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Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 13

In this episode, I talk Nebraska’s win over Minnesota. The offense finally lives up to its teases of big plays, the defense records some key (new) stats, and Nebraska finally shows some energy on the sidelines! Looking ahead, I weigh the possibility of Nebraska playing unbeaten Iowa and Michigan State teams, and why an unbeaten Iowa fighting for the College Football Playoff could be just what Nebraska wants. Finally, I read your tweets and talk great players against Minnesota.


Bowl Games: Watch Points

Bowl season is truly magical. I mean seriously, in September a Washington State-Colorado State matchup, or a Louisiana-Lafayette-Tulane showdown are merely filer for the Pac-12 Networks or CBS Sports networks, but as bowl games, football diehards are tuning in because it’s literally the only game on.

But bowl games can exaggerate a team’s value or accomplishments. With several months to get up (or down) for a game, a team seen at season’s end often isn’t the one playing in Florida or California. So here now are some principals that I’ve adopted when I watch bowl games.

Don’t go gaga over one team blowing another out, or surpassing their average total offense numbers for the season. With a month’s time to prep for a bowl, a coach can install more new things on offense and catch defenses off-guard. Teams who run quirky offenses like Oregon and Georgia Tech, beware though: when defensive coaches have a month to study your tendencies, they tend to figure stuff out.

If your team plays poorly, do be concerned. There are of course exceptions: if you get slammed by a peaking Alabama, Florida, or other SEC power, that is routine as a Tuesday in cubicleville. But if an equal program blows your team out, it’s a problem if they looked unprepared going into the game. Prime example would be Arizona’s 2009 Holiday Bowl, when the Wildcats were controlled by a 10-4 Nebraska team who didn’t have an offense. After another blowout loss against Oklahoma State, Mike Stoops was hitting the brick in mid-season the next year.

If a bowl stadium is full, the program who fills it gets the big picture and deserves a lot of credit. One of the biggest positives I’ve seen in the bowl season so far is two out of five relatively minor bowls have played to full stadiums, the Las Vegas Bowl & the New Orleans Bowl, and the New Mexico Bowl had its second highest attendance since 2008. Some of this has to do with proximity (USC has a large base in Vegas, the New Orleans Bowl was dual home game for Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette), and Sam Boyd Stadium is small. But given how many empty bowl stadiums there will be over the next two weeks, two full stadiums already are a victory.


Nate Swift’s touchdown in the 2007 Cotton Bowl. Sorry for the low quality…right before a camera upgrade.

Are Nebraska Fans Too Sensitive to Getting Blown Out?

Since Nebraska’s embarrassment in the Big 10 Title Game, the issue of getting blown out has come up time and again with Husker fans. Some fans are probably just relieved that Georgia didn’t run Nebraska off the field until the fourth quarter. Hearing Nebraska fans howl, “We’re tired of blowout losses!” is a statement that I tired of, not because I like Nebraska getting blown out, but because it doesn’t mean that fans aren’t getting the program they paid for.

First, let’s ask a basic question: why do blowouts happen in college football? They can happen for a number of reason: one team simply has more talent than the other (AKA, most September non-conference games), one team has more experience than other (due to injuries or senior graduating, AKA Iowa this year) one team is a bad matchup for another team (a spread option against a Big 10 team, like Florida against Ohio State in the 2006 National Title Game), or one team is at the end of a string often of tough games and is simply exhausted (Michigan State at Nebraska in 2011, or at Iowa in 2010). Often, these reasons happen simultaneously.

I have from the list above, omitted coaching. Not that some teams are poorly coached, but in college football, fans tend to blame the coach above all else, because he’s the one they can go out and replace. Coaches do poor jobs, but let’s deal with these natural flows before we get there.

Consider this, Husker fans: you have a finesse offense. Personally, I don’t like to use that term, but it is true. It is an offense that is quirky, built to run outside, let the quarterback run when need be, and have linemen who can pull and move in space. Now, this offense gives you a key edge, namely, when you are down in games, you feel like you have a chance to come back. It makes you a difficult team to prepare for. Team make take your smallish offensive line lightly (the PSU black shoe effect, if you will), but unfortunately, if another team’s front is bigger than yours, you are left exposed if they play their hardest, which Ohio State did this year.

With the exception of Wisconsin this year, every team that has blown Bo Pelini out has been very good, except for the Washington team who beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl rematch. The teams that have blown Nebraska out? The worst was the 2009 Texas Tech team that went 9-4. The other teams were Missouri (10-4) and Oklahoma (12-2) in 2008, Wisconsin (11-3), Michigan (11-2), and South Carolina (11-2) in 2011, and Ohio State (12-0) this year. Of course that does leave the Wisconsin team this year.
What does all this mean, Husker fans? For one, it means you’re not doing any worse than you should. If you are getting blown out by good teams, it has less to do with your coach than it does with your players. And since 2010, Nebraska has beat five teams who won at least nine or more games: Oklahoma State and Missouri in 2010, Michigan State and Penn State last year, and Northwestern this year.

And consider Michigan State: this past year, their biggest loss was by 14 points, at home to eventual unbeaten Notre Dame. All their other losses were by a touchdown or less, and they are 6-6. The two years prior to this one, Michigan State went 22-5 and got blown out four times. They weren’t a better team this year, and one wouldn’t take a 6-6 team that didn’t get blown out over a ten-win season any day.

But still, getting outdone in such a public fashion hurts, and leads to the “fragile and soft” labels. The pain of those won’t go away, and yes, Wisconsin was the anamoly this year. There isn’t an excuse for getting manhandled on a neutral field by a team that would finish 8-6 with a third-string quarterback. It would have been an embarrassment if Nebraska had lost that game by a touchdown. What they should have observed was that Wisconsin, in spite of their record, didn’t loose a game by less than seven all year.

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

Huskers Loose, but Get Some Capital

A lot was at stake in the Capital One Bowl for Bo Pelini. Two nationally televised blowout losses going into the off-season make the workouts and film study longer, not to mention a discontent fan base. But, for the fifth time in six tries, Pelini’s Huskers came out of the tunnel and made plays, and even got a little chippy with it, a welcome sight after several despondent post-game pressers. For the first time perhaps since Colorado 2005, the Huskers played to raise their reputation. All that SEC-is-king material made for great bulletin board material.

But ultimately, the Huskers fell short, and while there was more buy-in on the field then there has been in years past (maybe more than at any other time under Pelini). They lost respectably to a better SEC, but Pelini still made one really questionable decision.

Tim Beck changed he offense significantly since the Big 10 Title game, adding new formation (dual-protectors lined up directly behind the tackles in a three wide set) and tweaking old plays. The Burkhead-touchdown reception wrinkled Nebraska’s play action game, having running back go to the inside instead of the out. For the first time in a lot of years, the Husker offense seemed like it was more than a collection of random plays that were supposed to work, and the players looked they were executed a plan that made sense to them.

End of the matter?

Burkhead himself made sure that he wouldn’t be forgotten as a Husker. He ran with his trademark passion, but had the advantage of looking the healthiest he had perhaps been since the beginning of his junior year. The offense at times maximized its tempo, and made some lazy Dawgs run a little.

On defense, the passing yards given up weren’t great, but remember that Nebraska’s numbers in the secondary was helped a lot by the Big 10 conference oblivion to the forward pass. (Minnesota, similarly, was ranked in the top 25 nationally in pass defense.) The Blackshirts had good coverage on three of Aaron Murray’s touchdown passes; Murray’s TD at the start of the fourth quarter, a running throw that had to be laid over Will Compton, was a throw some NFL quarterbacks can’t make. Yes, there were mistakes, but there were several big plays that Georgia earned when Nebraska did everything right. Even the defensive line was active behind the line of scrimmage.

Which makes Pelini’s call to blitz Georgia on a third-and-twelve down by a touchdown baffling. A blitz on third-and-long in that situation basically said, if we go down, we go down swinging, not consistent with Pelini’s conservative, make-them-earn-their-chunks defense. While it looks bold, such a call demonstrates insecurity more than bravado. Yes, maybe even get a sack or an interception; backing Georgia up another eight yards would have meant a punt for the endline. But Pelini had already made his point when he blitzed on the first down of that drive; the smart call would have been to blitz one wisely, or drop everyone in coverage.

I’ve seen such insecurity a number of times in Big 10 teams in bowl games. The first time was when Ohio State kept blitzing Colt McCoy at the end of the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. On the play the Longhorns took the lead back, it was obvious that McCoy would find a hot read. Minnesota allowed a touchdown in a similar situation in their bowl game against Texas Tech this year. While it looks like you’re trying hard to stop the opponent, you’re not playing smart.

Thus, let’s count this as our official ingratiation into the Big 10, Husker fans: we’re aggressive on defense out of the fear of being embarrassed.

Nebraska had a real shot to win this game, more so than last year against South Carolina. The Gamecocks played with more intensity in the second half that day than Georgia did today. The Husker maximized more, but they still weren’t able to do enough. Like the rest of the Big 10, Nebraska watches an SEC team give half-effort versus their full-effort and still celebrate a double touchdown win.

So, how should this bowl game be remembered, Husker fans? Another loss, but one with not as many negatives as Nebraska’s bowl losses the last two years. Pelini showed that, with time to prepare, he could deliver a solid effort. But was this win just a product of time to prepare and desperation? Will Pelini, Beck, and the other coaches be changing every week in the Big 10 next season as much as they changed for this bowl game? Or will this just be shades of a B-coach rising for half-a-game when he had to turn down the heat? (Why Pelini isn’t a perfect fit at Nebraska)

Is Husker Nation Travel-ed Out?

Today, I checked flights from Omaha to Orlando around the time of the Capital One Bowl on a whim, and surprisingly, there were now some flights for under $500. Guess some bigwig must have noticed Nebraska fans weren’t buying their allotment of bowl tickets.

If the Big 10 Title Game was under-attended last year, this year’s attendance poor showing by Nebraska and Wisconsin (two-thirds of last years attendance) makes the early woes of the ACC Title Game look trivial. Carrying low momentum into bowl season, numerous Big 10 teams are selling paltry amounts of their ticket allotments. Granted, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Purdue are in worse bowls and/or have less momentum than a year ago, but still, the decline is startling.

Perhaps Jim Delany now questions adding a couple of East Coast outliers to his conference; just examining the travel habits of Nebraska fans, one of the country’s top traveling fan bases, should give the bowls attached to the Big 10 cause for concern.

Traveling fans are a huge part of the college football, both to bowl games and to opposing stadiums. I’ve made many of these trips myself, and while they’re memorable, they are also expensive and time consuming. The average tab for two from Omaha to Chicago runs around $1500-$2000; when my father and I went up from his apartment in Ames to go to Minnesota game last year, our expenses were around $300, but that was without hotel.

While fans in the past had short drives Lawrence, Manhattan, Columbia or Ames when Nebraska was in the Big 12, now Husker Nation has only two conference neighbors that are within a six hour drive. A large reason that Husker fans didn’t journey to Indianapolis was similar to why the NCAA had to go to pod seeding for March Madness: they were saving up for the bigger game. But beyond that, it’s clear from Nebraska’s huge presence in both Minneapolis and Chicago meant that fans now madk their plans further in advance, when costs were less. It also could indicate that traveling Husker fans are more likely to congregate at the easiest road game for them to get to with a surplus of tickets. This year, it was Northwestern, last year it was Minnesota, next year, it could probably be Purdue.

It will be interesting to see if schools like Minnesota and Northwestern start to follow the plan of Iowa State and make it harder for visiting fans to buy tickets to their team’s game without scholarship donations. This is doubtful; Northwestern is so bashful about their bowl ticket sales they don’t even release such data.

Looking at the Big 10, travel is even more of a concern for schools like Wisconsin and Ohio State, who look as if they will be giving up an annual road game in the Midwest to take a trip to Rutgers or Maryland. This arrangement will likely not hurt Nebraska, as they will only make the Rutgers or Maryland trip once every ten years, assuming the Big 10 stays at eight conference games as the SEC and ACC are doing. Still, with the Big 10 opening east coast offices, the question has to be asked, is it too much travel?

With the disappointment at the Big 10 Title Game coupled with the travel anxieties of Nebraska fans mean that Nebraska’s travel reputation will be taking a hit in the coming years? For the first few years of the Big 10, that’s possible, as Husker fans feel out the new locales. But after seven or eight years, Husker fans should once again rule the bowl scene. As I wrote last year, inevitably Nebraska will be getting drop in the Big 10’s bowl order to go to Phoenix and play a Big 12 team in what used to be the Insight Bowl. But super-conference are about the television eyeballs and not about fans waiting in long lines at Eppley Airport.

Memorial Stadium East?

Memorial Stadium East?

BCS End in Sight: Can We Celebrate Greatness Now?

You got what you wanted.

So the college football playoff is here. Personally, I’m relieved, not be because I’ve hated the BCS , but because I’m tired of listening to the mortal rage against the system, while the teams on the field get ignored. Even in the last three years, when there wasn’t a huge argument over the two teams that played for the National Title, nobody cared about the National Title Game because the BCS had already lost its credibility.

For me, the most disappointing part of last season was that LSU and Alabama were two of the greatest teams I’d ever seen, and, no one really cared. Granted, part of that was the fact they were defense-based teams that produced two slugfests, and the other conferences can’t stand the SEC’s supremacy, even though it’s obvious. But, in the twenty-three games they didn’t play each other, the closest anyone came to either team was thirteen points twice (both Mississippi State and Oregon versus LSU). The last National Champion to beat every team by multiple scores was the 1995 Nebraska team. Still, fans barely acknowledge Alabama’s accomplishment because of the BCS.

Two of the greatest ever and for what?

The BCS tried too hard to get it. In its early year, the BCS was tweaked after each year to correct the error of the previous year, hurting its credibility. If they’d kept the formula used in 2000, Oregon would have played for the title in 2001, not Nebraska. But nobody mentions that. They should have used the exact same formula to decide the National Champion for the first four or eight years, then made changes instead of being reactionary on weekly basis.

There were actual years were you had two undisputed contenders, like Auburn and Oregon in 2010 and Texas and USC in 2005. You’re likely never going to have a year with four completely undisputed teams in the country. Not that I’m saying we should stick with the status quo, but a playoff is not going magically fix everything.

Some people think that it will be an easy march from here to 8 or 16 teams, but I would doubt it. First, there would be the logistical issue of the four quarter-final games, whether or not to play them in December on campus sites or incorporate them into the Bowl system and move that way. Then you’ll have the issue of who should get the eight seeds, and the at-large versus conference champions will come up again, and with eight teams, it will be more difficult to solve. Plus, some in college football circles (such as Phil Steele) who supported a four-team playoff won’t fight for a larger one.

What really could get the playoff to eight teams is the following scenario: a fourth team sneaks into the last spot in the playoff over a team that beat them. This won’t be like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, where arguing over the anonymous teams who got left out is done by the next cycle of Sports Center. There’s a month until both teams play again, and everyone sees all the major college football game, so the selection committee’s mistakes will be obvious. Then, the team that got in scores a memorable upset against the top team (akin to Ohio State upsetting Miami in 2002), and then the team that got left out of the playoff cries for a larger playoff. Three and four of those, and Death to the Four-Team Playoff books will start lining the shelves.

The regular season will still matter. LSU-Alabama last year probably still would have mattered as much as under the playoff system, because the winner controlled its destiny and the looser would still have to win all their games to have a shot at the playoff. Last year, it was pretty much assumed both teams would play for the title after Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State. Nothing would have been that much different under a playoff system, although Alabama wouldn’t have had to wait for as many teams to loose. The big question will be, will teams throw conference title games when their own position in the playoff is secure? Last year, it may have benefited LSU to throw the SEC Title game if they were playing an 11-1 team and loosing meant taking Alabama out of the playoff. Remember, Oklahoma was rolled by Kansas State and remained one of the top four teams in the country by a mile. Inviting in a team that flopped in its final games could be one of the biggest pitfalls for a selection committee.

These are just some of the issues that college football will face in its brave new world; let’s just hope that, when the dust settles, the focus is on the teams.

How would a selection committee look at Oklahoma’s 2003 letdown against Kansas State the previous night?

So now, is college football better off now in this brave new world? Yes, but not greatly.

Bowl Games and BCS: Stop the Complaining-Madness

Since it is bowl season, it is time for me to weigh in on two of the most mentioned criticisms of my favorite sport, college football: there are too many bowl games, and that the BCS sucks. I hear this to the point where it tires me out. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the number of bowl games is excessive, and that the BCS has no credibility. But I don’t think that the people who engage in vigorous hatred of the number of bowl games and the BCS (most notably, PTI’s Michael Wilbon), are doing their cause many favors.

First, thirty-five bowl games for seventy teams, more than half of the FBS, is excessive. I don’t think that teams that schedule four auto-wins and win two conference games, even in the SEC, should really be thought of as bowl-worthy. UCLA should not be in a bowl game this year with a 6-7 record, even if the lost was technically post-season. The first day of bowl games this season (two weeks after the end of the season) featured six teams from lesser conference playing in Albuquerque, Boise, and New Orleans. In the first seven bowl games played before Christmas, one involved a major conference team, 6-6 Arizona State, who had just fired their coach. Yes, crappy teams from the middle of non-AQ conferences don’t have to be given showcases outside of their annual beat-downs at Ohio State and Florida.

But bowl games are not just about about fairness; they are about generating support for the most expensive sport for a college, football. Yes, boosters and fans know how good their 6-6 team really is, but wouldn’t they rather spend December looking forward to a bad bowl game, than thinking about all the little moments during the season that kept them from that bowl. And even though it may sound cheesy, the extra practices do really help teams improve from year to year. Among other things, the increase in bowl games has helped many of the mid-level schools close the gaps between the haves and have-nots in college football. In many ways, bowl game help the 99%.

And keep in mind, even with all the bowl games there are, there are bowl-eligible teams left over. Last year, Temple beat Big East Champ Uconn, went 8-4, and did not get invited to a bowl game. This year, Ball State didn’t get an invite (thanks, UCLA), and in 2009, there were four teams left over when the sixty-eight bowl teams had been selected.

Let me say clearly: I’m not defending every bowl. Let’s get rid of all the bowls in cold climates (DC, New York, Boise), except for maybe the bowl in Detroit since they have a dome. I wouldn’t have a problem getting rid of the New Mexico Bowl, since it is hard to get to Albuquerque. And we don’t need two bowls in New Orleans, so now we’re down to thirty, which seems like more than enough. What I am saying about bowls is this: it is necessary for their to be a lot of bowls because college football needs the money and the publicity since, financially speaking, they either carry their athletic departments or burden them. And the extra practice is a good thing, so let’s put bowl games in the fruit-cake-category and stop making toilet bowl jokes.

Now, the BCS, the most universally reviled in thing in sports. Every year, someone belly-aches about either being left out of the BCS title game, or left out of a BCS game. I understand the complaining to a degree, at least by the coaches. They want to play games. They fight tooth and nail just to be in position for a BCS game, and at the end of the year, if they get left out, they have a right to complain. There’s money and long-term contracts at stake for them.

But fans, stop the death-to-the-BCS chants of the title of the popular book. Yes, the BCS has had too many screw-ups to be considered credible. There does need to be a playoff in college football, although the size of which is debatable. Some people want eight or sixteen teams in a playoff, but I reflect the position of Phil Steele: while I do think there should be a “plus-one” playoff, I am adamantly against anything more than four teams in a playoff. To me, this has nothing to do with the traditions of the bowls and such. I’m completely neutral toward the Rose Bowl parade. I think that a “plus-one” would be the easiest way to integrate a playoff into the current system, and that it would include every team worthy of playing for a national title. Also, if we do eventually get four “super conferences”, the plus-one would make a lot of sense.

Having said that, let me say this: the vehemence that you’re expressing, mega-fan, isn’t helping matter. All your red face is doing is making your cause less credibility. Even this year, one might say that there is every reason for a playoff, given that the championship game is yielding a rematch between LSU and Alabama. But truth be told, those are the two best teams: in the eleven games they’ve played against other teams, only four times have an opponent come within twenty points of either the Tide or the Tigers, all of which were on the road. And no one else is in that picture; the BCS gave us the two best teams, like it was supposed to.

Being a Nebraska fan, I’m sure many would ask me, what about 2001, when Nebraska sneaked into the game against Miami? Yes, Nebraska probably did not deserve to be in that game, but there probably wasn’t a team in the nation who did. It was Miami, and then no one else. Yes, Colorado bull-dozed Nebraska, but they lost two games. Oregon, with a month to prepare, stopped there offense soundly in the Fiesta Bowl (in my mind, they were the number two team in college football that year); imagine what Miami would have done to Colorado with their NFL-caliber defense. There are many years like this, were there was one definitively great team (USC in 2004, for example) and the BCS simply picked the lesser of the four or five great teams out there.

What changed my thinking about the BCS was 2006. When Ohio State walked through the mediocre Big 10 undefeated, then flopped against Florida in the title game, that was the last straw. Florida was the one loss team with the best case to get in the title game, and they dominated. At that point, the need for a playoff was beyond evident.

There are countless other examples I could dissect, but that would take me days to do so. Let me surmise: yes, the BCS is flawed, but the reason it has to replaced is as much because of public opinion as it does because of its flaws. Just remember fans: with the NCAA basketball tournament, while it does settle things on the floor, it gets less and less credible the more teams are added to it. I’m not saying that having a four-team playoff would kill the credibility of college football; just the opposite is true. What I am saying is that adding more teams to a potential college football playoff (the eight or sixteen playoff model) would lessen its credibility and perhaps erode it over time. Let’s just hope we get a plus-one at some point and reserve our hate for child molesters and the perpetrators of mass genocide in the third world.

Bowling Issues and Cold Field Advantages: Missouri in the SEC, continued

Yesterday, I shared my initial thoughts on Missouri’s move to the SEC and why the move didn’t make sense to me. Today, I want to tackle two specific issues in the Tigers’ conference switch. First, I want to speak directly to Missouri fan on the bowl selection process, and second, I want to address the potential home field Missouri would have in the SEC.

During Missouri’s initial process of leaving the Big 12, they questioned the league on the bowl selection process which often rendered the Tigers a lesser choice in bowl games. The process always seems to work Missouri’s media; the day after Iowa State upset Oklahoma State to become bowl eligible, the Columbia Daily Tribune published an article that was already bemoaning Missouri’s bowl prospects three weeks before the selections were made. I know that it’s not fair, Missouri fan, but you have to get over be relegated to bad bowls. It’s not about your season, it’s about your fan base. And it’s not going to get better in the SEC.

For starters, the bowl selection process isn’t like the NCAA tournament selection, so don’t make that comparison. the NCAA tournament picks teams based on merit, and even that process is subjective and gets tweaked every year. That is a process to select teams to play in a national championship tournament, so complaining about seeding, while petty, is reasonably fair. The bowl selection process, while it considers records and tries to reward the teams with the best season, values your fan base and whether or not they can be counted on to travel and spend their tourist dollars in the city where the bowl is being played. Missouri has a poor record for doing that.

I know Missouri list of bowl disappointments: getting passed down to the Independence Bowl multiple times; the Insight Bowl picking Iowa State over Missouri in 2009, when Missouri had two more wins and beat Iowa State; and last year getting passed on by the Cotton Bowl when Missouri had dominated Cotton Bowl-invitee Texas A&M in College Station. Complain if you will, but the reason the Tigers are in these games is the 2008 Alamo. The year before, Missouri fans had traveled en masse to the Cotton Bowl after their team had gone 11-2 in the regular season and watched the Tigers crush border-rival Arkansas; the attendance even surpassed that of the previous’ years Nebraska-Auburn game (attended by yours truly). This was a great opportunity for Missouri to build on momentum, but David Ubben pointed this out in his Big 12 blog for ESPN following Missouri’s drop to the Texas Bowl in 2009: the 2008 Alamo Bowl had the worst Alamo Bowl attendance in five years by 10,000. Yes, the other team was Northwestern, whose alumni are less passionate about football than Missouri’s, but come on. The Alamo Bowl is in one of America’s best recreational cities, not Shreveport, Louisiana.

And as a Nebraska fan, let me point something out to you: this system has worked in your favor, and you didn’t complain about it. Last year, when Nebraska was the school leaving the Big 12, the Insight Bowl took you over them, because it already had Iowa, who they knew would sell tickets. Nebraska crushed you and won your division, reasons you were pointing that you should gotten to the Insight bowl in 2009 over Iowa State. Now, to your credit, the Insight Bowl did have record attendance that year, more than Iowa State-Minnesota did the year before. But when the system works in your favor, don’t complain when it doesn’t. And by the way: you have only yourself to blame when a regional school in a small state gets picked over you to go to a bowl game.

By the way, how in the world do you expect the bowl selection process to be any better in the SEC? As I’ve said yesterday, every fan base in the SEC (even Mississippi and Mississippi State) care more passionately about their teams, and pretty much all of them have travel advantages over you to most of the bowls in Florida. If you do manage to make it to a bowl game most years, get ready for a lot of trips to Nashville, Memphis, and yes, Birmingham, Alabama’s falling-down Legion Field, what Pat Forde considers the worst bowl site in all college football. At least the two of the Big 12’s worst bowls are played in Houston’s Reliant Stadium and New Yankee Stadium.

One of the obvious things that may benefit Missouri football in the SEC is weather. With its northern locale that gets nippy in November, Missouri may benefit from getting Florida, Georgia, or Texas A&M up on their tundra in 40 degrees and a blustery wind. Look at Oklahoma State’s game at Iowa State: the Cowboys play in Ames on a short week, at night in the wind, and looked like they didn’t want to be there. During Nebraska’s famous game in the rain at Missouri in 2009, Jayson Whitlock speculated to Lincoln Journal-Star reporters that players were too used to practicing in nice indoor practice facilities, and even a little bad weather gets them off-target.

But Missouri’s November home field advantage in the SEC may not be the boon that Iowa State’s has the potential to be in the Big 12, or that what Missouri’s was in Big 12 for that matter, when the Tigers beat Texas and Texas Tech in their final two home games. First, the Big 12 is more a finesse, timing league that can be easily upset by conditions. The SEC is a league built on toughness, defense, and straight-ahead running, all things that travel to cold weather well. In an snow-game in November, Georgia or South Carolina could come into Columbia and run 50 times, while Missouri struggles to run its spread, the definition of getting embarrassed in your own house.

And unlike Iowa State, Missouri isn’t well-suited to play an underdog, fly-in-the-oinment roll in the SEC. Paul Rhoads can rant and rave to his Iowa State team about how all the down-south Texas and Oklahoma schools overlook them, and how they have they have the backing of an entire fan base. Pinkel could do the same with Missouri, but they barely have the backing of their state, who’d rather go to Cardinals game in September than drive to Columbia to watch the Tigers play a cupcake.

But the weather in Columbia is what it is, and Missouri will have to maximize every advantage it has in its new, super competitive league.

The Kansas City Star has been largely neutral on Missouri’s move and more concerned about keeping their precious basketball tournament in town. (Shades of Omaha getting paranoid over loosing the College World Series, Ugh.) The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has at least seemed reasonably honest about the challenges Missouri will face in the SEC and leaves the impression that the Tigers will have to step their game up in the new league.

Finally, I have to commend Missouri for at least talking about keeping their rivalry with Kansas intact. Even though the Jayhawks are angered by Missouri’s move and want to end their long series (even in basketball), Missouri seems to be making the initiative to keep the series together, as they should. Missouri and Kansas share a city together, and it would be too bad to see another longtime rivalry go by the wayside as Missouri moves on.


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