Playing Cupcake Opponents: Do They Help or Hurt a Team?

Story posted September 13, 2017 in CommRadio by Christopher Hess

Playing Cupcake Opponents: Do They Help or Hurt a Team?

With the College Football season in full swing two weeks in, teams are already building up their resumes in order to make a push for the College Football Playoff.

Penn State is one of those teams that is making that push towards the playoff, and it is no secret that this team is hungry and poised for a playoff run.

However, the question that festers on is whether non-conference opponents play a role in determining a team’s fate if they are on that dreaded “bubble”.

The Playoff Committee goes through a rigorous process to ensure that the four best teams make the Playoff and almost every single factor is taken into account.

Cupcake teams have been on schedules of top tier teams a number of times and it’s fairly obvious that these teams want a relatively easy non-conference slate before the conference schedule begins.

The question as to whether these top tier teams should be playing these so-called cupcakes still persists and it can ultimately determine whether a team makes the Playoff or not.

When a team builds its playoff resume, they hope to include a number of quality conference and non-conference wins. That proves to be a bit difficult if a team plays an extremely easy non-conference schedule.

However, with a team like Alabama, who is a consistent playoff contender, they can realistically play whoever they want because the end result is the same for a large majority of their games; a win in convincing fashion.

There is virtually very little room for error if a team is on the bubble and they have a relatively easy non-conference slate. If a game with a so-called cupcake team is close and that team who won is lobbying for a playoff spot, the committee may take that game into account.

Penn State and Washington provided us with that exact scenario, as both teams were fighting for that final spot in the College Football Playoff this past season.

Washington’s non-conference slate consisted of blowout victories over Rutgers 48-13, Idaho 59-14, and Portland State 41-3. Penn State’s non-conference schedule included a 33-13 win over Kent State, a 42-39 loss to Pittsburgh, and a 34-27 win over Temple.

Washington handily defeated their cupcake opponents and Penn State lost a game that many believed they should have won.

With that being the case, Washington made the College Football Playoff and Penn State was No. 5 and was selected to play in the Rose Bowl.

It is crucial to build up a resume for the College Football Playoff and playing teams that are also contenders may build up their resume.

For example, Ohio State made the College Football Playoff last year because of an extremely high quality non-conference win over Oklahoma.

Ohio State had dominated almost every aspect of the game and went on to embarrass Oklahoma by the score of 45-24. Ohio State ended up losing to Penn State in October and later defeated Michigan, 30-27, in double overtime. Although Ohio State did not win the Big Ten Championship, they were able to make the College Football Playoff.

Scheduling cupcake opponents can be either beneficial or it can become hazardous. It is vital for a team to win those games early on, but it has to be in convincing fashion.

Penn State’s non-conference schedule in particular this season isn’t exactly flattering, with teams like Akron, Pittsburgh, and Georgia State making up the first three games.

Penn State demolished Akron 52-0, defeated Pittsburgh 33-14, and the non-conference finale against Georgia State is scheduled for this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Should Penn State lose a conference game along the way and be left out of the Big Ten Championship game, will they have done enough in non-conference play to crack the top four?

Anything can happen on any given Saturday and it will be interesting to see the drama of College Football unfold throughout the rest of the season.

Christopher Hess is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email at