Top caliber teams OK to feast on cupcake squads

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Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert hurdles a pancaked Wyoming defender during last year's contest. Despite their down season, the Longhorns won the game 34-7 partly due to Wyoming's inferior talent. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Lauren Gerson | Daily Texan Staff

Besides Heisman hopefuls and No. 1 NFL draft picks, there’s something else the past six national champions have in common.

Call it a guilty pleasure, but the best in the country can’t help but feast on cupcakes.

Auburn kicked off last year’s season with a 52-26 win over Arkansas State, Alabama played a schedule consisting of Florida International, North Texas and Tennessee-Chattanooga in 2009, and Florida crushed Hawaii, a tropical cupcake, 56-10
in 2008.

In 2007, Louisiana State smoked Mississippi State 45-0 in the opener (a conference foe usually shouldn’t be considered a cupcake, but the pre-Dan Mullen Bulldogs had cream puff written all over them) and then routed Middle Tennessee State University 44-0 the next week. The 2006 Florida team coasted through Southern Miss and Central Florida by a combined score of 76-7.

Remember Texas’ 60-3 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in 2005? Me neither. I think I fell asleep on the couch.

A game against cupcakes — also known as tomato cans, cream puffs, snoozers, gimmes and walk-in-the-parks — obviously doesn’t provide the same oomph as Saturday’s LSU-Oregon game would. But television ratings take a back seat when either LSU or Oregon, both championship hopefuls, will enter Week 2 with a 0-1 record.

No matter how much fun it is, it’s just too risky to play such a tough opponent in Week 1. Without a playoff to determine a national champion, one loss could decimate title hopes. Some teams do it and get away with it. The aforementioned 2009 Crimson Tide team sneaked past Virginia Tech by 10 points in its opener. Not worth it, a full slate of conference games are tough enough as it is.

Texas has made a habit of eating dessert before dinner. The last time the Longhorns played a “good” team (i.e., a school from a BCS conference or one with a respectable history) in Week 1 was in 1999 when they lost 23-20 to North Carolina State.

In fact, I’d make the case that nobody has had an easier Week 1 in the last decade than the Longhorns. The opponents? A who’s-who of nobodies: North Texas (thrice), Louisiana-Lafayette (twice), Rice (twice, including this Saturday), New Mexico State (twice), Louisiana Monroe, Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State.

The combined score of every opener since 2000 is 533-94. The toughest game in that stretch was in 2007, when the Longhorns held off Arkansas State to win 21-13.

To be fair, Texas does usually follow a cupcake with a strong Week 2 opponent, whether it be Ohio State, Arkansas, TCU or BYU. But even that has come back to bite the Longhorns — when they lost to Ohio State in 2006, it essentially sapped all the buzz out of the team. When it comes to playing nationally ranked teams in the preseason, the risks far outweigh the rewards: The only incentives for it is it boosts the schedule and it gives the school national prominence. Texas doesn’t need the latter, and it’s hard to imagine the Longhorns going undefeated and being left out of the title game.

Head coach Mack Brown tries not to run up the score in the first game, instead electing to empty the bench and keep the ball on the ground. But other than that, there’s a lot for a team to feel good about in a 65-0 pasting (2004 against North Texas). The quarterbacks feel confident, the skill players invincible. Both the offensive and defensive lines have so much fun manhandling that first opponent that the mentality carries over into the rest of the season.

Maybe that’s what went wrong last season. Texas beat Rice 34-17 in Houston, but it wasn’t the opener anybody around here is used to. A score of 49-10 would have been much better.

The two teams play again tomorrow, much to the possible chagrin of the fans, who would be much more riveted by a seesaw affair between two titans and to the annoyance of other national powers who take on a tougher opponent in Week 1 to promote enthusiasm for the college game.

The Longhorns, and the other top teams in the nation, don’t need to listen.

Let them eat cupcake.