference game to make up for the one it dropped against UTSA. So a few months later, it scheduled BYU for 2013 and 2014. Essentially, the Hoos traded UTSA for BYU. Ouch.
Finally, in June 2013, the ACC announced its new 12-year rotating crossover schedule as a 14-member league. Virginia drew a trip to Florida State in 2014, plus Louisville as its new permanent crossover rival in place of Maryland. Double ouch.
London has been diplomatic when asked about the schedule this year, saying, “It’s one that is challenging, but nonetheless the band is playing and tickets are sold. We played in a lot of them, big opening games, USC and BYU, Penn State, so the challenges are there. We can talk and talk and talk, but it’s not a perfect world and I’m not in charge of it. The schedule we have is the one we’re ready to play.”
Virginia has taken an aggressive approach with its future nonconference schedules, too, setting series with Boise State and Stanford. Virginia travels to UCLA next year and also has return games against Oregon and Penn State, plus two more games set against BYU.
Tough nonconference slates are good, especially in the College Football Playoff era. But they can also hurt a program trying to regain its footing. While it is true Virginia did not have complete control over how its schedule played out for 2014, it is undeniable that this is a bad time for the Hoos to be facing so many challenges.