STEVE HANLON: Nothing wrong with playing 'up,' is there?

2011-09-01T22:00:00Z 2012-08-30T23:57:13Z STEVE HANLON: Nothing wrong with playing 'up,' is there?By Steve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
September 01, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

Valparaiso's football team got spanked 49-0 last Friday at Carmel. Ouch. Double ouch. Triple, well, you get the picture.

Doesn't make for a groovy three-hour bus ride home, does it?

Why in the world would anyone schedule someone that tough in Week 2? Why not play a lock-win squad in tennis shoes where everyone scores and all the people in town would vote you in as mayor?

"No cupcakes here," Valpo coach Mark Hoffman said.

His Vikings' strength of schedule is ranked No. 1 in Indiana according to Jeff Sagarin's computer. Opening the season against Penn and Carmel is insane. But ...

"If you want to compete with the best you have to play the best," he said.

In 1997 Hoffman did something no one else in the region would do. He put Penn on the schedule. The Kingsmen had won 17 straight against Northwest Indiana teams in the playoffs.

Hoffman finally got Penn in 2001 and 2002 and moved on.

"We never would've beaten them in the playoffs if we wouldn't have started playing them in the regular season," Hoffman said.

Merrillville is off to its first 0-2 start since 1987. A 64-13 loss against nationally ranked No. 3 Warren Central in Week 1, it would seem, wouldn't help the confidence of a young team trying to find its feet.

But to get ready for the season that matters, which starts tonight, playing the big dogs is key. Does anyone remember Merrillville's 82-0 win against E.C. Central in 2005's opener?

Who did that help?

"Warren exposed our weaknesses," Merrillville coach Zac Wells said. "A team that good only helps us get better. It makes our kids work harder and it makes our coaches work harder. They are where we want to be.

"Every time we play them it helps us more than it helps them."

Portage is another team that threw the cupcakes out the window. The Indians opened with Mishawaka, then played St. Rita last Friday. We will all see how playing "up" plays out tonight as conference action kicks off.

Merrillville (0-2) is at Crown Point (2-0). Valparaiso (0-2) is at LaPorte (2-0). Portage (0-2) is at Lake Central (2-0).

Does strength of schedule matter now?

"I've always wanted to get Carmel on our schedule; they're elite," Hoffman said. "Our kids are not down. We had our best practice of the year on Monday. Playing at Carmel was awesome. It's the way it should be on Friday night.

"Their kids are no different than ours. They just have twice as many."

One day, one of our little guys is going to beat a big guy in November. It will happen. But it will not happen playing teams you can destroy. Playing up is much better than playing down.

For those who want to improve, get rid of the cupcakes.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

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