Does College Football Need Its Cupcakes?

David Marsh Editorials 27 Comments

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In any normal year, College Football is filled with early games against FCS schools that typically culminate with blowout victories. These “cupcake” matchups tend to be tolerated by a hungry fan base that is looking to watch their team play a real game for the first time in nine months. But once the initial excitement fades, these games are at best boring wins and at worst a bad omen for the new season.

Athletic directors like to schedule these cupcake season games early, as they give their teams a chance to prepare for the real meat of their schedules. In a normal year Oregon likes to schedule an FCS team, a Group of Five team, and ideally a big name Power Five opponent.

This year most conferences are playing a conference only schedule due to COVID. This gives us, the fans, a rare opportunity to see what a season could be like without the cupcakes on the schedule. This comes with a caveat as teams have been stressed and tested in multiple ways off the field due to the looming pandemic.

John Sperry

In 2016, Oregon defeated UC Davis but that game would foreshadow the disaster to come.

Regardless, the schedule amendments have created a better atmosphere for fans to experience, as teams are thrust into their conference schedules earlier. More teams are tested earlier and there are even more must-win games. But with the elevation of competitive football comes some harboring truths; a lack of early FCS opponents may have caused a few fan bases to come to terms with the reality of their programs sooner than a typical year.

The Harsh Reality of No Cupcakes

This year the lack of cupcakes and their role as tune-up games has really stung some major college football teams and their chances at a strong bowl game, especially as most teams didn’t have extensive spring practices. The two top teams from a year ago that have notably suffered are LSU and Oklahoma.

Many crucial pieces of LSU’s historic 2019 championship team departed in this past offseason. They lost their star quarterback, key skill players, some top-rated defenders and perhaps most importantly, some highly impactful coaches. Add a shortened spring and no cupcake games to workout the bugs and that spells disaster, especially when Mike Leach and his air raid offense gets involved for a week one game. It would be understandable if this was considered a rebuilding year for LSU. Without their cupcake matchups it is turning into an unmitigated disaster, as LSU has already dropped games against Mississippi State and Missouri in tightly contested shootouts.

Kevin Cline

How many people remember Oregon playing Southern Utah in 2017?

Things are only going marginally better for Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s success has been in part fueled by graduate transfer quarterbacks for the past few years and this year they are turning to a red-shirt freshman Spencer Rattler. Oklahoma and the Big-12, unlike SEC teams, did have one cupcake game before conference play and they blew out Missouri State 48-0. However, that warm-up does not appear to have helped Oklahoma too much as they have currently fallen out of the AP Top 25 Poll.

How much better would these teams be with the cupcakes on their schedules? That is difficult to determine in such a rare offseason of turmoil, but to have two or three warm-up games would probably have been enough to avoid the close losses they each have suffered early.

The Delicate Echo-System of College Sports

These games also serve as a major part of the college sports echo-system. Most FCS and many Group of Five schools need these games to keep their athletic departments financially afloat.

Photographer: Eugene Johnson

Oregon defeated Portland State easily in 2018.

Before COVID, Portland State was supposed to play Oregon State this year and receive $400,000 dollars for that game. Portland State was also scheduled to play Arizona this year as well to the tune of $550,000 dollars. Portland State lost $950,000 of potential revenue this year for its struggling athletic programs. This is money that cannot be made up.

Portland State is pursuing payment for the losses, but not all schools are doing so for their cancelled games. Just looking at the slated schedule and the payments that go along with these games makes it is clear there are millions of lost dollars for FCS schools this year.

As much as fans may dislike these boring starter games, it does beg the question: are we willing to let less fortunate college athletic programs disappear for a better fan experience? Is there a better solution than having Power Five programs schedule these pay-to-win games?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: Craig Strobeck

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Mike West

UGA vs Bama week 1. Expose their flaws pronto. Enough hiding your skeletons in the closet all of September.


I actually don’t find the games boring. I enjoy seeing the 2nd, 3rd string players get a chance to play, and also the excitement of the cupcake teams as they run into Autzen. Plus, I remember the days when Oregon was the cupcake for teams such as Nebraska and Oklahoma.


Pac-12 clarifies how 5 Oregon Ducks who had positive antigen tests for COVID-19 can return to practice, play


Pac-12 M Basketball News:

Arizona, Sean Miller accused of multiple Level I NCAA violations: source

Jon Sousa

Thanks for the assist!


In the latest AP Poll, the Ducks dropped 1 to #14, while USC surged up 3 to #21.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

David, this is a great topic, one that is ongoing and as you noted–has many tangents that are articles themselves to discuss.

I feel you need at least one cupcake per year to give the young-guns a chance to get playing time, and then a mid-lin Power-5 team and then for me is the question of the third nonconference game-whether to have that marquee non-conference match-up?

These games give the program superb exposure, and if you win–helps the path to the Playoff enormously, but the penalty for a loss seems to be disproportionate compared to other conferences. There is also the thought of “leaving the games against tOSU for bowl games, and not during the season.”

There is wisdom to that, but boy those games such as against Michigan State and Auburn had a ton of national eyes on us. Tough decisions, and I think that the AD has decided in favor of one of those a year with the hope that Oregon is now an “elite” enough team in the national perception to justify the risk/return.

Others would ask, “if you have a very good team, but not a great one…wouldn’t you rather get exposed against a great team in the Playoff game, (like Oklahoma) rather than early in the season in a non-conference game?”

Whew! Another toughie…

Jon Sousa

I don’t particularly like the idea of getting to the playoff every year and never winning a game. Sooner or later OK has to get over the hump. The Ducks got over that hump once and are 1-0 in semifinal games. The hump we have yet to get over is the much bigger one.


Justin was great yesterday, Rookie Of The Year, eat it, Todd McShay. But, the play of the day, season, goes to Seahawks WR, DJ Metcalf’s chase and takedown of former Husky by the way, Budda Baker. Keep in mind that Metcalf is 6’3, 228.

Jon Sousa

I was sooooo disappointed that Budda Baker didn’t come to the Ducks.


I think cupcakes are just fine in moderation and at proper intervals. Nothing good comes from starting a diet on a cupcakes only.

If the Pac-12 would learn this lesson, from the SEC, it would be a good lesson. Maybe start off with a cupcake, feels good and gets the hunger up, but then put off the next one for a while. Alabama knows how to do this, have a cupcake midseason, get the appetite up and then slaughter the next tough team at home. Whatever you do don’t just eat cupcakes when starting the season, or a diet. We all need cupcakes, we just have to learn how many and when, to have them.

Jon Sousa

You failed to mention how the powerhouses in the SEC use a 4th OOC cupcake late in the season as an extra “bye week”.

Jon Joseph

JH Watch –

1st W! 374 yards passing/ 3 TDS. Franchise rushing record for QB – 66 yards.

Speaking of cupcakes, how about the NJ Jets?

Jon Sousa

I don’t think anybody saw this coming. How many people join the league and play THIS GOOD?

JH is living a dream right now. Don’t anybody pinch him because we don’t want him to wake up.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

This begins to call into question about how he was utilized at Oregon … or not. Boy he can sure throw a lovely deep ball we did see in Eugene! More bombs completed a few games than his entire career at Oregon!

Jon Joseph

No doubt he has better guys to wing it to in the NFL.

Jon Joseph

Publicity, yes. But $? With the requirement of team ticket sales guarantees, travel costs, etc., lesser bowls more often end up in a loss than a profit.

I expect to see more and more quality players opting out of .meaningless, exhibition bowls.’

Jon Joseph


Aren’t there enough cupcakes in the Pac-12? Do you want the ACC and SEC to return to 8 game regular season schedules? Should Notre Dame with 2 cupcakes in the mix be eligible for for the playoff without playing a 13th game?

CFB FBS exists to subsidize lower level schools while charging its fans big $ to watch the beat down? Fans are voting by not showing up for these games. This is the principle reason Alabama among other CFB powers, is stepping up up its OOC scheduling.

The SEC is not chomping down its usual diet of cupcakes this season. None of the sugar sacrifices that were on the SEC schedules for a paycheck are dropping football.

OK, I read the very well written take.

Now, I say Hell No! Why should schools like Oklahoma get to prop up its results by playing donut holes? Kansas is not enough of a walk over?

I will take 1 step back. When the Playoff expands to an 8 team field with all P5 champs in, I am in favor of Oregon opening every season versus Portland State in Autzen. Then, play 11 conference games. If a conference champ game is needed for the $, the top 2 teams playoff. And I would like to see the playoff game if held, at the home field of the higher seeded team. Fans should not need to travel to Las Vegas in addition to having to travel to a playoff site. Winning a round robin should be rewarded with a home champ game.

1 Pac-12 OOC game would allow for BYU/Utah, ND/ USC and Stanford/ND to continue to be played. And for oregon to play Ohio State and not Portland State if it so desired.

Besides, because of the CA (particularly USC) influence the Pac-12 divisions are gerrymandered. Utah and CU and not CAL and Stanford belong in the north. But an 11 game conference schedule obviously eliminates the need for divisions and for recruiting purposes, would have Oregon playing the 4 CA schools every season.

Thanks David. Great ponder point.

Mike West

I’ll never attend another mismatch game again. Should have declared that when I was a student. The only lesson from it is you learn how dominant (or not) you are. Sometimes a punch in the gut like last year in Dallas wakes you up, and motivates you to get MUCH BETTER.


“Athletic directors like to schedule these cupcake season games early”

Except in the SEC, of course. I read this and remembered back to the early 70’s when the Ducks were tasty snacks for Oklahoma and Nebraska. Those were bad games, but the $$$ was good. Fortunately, Oregon has shifted its position in the food chain and are wiping the creamy filling off after the games now.

The Ducks had a nice schedule set up for this season; technically, North Dakota State was a cupcake, but King Of The Cupcakes. That would have been a great opening act before the Buckeyes came to Autzen for the Main Event.

Aside from the practice aspect of a game against a Cupcake, they do more harm than help to a schedule. At the end of the year a win doesn’t impress, and a loss or even a ragged win can definitely be used against you when the schedule is evaluated. So, as in diet plans, a cupcake isn’t awful in moderation.

Jon Joseph

Moderation, yes. But 2019 Bama – Duke, SO MISS, NM ST, W Carolina? Hell no!

And from what we have seen to date, not every SEC game features two behemoths battling it out like nowhere else on earth.

Clear tiers this season. Bama. Then UGA, A+M, UF. Then a bunch of OK teams and a bad team in Vandy. We are seeing what we long have believed. The top of the SEC is ‘all that.’ But the rest of the conference? And the idea that the SEC is the supreme conference when it comes to D is also going by the boards.

THIS happens when you play more than 8 conference games and not a bunch of cupcakes.


Exactly. Clemson is on a high sugar diet no matter how many conference games it plays, and the SEC has gamed it to the max. But, as you noted, the SEC ain’t all that anymore. Alabama is still elite, but the idea that simply playing in the SEC means you’re a top 10 team is dying.