Big Ten isn't doomed to terminal inferiority -- but it needs to adjust
Last week, media from across the country convened in Hoover, Ala., for what amounted to three days of gushing over
This week, the spotlight shifted to other locales including Chicago, where the Big Ten held its own season kick-off event. The tone, however, differed substantially. There, topics included the league's recent bowl woes, Michigan's worst season in school history ... and the league's recent bowl woes.
My inbox flooded with concerns on both counts.
Let's all take a few deep breaths here. Yes, conference strength is cyclical. We addressed that prior to last season, when SI.com compared the first five years of the BCS era to the second five years and showed that during the first period, the now-sullen Big Ten was actually
That said, the SEC was by far the strongest conference over the entire 10-year period, and that will continue to be the case --
But as I've always contended, every season is different, and every league has its "up" and "down" years. In fact, I'd argue the SEC had a "down" season last year. It produced the national champion (Florida), but LSU, Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas all dropped off significantly and Alabama had a great year but suffered an embarrassing Sugar Bowl loss to Utah. Meanwhile, the four-week gauntlet Texas went through in the Big 12 at one point last season -- Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech -- was more rigorous than anything the Gators faced.
The Big Ten, on the other hand, struggled yet again (1-6 in bowl season, six straight BCS losses), and it may not be much better this year. But that doesn't mean the conference is doomed to terminal inferiority -- it just means it needs to adjust.
Remember when Nebraska kept losing to Florida State and Miami in bowl games in the late 1980s and early '90s?
Addressing the ubiquitous "negative perception" question, Michigan coach
I don't know whether that will come this year or next, but it will happen. In the meantime, non-SEC fans worried about "decades of SEC dominance" should pray for the one event that's always preceded that conference's down periods in the past: a massive wave of recruiting scandals and NCAA sanctions.
There are a couple points I wish I'd brought up in my column last week that I will hit now. For one, just because ESPN will be showing more SEC games does not mean it will be showing
But I also think it's important to understand an unspoken motivation behind the deal, which is ESPN could not afford to let the SEC create its own network. Big Ten and SEC football are the two most attractive television properties in college sports. If both leagues started their own networks, and both proved successful, who's to say 10 years from now they wouldn't abandon their outside partners altogether? I believe ESPN purposefully put together an over-the-top proposal -- not just monetarily, but in terms of unique branding, ambitious syndication efforts, etc. -- to take away any possible motivation the SEC may have had to go that route.
I certainly give the Hokies props for scheduling those games, but in most cases you're talking about one such game per year. Those matchups have been mixed in with the likes of Furman, William & Mary, Northeastern and Kent State.
While I have no quantitative data to back this up, you'd be hard-pressed to find a school with a more consistently tough out-of-conference schedule than USC (which makes its string of seven straight 11-win seasons that much more impressive). In addition to its annual series with Notre Dame, the Trojans have had home-and-homes since 2000 with Ohio State, Auburn, Arkansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas State, BYU and Hawaii as well as neutral-site games with Penn State and Virginia Tech. During that time, they have played 73 percent of their nonconference games against BCS-conference foes and Notre Dame. The national average last year among BCS-conference schools was 36 percent.
If anyone has data to suggest another school can top that, feel free to submit it.
First of all, congratulations to "Meat." I noticed this was his first tweet, sent the day he signed up -- and it proved Mailbag. Dreams really do come true.
Now, onto the question. In 2005, Shockley, a fifth-year senior, led the Bulldogs to a surprise SEC championship after spending four years as
For one thing,
I think we can say with reasonable certainty the SEC will place two teams in the BCS, and that one of those teams will be Florida. But your guess is as good as mine as to which of four teams -- Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU or Georgia -- will be the other.
The Wildcats finished in the top 10 six out of eight years from 1995-2002 (and then won the Big 12 in '03). To put that in perspective, Nebraska has currently gone seven years without a single top 10 finish. Pretty astonishing on both fronts.
I had high hopes for Hawkins, too, but I knew he would need time to rebuild. Negative publicity from a litany of alleged sexual assaults by players and subsequent recruiting restrictions in 2004 decimated that program and left a fairly empty cupboard when Hawkins arrived in December 2005. But this is now Year 4, and Hawkins knows there's no more room for excuses. He went so far as to publicly predict 10 wins this season, a risky and unusual move (though one in keeping with Hawkins' personality).
On the surface, it would appear the Buffs regressed last season, slipping from an Independence Bowl berth the previous year to a 5-7 record last fall. However, there was more to it than that. Colorado showed its potential with an early season upset of West Virginia, but a rash of injuries (10 season-enders) plagued it the rest of the way. The Buffs were relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores by the end, yet still managed to give fans a tease in the season finale at Nebraska, holding a 33-31 lead until the final two minutes, when Huskers kicker
So it's hard to say whether Colorado has "improved" to this point, but I see no reason why the Buffs can't make a breakthrough this year and perhaps even contend for a title in the wide-open Big 12 North. Sophomore running back
That's a tough one. On the one hand, I find it admirable the conference goes its own way and settles its champion on the field, thus avoiding controversies like the Oklahoma/Texas Big 12 situation last year. On the other hand, the ninth game is probably hurting the league more than it helps. As Pac-10 aficionado
From a purely on-field standpoint, it would probably behoove the Pac-10 to take the SEC approach and replace those 10 extra conference games with 10 games against I-AA foes. Voters don't seem to put much emphasis on nonconference scheduling; if you lose, you drop, as much of the conference did last September. However, there's one challenge most Pac-10 teams face that their SEC counterparts don't: filling their stadiums. LSU fans will turn out whether the Tigers are facing Alabama or Arkansas State, but that's not the case at Arizona State, UCLA or Stanford. Those teams need as many meaningful home games as possible.
As for the lovely Ms. Chriqui, I find it interesting that I didn't make a single Crush mention last week, yet still got flooded with nominees. Unfortunately, they're mostly all the same names I've been getting for years -- her,
C'mon people, you're going to have to give me someone original (and under the radar) if you want to see our little tradition continue. Or -- I could keep the