In college football, non-conference scheduling is all about not outkicking your coverage, so to speak.
On the one hand, you want to challenge your program to exceed expectations. This means not scheduling opponents that are so laughably bad that a victory means nothing more than a brisk workout. This is especially true in the age of the Bowl Championship Series, with teams hoping to impress both human pollsters and computer systems in order to gain precious ranking points.
On the other hand, that's better than scheduling a difficult team and getting blown out. Non-conference games are typically played early in the season, and such a loss can hurt a team's morale before the season even gets off the ground.
Collegiate programs have a number of factors to consider when scheduling out of conference. The decision many make is to play it safe, inviting a cupcake foe to the home stadium and playing the starters for only two or three quarters.
Scheduling at the high school level is a whole different ball game.
In high school, the regular season results come down to play within the region. That means that non-region games, while important for a variety of reasons, mean nothing in determining a team's chances of advancing to the playoffs.
Let me start with reasons why these games are important, even if they don't really "count."
First off, I haven't met many players who enjoy losing. All games mean something to those playing them, so to say the game is insignificant is shortsighted.
Secondly, teams need early-season games to determine some things. Who will step up as a leader? Who will play better in a game situation than he did during practice? Also, inexperienced players just need actual game time to get acclimated to the atmosphere of a Friday night.
Finally, coaches might not have finalized rosters by the time the first game rolls around. Regardless, decisions about who will play where are still being made.
I say all of that to say this: Because the games don't "count," high school programs are often unafraid of scheduling the best teams they can find to afford their players the best challenge possible. If they see the best, a team's players can aspire to play like them, a tactic used last season by Grovetown head coach Rodney Holder.
Instead of scheduling easy opponents for the first-year program, Holder decided to schedule in-state powerhouses Buford and Northside-Warner Robins, as well as one of South Carolina's best in Fairfield Central. The games ended in lopsided defeats. The experience, though, was invaluable to his players.
This isn't the preferred strategy in all situations, of course. Coaches of some young or inexperienced teams would rather schedule an easy opponent and get a victory to boost those players' morale.
The region portion of the schedule can be exciting, at times, because playoff berths are on the line. However, it can get a bit boring, too, because many times matchups feature games in which two teams have played multiple times in recent years and know each other quite well.
Often, based on the recent matchups, you can guess what the outcome will be before the game even begins.
I believe non-region games between two solid teams, however, are the most exciting games of all. Take, for example, Friday's upcoming slate.
Northside-Warner Robins travels to Lakeside and Greenbrier plays at Lincoln County. The Panthers face a Northside program with a cumulative record of 146-15 since 1998; the Wolfpack take on Lincoln County and Larry Campbell, the winningest head coach in state history.
Add Butler traveling to Harlem to the intriguing list. The Bulldogs of Harlem will attempt to prevent the visiting Bulldogs from improving on their two-game winning streak after Butler came into the season on a 41-game losing streak.
Region play is important. But the most exciting games often are the non-region ones between unfamiliar opponents.
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