It. Begins.

College football is back. Time for the annual BCS complaint. Yes, you, Mr. Easterbrook?

Because college football is commencing, it’s time for TMQ’s annual check of cupcake schedules. The two phoniest aspects of football-factory existence — playing more games at home than on the road, and appearing at home against schools that are perennial losers or from lower divisions — both are on display in 2009.

Notre Dame plays eight games at home, four on the road, and opens at home against Nevada, which last season lost 69-17 at Missouri. (All Division I-A and Division I-AA schedules can be found here.) Auburn has eight games at home and four away, and plays its first four at home. Auburn fearlessly faces, at home, Division I-AA Furman, which last year lost to Elon. Forget conferences; do you even know what state Elon is in? Tennessee has eight games at home and four away, and the home dates include meetings against Western Kentucky (2-10 last season, and the sole team beaten by 1-11 North Texas) and the Ohio Bobcats. Actually, the Bobcats may be a tougher opponent at this point than the Oakland Raiders.

Penn State gets the award for the weakest schedule, of course.

To me, this is a bigger problem than the unfairness of selecting the two best teams for the national championship. At worst, you can argue that the BCS system does not necessarily select the two best of several deserving teams. Or you can argue, as I do, that there is no real way of knowing who among the top ten is the “best” team and a playoff among conference champions (and only conference champions) is the only way that’s really fair.

But the cupcake schedules are a direct attempt to get undeserving teams into the championship game. Because the BCS will almost always go with an undefeated team with a laughable schedule over a 1- or 2-loss team with a real schedule.

College football fans lose because of this. A few years ago, I was living in Austin when the Longhorns made their run for the title. That year, they played Ohio State during the regular season. It was a monster game and the buildup was electric. The excitement and tension were palpable. That’s what the college football season should be like — not “oh yeah” games against cupcakes.

I’m not against cupcake matchups altogether. It please alumni and, more importantly, spreads some big-time university athletic money to smaller schools. But non-conference schedules should not be all cupcakes.

There’s a simple solution. Starting in a few year’s time, you implement a new BCS rule. To be eligible for a BCS bowl, a team’s non-conference schedule has to include:

1) at least one team from another BCS conference AND
2) at least one road game

Now this might mean that Auburn plays Northwestern at home and Akron on the road. But that’s an improvement.

The really real way you would improve this, however, is to restrict the BCS to conference champions — with the Big Six conferences guaranteed entries and the remaining slots distributed among mid-major conferences and independents. That way, there is no advantage in beating the shit out of four wussy non-conference teams and no disadvantage to playing tough non-conference teams. If Penn State loses to Georgia, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, it doesn’t hurt their BCS chances as long as they win their conference.

This will, of course, never happen. Because the people running the BCS don’t care about the integrity of the game or the excitement of regular season monster matchups. They like it when teams schedule cupcakes. It makes it more likely that some team will luck into an undefeated season and they can shout from the rooftops that the system works.