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Don’t fret too much over early rankings

08/04/2014, 12:00am EDT
By DAVE HACKENBERG BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Don’t fret too much over early rankings

Monday morning musings, or 3M as we list it on the stock exchange:

We hesitate to make much of this because the data is so flawed, but it is interesting to note that the University of Toledo supposedly will play the 12th most difficult nonconference football schedule in the nation, and the toughest among Mid-American Conference teams, according to a ranking compiled by the SB Nation Web site.

The Rockets open at home against New Hampshire, actually one of the better FCS teams in the country, and then host Missouri before traveling to meet Cincinnati and Iowa State.

Tough? Without question.

The flaw? In early August there is really no foolproof way to judge strength of schedule. In fact, perhaps the only way to do it is based on the previous season, and that’s what SB Nation did, using the Sagarin rating’s average strength of schedule for each of the 124 FBS teams from 2013.

Of course, such numbers don’t necessarily translate from one season to the next.

Missouri is a good example. Gary Pinkel’s Tigers went 12-2 last season, captured the SEC East title, won the Cotton Bowl, and were ranked No. 5 in the final AP poll. Along the way, Mizzou defeated Toledo 38-23 at Faurot Field. This year’s Missouri team, which plays at the Glass Bowl on Sept. 6, may or may not prove to be of the same caliber. Most power rankings have Mizzou around No. 30 in the preseason.

Northern Illinois is another good example, ranking 80 slots below Toledo on the same list at No. 92. The Huskies’ schedule includes road games at Northwestern and Arkansas, which sounds reasonable enough. But the Wildcats were 1-7 in the Big Ten last season and Arkansas dropped its last nine games. Will those opponents be equally feeble this time around or vastly improved? Again, that’s the flaw in looking back to look forward.

Since you’re wondering, Ohio State’s nonconference slate, with three of the four games at home, ranks as the 23rd most difficult, which may or may not pass the eye test. The Buckeyes meet Navy in Baltimore, then host Virginia Tech, Kent State, and Cincinnati.

Bowling Green, meanwhile, ranks No. 61 — back-to-back games against Indiana and at Wisconsin are the highlights — and Michigan is No. 87.

The rankings don’t take kindly to the Wolverines hosting Utah, which went 2-7 in the Pac-12 last season, 0-12 Miami of Ohio, and Appalachian State, a 4-8 FCS team a year ago that is moving up to FBS this season in the Sun Belt Conference.

Of course, we all remember what happened the last time the Mountaineers visited the Big House.

■ Since that shocking loss to Appalachian State in the 2007 opener, Michigan has played 88 football games and is just 12 games over .500. And the bulk of that cushion was provided by Brady Hoke’s debut 11-2 season in 2011.

■ Speaking of Northern Illinois and nonconference games, the Huskies staged something called SchedulePalooza and over four days last week announced four future home-and-away series.

The games are against San Diego State, BYU, Utah, and Maryland.

The news should be welcomed by NIU fans, who can look forward to just one nonconference home game this fall. Against Presbyterian.

■ Pete Van Wieren, who died of cancer Saturday at age 69, worked at Ch. 24, then known as WDHO, from September of 1972 to April, 1974, and was the Toledo station’s first sports director.

One of his successors, local legend Jim Tichy, tells a story that explains why Van Wieren didn’t stick around longer.

When the Genoa High boys basketball team advanced to the state tournament in March of 1974, Ch. 24 acquired rights to televise the game and had the option of providing the play-by-play announcer. Van Wieren wanted the job, but a misguided general manager said, “Pete, you don’t have what it takes to do play-by-play.”

Van Wieren was so upset that he went job hunting and soon landed a 33-year gig as TV and radio play-by-play voice of the Atlanta Braves.

I guess “The Professor” indeed had what it takes.

■ Another recent death to mention — Chet Fair, a one-time assistant football coach at UT, passed away in Palm Harbor, Fla., at age 90.

He was on Jack Murphy’s staff in 1971, when the Rockets went 12-0 to cap the 35-0 streak.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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