Answering lingering realignment questions; more Mailbag
So consider this week's edition our version of the much-anticipated "bonus material" on the upcoming
The Big 12 (er, 10) is not expanding. People seem to have a hard time believing this, but it's true. Commissioner
I wouldn't take the Houston/lawmakers story too seriously. I have a lot of respect for Cougars coach
That said, recent shuffling has left us with a particularly intriguing free agent, a tradition-rich program that's posted four straight 10-wins seasons, plays in a 64,000-seat stadium and is itching for a new home after watching its hated rival suddenly achieve BCS affiliation last week.
If you've ever been to BYU, you know its second-class characterization is completely ridiculous. In terms of facilities, resources and fan support, BYU more closely resembles a BCS program than half the schools in BCS conferences. However, the LDS-affiliated school is unquestionably a unique institution. It's an unofficial Mailbag policy not to delve into politics (college football is polarizing enough as it is), but I invite you to read
But Big 12 presidents might not have the same objections. BYU's one obvious drawback to the conference is that with Colorado gone, BYU really is nowhere near any of the other 10 members, and it's got no logical travel partner. Some have thrown out Air Force, but realistically, a service academy is never going to be able to compete on an annual basis with Texas and Oklahoma. As of now, it's not an issue, because like I said, the Big 12 isn't looking for new teams.
There's one scenario where I could see that stance changing, though: If, come 2012 or '13, Texas and Oklahoma run into problems with the BCS due to their watered-down league. Up until now, the Big 12 has always been viewed on the same playing field with the Big Ten and SEC, and its schools were virtually assured a spot in the championship game if they took care of business. Its teams have made seven appearances in 12 years. But we don't yet know how the pollsters will treat this new conference. Will the 'Horns and Sooners still get the benefit of the doubt due to their recent track record, or will they be penalized for perceived weak conference competition? If it becomes a problem, then maybe a call goes out to BYU and TCU.
(Or Texas gets back on the phone with Scott...)
Obviously it's unfortunate timing, but Utah-to-the-Pac-10 was always a possibility. Boise still took a step up. Besides the Broncos, the WAC's highest-ranked team in the BCS standings last season (according to CollegeBCS.com) was Fresno State at 52nd. More than half its teams (five) were ranked 82nd or lower. Compare that to the Mountain West, which had three teams in the top 25, though admittedly also had its share of weaklings (San Diego State, Colorado State and New Mexico were ranked 95th or lower). The league still has an outside chance of gaining a BCS automatic berth in two years, but it's going to need its top teams (including Boise) to maintain their recent level and, just as importantly, some significant improvement from the bottom third of the league. Depth is the one area still killing the Mountain West in the BCS's qualification formula.
Remember, Boise's program, as successful as it's been, is still in a relatively infant state. If conference realignment was solely about BCS rankings, someone would swipe up the Broncos right now, but as it is, the school's overall athletic program isn't yet strong enough, the university itself isn't that highly regarded in academic circles and Boise is a small TV market. If Boise keeps building like Utah, though, its call could come in the next realignment go-around.
Whenever someone makes the argument that Utah or Boise State wouldn't be able to hang for an entire season in, say, the Pac-10, my answer is always this: If they were in the Pac-10, they'd be able to recruit better players. And that's what you're about to see with Utah.
As I said in last week's Mailbag, I believe Utah will contend for the Pac-10 title within a couple years of joining. The reasons are threefold. One, the Utes have already demonstrated repeatedly that they can play and beat Pac-10 competition. They're 7-3 against that league since 2003 (Meyer's first season). They beat Cal last year, Oregon State the year before. Those aren't the dregs of the conference. Secondly, while they're about to face a much tougher week-in, week-out grind, they're also going to start attracting better recruits by shedding their non-BCS stigma. They don't need to start piling up five-star receivers, they just need to build up more quality depth. And finally, Utah will benefit from USC's sanctions. The Utes won't be walking into the Pac-10 of 2002-08, which the Trojans dominated, but into a more wide-open league where any of six to eight teams could contend in a given year. Plus, due to USC's scholarship reductions, some very good Southern California kids that might otherwise have signed with
There is a precedent for Utah's situation. If you recall, Louisville won the Big East within two years of moving up from Conference USA. Cincinnati, another C-USA import, won two years later. The Pac-10 is indisputably tougher than the depleted Big East that those schools walked into, but Utah comes in more established, having acquitted itself against national competition (19-11 against BCS-conference schools since 1998) much more so than those teams had. It's impossible to project what sort of team Utah will have a couple of years from now relative to the rest of the Pac-10, but it would not surprise me at all if the Utes are one of the top three or four teams.
I think that's a great idea -- just as soon as someone there builds a new stadium. Clearly, you've never been to
That's such a great question that I'm not even sure there's an answer for it. Somebody should write a thesis about it. The best I can try to do is whittle down a very convoluted issue into a few overly simplified explanations.
First of all, the NCAA's membership -- the schools themselves -- dictate policy. Yes, there is a president and an enforcement division and staff members who administer the basketball tournament, but ultimately they're only carrying out what its members created over the years through charters and legislation. At some point, for example, they agreed that a player shouldn't receive benefits from an agent, and at some point they agreed upon a bowl ban as an acceptable punishment. They also agreed at some point that, while bowl games are independent organizations, the NCAA should have the authority to "license" respective bowls based on established criteria. While this has never come up, I presume if a bowl defied the NCAA's rules and invited a banned USC team, it would lose its license pretty quickly.
Now, as to your bigger question: If the NCAA has the power to license bowl games (including the BCS games) and has the power to punish a school by prohibiting it from playing in one, why then does it lack the power to, say, implement a playoff? Because the majority of its FBS members don't want one. Just like President Obama can't unilaterally write a new law (he needs someone in Congress to sponsor a bill, and then he needs the two houses to pass it), incoming NCAA President
Guilty as charged.
While I don't cover USC day-in, day-out, I made numerous visits there during Carroll's tenure, in particular during
A few random memories from that period:
1. I attended one preseason practice in 2005 where you could barely walk; the sidelines were so filled with spectators. One guy had actually plopped down a fold-out beach chair at the 50-yard line and was sitting there with his shirt off. USC claims now it "monitored" practice visitors, but c'mon.
2. On the sideline during the waning moments of a 66-19 rout of UCLA in the '05 regular-season finale, I saw
3. This one troubles me the most. During postgame interviews after the Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma, it was getting late and had gotten to the point where I was alone at Bush's podium. Some guy who clearly wasn't a media member or a USC employee came over, congratulated Bush and invited him to a party. At the time, I was too focused on writing a game column to give the matter a second thought, but who knows -- it could have been
I'm not suggesting myself, or any other media member, should have known of Bush's arrangements and exposed them earlier, but there's no denying that the ultra-relaxed atmosphere surrounding Carroll's program -- which we glamorized at the time -- was ripe for trouble. The NCAA said as much in its report. I'm only sorry I didn't think to raise questions about it at that time.
It's No. 1 in my book. No question.
Granted, the game would lose some of its sizzle if the teams both lost a couple of games beforehand. Texas faces a rough three-game stretch early (at Texas Tech, UCLA at home and Oklahoma in Dallas), while Nebraska's lone challenges figure to be Washington on Sept. 16 and a Thursday night visit to Kansas State. But figuring them both to be top 10 caliber teams, I'd already circled this one on the calendar long before recent events. Now it figures to be a true grudge match.
A quick recap: When the Big 12 appeared on the verge of implosion, many media accounts (including some of mine) hinted at
So yeah, Oct. 16 -- it's on. Nebraska fans' reputation as the most "welcoming" in the country may be put on hold for a week.
Wait ... quarterbacks? Playing time? What the heck do you think this is, a FOOTBALL Mailbag?
My guess is that's exactly what will happen. Unless Heaps blows the other two out of the water in fall practices, Nelson will start opening day, Lark and Heaps will get playing time, and Heaps will take over at some point in the season.
Thanks for the question, Shane. I know it means this Mailbag turned out to be a little BYU-heavy, but hey, it's been a rough week for Cougars fans. I'm sure they appreciate feeling
(But yeah ... don't wait by the phone for that call from Beebe.)