Jim Harbaugh isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and some of his statements both on and off the field have put Stanford’s football program in the spotlight after years of futility. Think Lane Kiffin with a bit more substance behind him.
Anyway, Harbaugh recently spoke with colleague Bruce Feldman and had some interesting thoughts about scheduling that could ruffle a few feathers in the Big Ten. ESPN Insiders can check out the whole interview here. If you’re not an Insider, what are you waiting for?
Harbaugh contends that the Pac-10 pays the price for scheduling tough nonconference games and playing a round-robin league slate while other conferences — ahem, the Big Ten — benefit from soft schedules. He doesn’t come out and name the Big Ten or any individual schools, but it’s pretty clear who he’s talking about.
Feldman: You’re not a fan of teams from other leagues playing two FCS schools.
Harbaugh: Some of these teams are playing Delaware State (as Harbaugh’s alma mater, Michigan, is) or Towson (Northwestern). You know, somebody really ought to take notice of this stuff. You have eight or nine wins and so you’re a great football team? Well, what if you played four patsies in your nonconference and then you only won half your conference games and so you get to go play in the Alamo Bowl and everyone says you’re a great team. That’s what happens. There’s no question that the Pac-10 doesn’t get that respect for playing teams out of conference of like caliber. Maybe some of these teams have a 1-AA team in there but it’s rare.
Harbaugh hasn’t shied away from blasting Michigan before, but this is a pretty clear dig at Northwestern, a team Stanford often competes against in recruiting. Northwestern capitalized off of a favorable schedule to go 9-4 last fall and reach the Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats actually went 5-3 in league play, not 4-4, but who’s counting? Stanford, meanwhile, played nine league games in addition to TCU and went 5-7.
We all want to see teams beef up their schedules, and Harbaugh makes a good point about certain teams looking better than they are. Then again, Northwestern has been a much better program than Stanford this decade, reaching four bowl games versus just one for the Cardinal. Maybe Stanford could build its profile a bit with a softer non-league slate and a bowl appearance.
Feldman: I asked Coach (Jeff) Tedford this, but do you have to be proactive as a Pac-10 coach talking about the merits of scheduling and head-to-head conferences records and what not?
Harbaugh: To campaign and change the mentality, I think we do that by coaching our guys and trying to make our particular teams the best they possibly can [be]. But there’s gotta be some serious thinking, brainstorming and good decision-making by the leaders of this conference. If that is the way the game is set up now, if it’s all going off of computer rankings and won-loss record, maybe we should be playing five nonconference games, so everybody is 9-2 and then the strength of schedule numbers look really good. Then, the BCS ranking spits out two Pac-10 teams for BCS bowls.
The Big Ten, by the way, has sent two teams to BCS bowls in each of the last four years.
I like coaches who aren’t afraid to be honest, and Harbaugh seems to be doing a nice job at Stanford. It’d be nice to see a little more actual winning from the Cardinal, but he seems well on his way to a fine career. Just don’t expect him to be returning to the Big Ten any time soon.