For some, however, those kooky Big Ten divisions remain a cause for concern.
Stewart, in 2004 the ACC expanded and expanded again the following year to have two six-team divisions. The divisions were not split geographically, but "competitively" -- namely, separating Miami and Florida State, ensuring the Hurricanes and the Seminoles would meet in the championship game each year. How did that work out? As a Big Ten backer, I'm afraid Jim Delany's attempt at "competitive balance" (read Michigan vs. Ohio State championship) will repeat the ACC's history and fail miserably.-- Scott Saxton, Windsor, Ontario
I've made well-known my continued distaste for Delany's ridiculous division names (which have yet to be used in a Mailbag this offseason, a streak that won't end even in this answer). Beyond being a punchline, they will likely cause much the same confusion the ACC's Atlantic and Coastal have for anyone outside that region. But I've also stated from Day 1 that Delany was absolutely right to put competitive balance as the No. 1 priority in divisional alignment, and that won't change this week, either.
The ACC's situation was a little different. It was operating under the belief (understandable at that time) that Florida State and Miami were going to be the Oklahoma and Texas of that conference. Placing them in opposite divisions would ensure that each division had a flagship team, and upped the chances of getting two editions a year of its most nationally prominent rivalry. John Swofford couldn't have foreseen that both the Seminoles and Hurricanes were right on the brink of prolonged periods of mediocrity, and that one of his other new invitees, Virginia Tech, would emerge as the league's alpha dog. Led by the Hokies, the Coastal Division has won four of six conference championship games, but you might be surprised to learn that the Atlantic holds a slight 147-141 edge in regular-season games.
In Delany's case, yes, the Ohio State/Michigan dynamic hovered over all expansion decisions, but his league is now home to four traditional powerhouses, not two. And if he'd gone strictly by geography, three of the four (Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State) would have been bunched on one side with Nebraska on the other. While it's rare that all four will be dominant at the same time -- in fact, they aren't now -- over any larger stretch of time, it's a pretty good bet that these four will be appearing in the title game most often. That obviously wouldn't happen with three on one side.
Ideally, you want to achieve what the SEC has enjoyed mostly through natural geography. Entering its 20th season of divisions, the East and West have been incredibly balanced, with the East leading in titles (11 to eight) but the West holding a slight edge in cross-division play (a .509 winning percentage). Conversely, you want to avoid what happened to the Big 12, where the South maintained a stranglehold over the North (11 titles to four, including the last seven) that the title game was often anticlimactic (not to mention the larger political infighting that led to Nebraska bolting). Maybe I'm not giving Iowa, Wisconsin and the rest enough credit, but I do believe a straight geographical split would have caused many of the same problems for the Big Ten.
Stewart, who are the impact transfers that become eligible this season?-- Gary Thornton, Crystal Beach, Fla.
Well, we already discussed the most high-profile of the bunch, N.C. State-turned-Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. Many of us are expecting a similar splash from Kansas State running back Bryce Brown, so much so that he's already garnered preseason All-Big 12 honors. That may seem presumptuous for a guy that rushed for just 460 yards as a Tennessee freshman in 2009, but the former No. 1 recruit suffered a hip injury in preseason camp that hampered him much of the year. He looked good in K-State's spring game, and given Bill Snyder's history with elite tailbacks, I fully expect Brown to continue the tradition. Another former all-everything running back recruit, Darrell Scott, becomes eligible at USF this season following two uninspiring seasons at Colorado (459 yards total). Bulls coach Skip Holtz doesn't hesitate to mention Scott's potential impact, but he's not quite as much a sure thing as Brown.
As for some more under-the-radar guys, look for former USC tight end Blake Ayles, a senior who is immediately eligible due to USC's sanctions, to play a big role in Al Golden's Miami offense. Another former Trojan, junior linebacker Uoana Kaveinga, is expected to be one of the stalwarts of BYU's defense. Arizona receiver Dan Buckner, who left Texas following an arrest on two misdemeanor charges, made seven starts and caught 44 passes for 445 yards for the Longhorns' '09 BCS runner-up team. And Cal coach Jeff Tedford has already named Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard his starting quarterback, beating out incumbent Brock Mansion. One other guy worth mentioning is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones (from, you guessed it, USC), who could have a huge impact but whose NCAA eligibility is currently in question.
Stewart, I'm a teacher so I have a lot of time on my hands during the summer, but I do keep busy. I was interested in the success of many coaches in their second year so I crunched some numbers and found that of the 112 coaches hired from 2000-2010 (yes, I know that is 11 seasons), 50 percent of them improved the team's win total in their first year. Of 100 coaches in their second year at the same school, 59 percent improved the win total from the year before. But get this, of 82 coaches in their third year, only 41 percent improved on the previous year's win total. Any thoughts?-- Horacio, Staten Island, N.Y.
Well first of all, thank you for taking the time to compile and deliver empirical evidence that finally confirms the "second year" phenomenon with coaches. For a while, I sat here trying to come up with some common thread behind this apparent third-year slump (losing an important senior class, complacency after a breakout second season, etc.), but the explanation is probably a lot simpler. How many teams -- regardless of how long the coach has been there -- improve their record for three straight seasons? It's hard to pull off, what with players coming and going, not to mention you'd probably have to be pretty far down to begin with. For example, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez presumably counted among those 41 percent, going from three wins to five to seven, but what good did that do him?
Horacio did his research, so here's mine: Of the 67 BCS-conference teams, just 11 improved their record each of the past three seasons -- 16 percent. Assuming a similar percentage among the other five leagues, that means the majority of those successful third-year coaches were probably just experiencing a normal rise after a normal dip, i.e., the natural flow of college football.
Stewart, every year at the beginning of the season the major media outlets all lament the rise of FCS matchups, and every year the argument is that the fans deserve better. But I have a lot of conversations with a lot of college football fans, and I rarely hear anyone complain about his or her school playing one game per year against an FCS team. If anyone complains it's almost always in the context of some other team not deserving its ranking because of a weak nonconference schedule. So here's my question: Do you actually get many complaints from fans about their own schools playing FCS teams?-- Stephen, Atlanta
Actually, now that you mention it -- no, I do not. And that's exactly why the schools will keep doing it. They know 90,000 people will show up every Saturday whether they're playing Georgia or Georgia State.
Have you ever seen so many good football coaches not working? Ethical issues aside, these are some of the best recruiters and Xs and Os men out there: Mike Leach, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, Butch Davis, Rich Rodriguez, the guy who was at Miami (Ohio) and then Pitt for a week [Mike Haywood] ... who am I missing?-- Ezra Hood, Fort Worth
Phillip Fulmer would probably want you to know you left him out.
In all seriousness, yes, that's a pretty impressive list. Usually each year, when we get to hiring/firing season, there are at least one or two big names "between jobs" that get bandied about for every notable opening. Last year it was Leach, the year before Tommy Tuberville. But this coming year could be especially intense. Tressel and Davis are likely done coaching college football, but Meyer will be in high demand, Rodriguez is still respected enough to land somewhere decent and Leach will be putting his name out there, though he may need to accept a lower-profile gig than he feels he deserves. I also believe that former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti has another job left in him. (He briefly dallied with Colorado last year.) Imagine if all those guys wound up back on the sideline in the same season.
Here's an interesting tidbit for you: Four of the first five coaches to win BCS championships were eventually forced out of their jobs -- Fulmer (who won in '98), Bobby Bowden ('99), Larry Coker ('01) and Tressel ('02). There really is no such thing as lifelong job security.
C'mon ... Someone has to talk about it. How is ESPN NOT an illegal booster for Texas?-- Rob, Seattle
Of course I laughed when I saw this -- the word "illegal" conjuring images of ESPN execs being led off in handcuffs for starting The Longhorn Network. But in terms of NCAA legalese, he does have a point.
According to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, the core of Texas A&M's argument to the NCAA to ban TLN from televising high school games (the Big 12 has banned them for one year, but the NCAA has yet to make any ruling) is that the network is in fact a "representative of athletic interests" -- i.e., a booster. Citing a 1994 interpretation that "institutional publications" -- all those team-specific print magazines from the pre-Rivals.com era -- fall under the booster umbrella, A&M contends that The Longhorn Network is essentially the same thing, just on television. I can't find fault with that. The fact that ESPN runs the network as opposed to the school itself is irrelevant. Notre Dame doesn't publish Blue and Gold Illustrated, either.
To be clear, if the NCAA agrees, this ruling would designate TLN as a booster, not ESPN itself. Because if ESPN is a booster for Texas, then it's also a booster for Alabama, Michigan, USC and every other school that receives revenue from its contracts.
The No. 1 quarterback recruit is going to ... Indiana!!! Was that a real headline or am I dreaming? What will a commitment like this so early in the game mean for the next few years at IU?-- Nate, Atlanta
It's a Mailbag milestone: We've uncovered an actual Indiana football fan. All it took was Gunner Kiel. Yes, the No. 1 QB in the class of 2012 has committed to the Hoosiers (at least until the recruiting services issue their revised rankings this winter with an SEC commit on top). And while there were unique circumstances at play -- Kiel lives in the state (Columbus) and his brother, Dusty, is the Hoosiers' likely starter this fall. But no way does such a sought-after player choose the Hoosiers if not for Kevin Wilson. There's a reason Indiana got my highest grade for last winter's coaching hires. Wilson, the former Oklahoma and Northwestern offensive coordinator, is a quarterback's dream. He orchestrated one of the most prolific offenses in the country and helped produce a Heisman winner with Sam Bradford in 2008. He's long been at the forefront in terms of the no-huddle and spread concepts. He knows the Big Ten and, more importantly, he knows how to win championships. To this point Wilson was largely selling just his own pedigree, but now with Kiel he has a face for his program that should certainly pay dividends both on the field and in recruiting.
I can't take credit for this, because someone I can't remember said it first on Twitter, but Kiel could be to Indiana what Tim Couch was to Kentucky in the late 1990s. Couch was a national high school legend who could have gone anywhere but chose to stay home and wound up becoming a Heisman finalist and No. 1 draft pick playing in the Hal Mumme/Leach offense. Who knows whether Kiel will do any of that, but he and Wilson give people a reason to be interested in IU football for the first time in a long time.
Stewart, with the NFL lockout finally concluded, one of the terms of the agreement included a rookie salary cap, cutting down on the bloated contracts awarded to recent No. 1 draft picks. Now that the deal is in place, how do you see it affecting an underclassman's decision to jump to the NFL early? Surely, a $10 million contract is still a big motivating factor to a poor college student, but it is not nearly the same motivation as a $50 million guaranteed contract (like Sam Bradford got).-- Aaron B, Tulsa
Poor Cam Newton. Just by virtue of being the No. 1 pick in 2011 instead of 2010 he got less than a third ($22 million) of what Bradford could potentially make ($78 million) in his first contract. It's the first time I've ever felt sorry for someone making $22 million (And please, save the inevitable "less than he made at Auburn" jokes).
To answer the question, I don't think it will have any effect. The guys that make the decision to go pro primarily for the money are going to keep doing so whether the money is $5 million or $50,000. Every year, you see a lot of players make seemingly puzzling decisions to turn pro and wind up going low or undrafted. Those guys are much more likely to have dollar signs in their eyes -- be it to support their family, because they just don't like college or simply hold deluded dreams of grandeur -- than the type of players in line for those $10-$20 million contracts. While there are certainly exceptions, the elite of the elite aren't making the decision based on dollar figures as much as draft position, long-term development or, in the case of a guy like Bradford (who could have turned pro a year earlier), whether they feel they're ready for such a drastic move. I don't think you're going to see too many juniors say, "You know what? The guaranteed contracts aren't what they used to be. I might as well stay another year."
In regards to your epic robot article. I like it, however, even with robots:
• Minnesota will still fire its coach for only winning seven games three years in a row
• Clemson will still underperform
• Idaho's coach-bot will leave after two seasons for a better gig
• Most Big Ten robot games will still be sluggish and boring to watch
• Everyone will still hate Notre Dame
• Paterno-Bot will coach for eternity-- Adam Darby, Louisville
I don't know about you, but I'm quite OK with all of that.