Early schedule tough to swallow

Hi. My name is Dave and I love cupcakes.

(This is the interactive part of the column, where you collectively and cheerfully reply “Welcome, Dave.”)

OK, so there might not be such a thing as Cupcakes Anonymous, but if there were, I would be without a doubt one of its cornerstone members.

One look at my teddy bear-esque figure and it’s not hard to tell there isn’t a cupcake I wouldn’t turn down.

From Sprinkles Cupcakes to Delilah Bakery to Crumbs Bake Shop, this city’s delectable pastry supply will show no ill effects of this current economic recession, as long as I am around to feed the cash registers.

But just as I was about to deem myself a complete cupcake savant, I was stunned by what landed on my plate Thursday night — a game so rich in unimportance that even my robust appetite found itself completely unsatisfied.

No. 16 USC’s head-scratching, roller-coaster marathon of a win over the Hawai’i Warriors was the equivalent of a 21st century college football cupcake.

It was the kind of game that creeps up in early September, goes under the radar beneath the excitement and giddiness of a new season, and leaves you knowing exactly the same amount about your team as you knew before kickoff.

Inferior universities — both in terms of funding and athletic success — will tell you these are the kind of games that pave the way for a year of fiscal growth.

Why else would an unproven program like Florida A&M be so inclined to take a 45-point beating at the hands of No. 13 Miami? What motivation does San Jose State have in scheduling season openers against USC last year and the reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide this year?

The answer is that the cupcake tastes a whole lot sweeter on the other side of the table. Think Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Macguire: “Show me the money.”

Although these immensely painful mismatches might provide some needy institutions with a few extra bucks in their back pockets, they offer up about as much substance as an episode of the new 90210.

They’re bare with intriguing subplots, reek of traditional powerhouses taking an early reprieve from the rigors of a challenging campaign, and, from an aesthetics point of view, is just bad football to watch.

Sadly, the worst offenders this year are your USC Trojans.

You can dress it up any way you’d like. A nice trip to Hawaii, followed up by a home opener against a youthful ACC team, wrapped up in a bow with a trip to an up-and-coming Big Ten school. Call it an opportunity for a young Trojan team to get its feet wet in non-conference play.

I call it a team with nothing to prove, wasting away the first quarter of its schedule against opponents that are, to be blunt, second-rate and yawn-inducing.

Sure, it was encouraging to see sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley carve up a defense that looked eerily similar to that of the one portrayed in the timeless classic The Little Giants, to the tune of 258 yards and five touchdowns (one-third of the total touchdowns he amassed in 2009).

I won’t refute that senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson flashed shades of former Trojan pass-catching legends Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith during his four trips to the end zone, albeit against a secondary with as many holes as a Keanu Reeves acting performance.

And I can’t disagree that USC’s defense looked as callous and out of place as a New Jersey housewife entering a black-tie affair. Allowing 588 yards against any team, Pop Warner or otherwise, is atrocious to say the least.

But with all of that said, throw out your Heisman watch and your witty rants saved up for the next time you hit the water cooler and want to rag on the Trojans’ defensive deficiencies because sadly, for the next three weeks, neither the good nor the bad holds any bearing on how this season will ultimately be defined.

This cupcake we are collectively holding in our hands is simply dry and unsettling — and that’s putting it mildly.

Thank the scheduling gods, who appear not to be starring in this act as soothsayers, or the former athletic director, who will not be mentioned at risk that he will tarnish this column’s few shreds of sanctity.

Label me a cynic, but this season’s opening month has an uncomfortable feel to it, for reasons that stray far from bowl eligibility and scholarship reduction.

My apologies for calling on history that predates most if not all of the students at this university, but USC football has long been notorious for scheduling some of the toughest non-conference games in the country.

In the 1970s, John McKay’s teams went toe-to-toe with Bear Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide on multiple occasions, and then proceeded to play traditional stalwarts like Arkansas, LSU and Iowa in the same year.

In the 1980s, early season showdowns against Florida, Tennessee and Oklahoma weren’t thought to be unnecessary threats on the road to a national championship. No, these games were welcomed celebrations of the best and brightest programs the sport had to offer.

Now those matchups are but a fleeting memory.

In an era where conference realignment and the grossly out-of-touch BCS bowl system garner most of the headlines, the sport has sadly become a shell of what it once was largely because of teams feeling as if they are walking on egg shells if they agree to play staunch non-conference challengers.

These days, if you can get a September slugfest between top-20 teams, fans strike a deer-in-the-headlights look, as if they just saw Haley’s Comet for the first time in 75 years.

And that’s a very troubling concept for someone who believes that when the season begins the competition should actually matter.

If this is a startling notion to you, that the game against Virginia you are set to watch with your peers at the Coliseum this Saturday is nothing short of a farce or glorified preseason game, then I am sincerely sorry.

Point your finger at the parties listed above: the former AD, the BCS system and the smaller universities who want to get their piece of the pie.

I recognize that having a home-and-home with Ohio State the last two years was a treat of treats. But greed is not what is driving my insistence that this university continue to schedule prime time billing-type games.

This program is too big of a powerhouse — with or without sanctions — to sacrifice and demean the level of excellence which it has achieved over the last half-century with the non-enticing group of opponents it has put together in 2010.

It is the ultimate lose-lose for this crop of young talent. Beat Hawai’i by only 13 points, and there is bound to be uproar and malcontent. Beat them by 40 or 50 points, and people will accuse coach Lane Kiffin and his staff of purposely running up the score on the defenseless, soon to be conference cellar-dwellers.

No disrespect to the Warriors, Cavaliers and Golden Gophers, but world champions you are not.

Part of me should be content in knowing that our student body’s passion for the game isn’t getting completely compromised by having teams like Samford, Eastern Illinois or Georgia State take on the Trojans. But from where I am looking, it’s pretty close.

For all my moaning and whining, I will devote a single line of credit to athletic director Pat Haden on scheduling a home-and-home with Texas in 2017 and 2018.

But I am not stepping down from my shabby, cardboard box on this issue.

Is it really asking a lot to let a guy have his substantial cupcake and eat it too?

At the rate we’re headed, the counter to my seemingly simple request looks more and more like a resounding “No.”

“For The Love Of The Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Dave at dulberg@usc.edu.

3 replies
  1. HooGirl
    HooGirl says:

    Virginia is a preseason game? They are a young, upcoming team who is part of a BCS conference. i hope that is the attitude that your Trojans have on the field tonight- because Virginia can at least attend a bowl game this year and next. Go Hoos!

  2. john 81, 83
    john 81, 83 says:

    Perhaps the sugar has gone to your head…traditional stalwarts like Iowa? LSU? While LSU is a respectable team with a history, perhaps a closer look would reveal that they a tough team at home and on par with many of our other OCC opponents. Give it up, you are on a rant and should look harder for a subject.
    Virginia has fielded some pretty respectable teams and Minn has been representing the Big 10 pretty well. HI is a trip west and has always been looked upon as such.
    So, I guess if I have 75 years of history to look back on I can come up with a really tough OOC schedule. I was a student during the Alabama home and home, when we shared the NC. Those were really special teams, this one is not.
    Take a look around. One of the facts I am especially proud of is that SC has never played a FCS school. There are, by the way, on 2 BCS schools who can make such a claim.
    So, Mr. Cupcake, look harder for a topic for next weeks assignment.

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