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State of Too Much Prosperity: Will Oklahoma be the Epicenter the Next Realignment Earthquake?

It is admirable how they’ve stuck together. Or more precisely, how Oklahoma has stuck next to Oklahoma State. Throughout all the conference realignment poker, the Sooner Schooner and Pistol Pete have endeavored to stay together. Even though Oklahoma probably could have gone to the SEC with Texas A&M, the political leadership in the state of Oklahoma has kept the schools together.

But can the commitment between OU and OSU withstand further realignment storms?

Will the Pokes bolt their in-state rival?

Over the off-season, I’ve been pondering about what could be the catalyst for the next round of conference realignment. In the summer of 2010, it was the threat of Texas taking half the Big 12 west to form the Pac 16, pushing Nebraska and Colorado to bolt for more secure futures. Last year, the shifts that began with Texas A&M going to the SEC again centered around Austin, this time over the reach of the Longhorn Network. While the split between the Aggies and Longhorns may seem more obvious in retrospect, A&M’s bolt wasn’t as easily predicted as Nebraska’s was the year prior. Conference realignment is a huge game of liar’s poker, driven by the fear of successful regional programs being left out of the national mix, as half the Southwest Conference was twenty years ago.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying: I’m glad the Sooners and Cowboys have committed themselves to each other, at least publicly. Both teams  don’t need to go to other conferences. They’re not in danger of being left out of the realignment mix, at least not yet.  The Big 12 appears more stable now that it did at times over the last two years. But even with conferences forming their own networks and earning record numbers from TV, only so much financial growth can be sustained. Eventually, conferences will need to add schools to add revenue.

OK State has followed Oregon’s footsteps from good to great, and maybe the two haven’t seen the last of each other.

Consider that, with footprint in Oklahoma and Texas, Larry Scott can finally get Pac 12 games on TV at noon Eastern Standard Time, opening a new revenue window. Plus, the Pac 12 can finally have a shot in providing signature early game highlights for the rest of the day. What if, after a decade or more goes by, Scott decides not to wait on Texas and Oklahoma anymore and make an offer to Oklahoma State?

The Cowboys themselves could be a more prominent program by then. Like Oregon, OSU is turning to snazzy uniform combos to go with their funky offense. Mike Gundy is the perfect CEO for his Alma mater:  an innovative offensive mind, who, unlike Jimmie Johnson and Les Miles before him, could stay in Stillwater for twenty years. Coming off an outright Big 12 title, how many more will OSU win until they say “We don’t want to play in our little brother’s shadow. We aren’t just the program of Boone Pickens’ millions and Gundy’s post-game rant. We are a big name in our own right.”

New Battle of the Big Reds and Border War? Could the Arkansas River Rivalry come to replace the Red River Rivalry?

That is, after all, the logic which Texas A&M is taking into the SEC, and could be the logic that take either Oklahoma program to the nation’s premiere conference. With the SEC’s stranglehold on the National Title, it’s hard to imagine any other conference winning thee National Title any time soon. As fans keep demanding crystal balls, winning them may require playing an impossible eight conference games every year. If Texas A&M and Missouri eventually starts winning in the SEC (and Arkansas continues to win) and the SEC draw the best players in the state of Texas to their schools, Sooner and Cowboys fans will be tweeting to go the SEC.

Taking down Georgia in 2009 earned Okie State serious credibility; will they join the SEC to get more of it?

As a college football fan, I am sadden to write this, because I hate to see another good rivalry end. And this may be premature: at the moment, the Big 12 maybe in better position than the Big East to survive. But, after these next TV contracts run their course into the 2020’s, the conference realignment winds will swirl and the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State relationship will be challenged. And who knows how much jealousy Oklahoma State’s success could bread.

(More Conference Realignment)

Which one of these men will lead his school on a new path?

Husker Insight: Will Nebraska’s Population in the West Dictate Future Trips to Phoenix?

A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting twitter exchange with Sean Callahan, the insider for HuskerOnline.com. Initially, Callahan tweeted that the cost of airfare from Omaha to Orlando (between $600-$700) was likely what was keeping Nebraska’s ticket allotment for the Capitol One Bowl unsold. I replied to him that the high air costs to Orlando would likely get the Huskers dropped to Insight Bowl in Phoenix several times in the coming years, to which Callahan tweeted his agreement.

The possibility of Nebraska playing in the Inisght Bowl over the next few years is one I had considered even before that twitter exchange. A similar thing happened to Iowa last year, the first year of the Big 10’s new bowl arrangements. Both the Gator Bowl and the Outback Bowl could have picked Iowa, but the both opted for Michigan and Penn State, teams with similar records who Iowa had beaten. Iowa, meanwhile, got relegated to the Insight Bowl. Should this be a situation that Nebraska fans should be concerned about?

My response is, while it is a bit slighting to picked further down in the bowl order, Nebraska fans shouldn’t be taking this personally.Bowl selection, as I’ve said in my articles about Missouri’s move to the SEC, is about which team can bring more fans, and most of the Big 10 schools other than Nebraska and Iowa have more retirees in Florida.

Besides, Husker fans should also consider the oppositions. The three bowls that the Big 10 has ties to in Florida are all match-ups with SEC schools, while the Insights are with the Big 12. Last year, Iowa may have been home on January 1, but they got to which Michigan and Penn State get worked by mid-level SEC teams. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes got to play Missouri, a team that had piled up beat one good team and worked nine others in the perpetual 7-on-7 Big 12. And of course, Nebraska fans would always get more excited about playing a former Big 8/Big 12 opponent in the stadium where they won the national title resoundingly over Florida. There would be so much demand for tickets they’d have to un-tarp the top of the stadium.

Recruiting is another reason that Nebraska should want to play in the Insight Bowl. While the Big 10 mainly goes after Florida players, Nebraska is, and will remain, most appealing in the western part of the country, where they have more alumni and fans. With the Big 10 schedule adding an extra conference game, the Huskers will play fewer road games, and with Big 10’s insistence of playing games at 9 in the morning when the west coast is still having brunch, a game in Phoenix every couple years would help the Huskers tremendously.

But it comes back the issue of being slighted: should Husker fans be upset when bowl officials, year after year, send their team to Phoenix instead of Orlando, Tampa, or Jacksonville? My response, is yes: there will be times that Nebraska fans should be upset with the Florida bowls if they pass on a good Nebraska team, even if the opponent in the Insight Bowl would be Oklahoma. You always want to measure your team against the best, and the best is the SEC, even though the fifth best team in the SEC can crush the second best team in the Big 10 (witness: Alabama crushing Michigan State last year).  If Nebraska were to have a BCS-caliber team that got passed down from the BCS bowls through the Florida bowls to the Insight, they should be upset about it.

But getting passed to the Insight Bowl doesn’t always have to be the worst thing in the world. Even Iowa fans set a record attendance mark  in the Insight Bowl last year after they’d been slighted and had to play Missouri when they would have rather played Nebraska. This just speaks to how great the Big 10 bowl allegiances really are: winner gets the Rose, a second BCS bowl is almost guaranteed, and the next three teams get to play SEC teams in Florida. And the team after that gets to play a top Big 12 in Phoenix. Even Penn State got passed on by every major bowl, and they still got to play in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, against an 11-1 Houston team.

So, in the future Husker fans, when your team gets dropped to Phoenix, it is fair to complain to guys in ugly yellow blazers. But remember, they are just trying to keep their jobs like you are. Go to Sun Devil Stadium, remember the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, and celebrating beating an old rival. Isn’t that what college football is all about?

How Nebraska’s New Rivalry with Iowa Can Help them Put their Old Rivalry in Cotext

This Friday, Nebraska starts a new series in the Big 10 with Iowa, an annual game already has a trophy (a corn bowl) and nickname that is more dorky than meaningful. Sorry, but since it’s called the Heroes Game, they might as well have just named it the HyVee Game and gotten even more money out of HyVee. But it is this series with Iowa, a school that Nebraska typically looks down upon because of their lack of national titles, that gives Husker Nation a chance to move on from a school with whom it closely identifies and whose success has handicapped Husker fans’ vision for the past ten years.

It is Nebraska fans old attachment to the rival of the previous generation, Oklahoma, that has caused them to look past what their program is now.

Nebraska’s no longer in the Big 12, and the Big Eight died years ago. They’ve gone out to make their own way in the Big 10, and start a new chapter when Oklahoma choose to keep its ties with Texas over Nebraska. But let’s get a couple things straight. One, Nebraska idolizes the old Big Eight, where they played Oklahoma on the day after Thanksgiving for the de facto conference title and the berth in the Orange Bowl. Yes, this is rivalry to Nebraska fans, but it became in its later years as much of a one-sided rivalry as Nebraska-Iowa State was or Texas-Baylor is. Oklahoma cared more about beating Texas, and in the conference realignment mess, it cares more about staying with in-state rival Oklahoma State (A program whose record over the last ten years is almost as good as Nebraska’s.)

Even the recent Oklahoma players didn’t find significance in the Nebraska “rivalry”. When asked at Big 12 media days 2010 about Nebraska’s departure to the Big 10, the Oklahoma players said they didn’t care about the Nebraska game, and instead grew up on the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry because the stakes were higher. Sure, he knows the old Oklahoma fans grew up on NU-OU, but that was then. There’s undoubtedly another factor that influenced the Oklahoma players to consider Texas a more worthy rival on the field than Nebraska: Texas has had more talent on the field and doesn’t get bowled over as easily.

Like any old rival, Nebraska fans envy Oklahoma’s success from afar. Even during this season, there were Nebraska beat writers who were suggesting that, since it looked like at the time Rick Neuheisel was going to get fired at UCLA and the Huskers’ non-conference was without headline, that Nebraska should just try to play a neutral site game against the Sooners. I have one thing to say about this: can we get over Oklahoma, Husker fans? I’m twenty-eight years old; there have been two relevant Nebraska-Oklahoma to the national championship pictures in my lifetime. And yes, Nebraska and Oklahoma have met twice for the Big 12 title, 2006 and 2010. So? Honestly, at the time Nebraska left the Big 12, I felt a deeper emotional reaction when Nebraska played Texas because of the way the Longhorns have bullied the “lesser” teams in the Big 12. Oklahoma could have been great matchup, if all the old Husker fans and beat writers didn’t have the game up on a pedestal.

Distance has only increased the idolization of Oklahoma rivalry, but it’s also the reasons that Nebraska fans need to understand as to why the rivalry has diminished. The most contentious rivalries in college sports, Alabama-Auburn and Missouri-Kansas for example, happen when two passionate fan bases occupy a shared area. The state of Alabama in the case of the former, and the city of Kansas City in the case of the later. The truth is, Nebraskans and Oklahomans are separated by a whole state and don’t see each other that much, lacking the opportunity to build the real contempt for each other that a rivalry would bring.

I know what some Husker fans will say that I’m destroying tradition like I’m Steve Pedersen. But I’m not saying that Oklahoma is no longer a rival of Nebraska’s in any sense. Indeed, really the whole Big 10 can be thought of at times as rivalry between everyone and Ohio State; same in the Pac 12 with everyone and USC. Nebraskans need to see Oklahoma as rival in the same sense that Miami and Florida State were rivals. They played in some great bowl games over the years, clash of the cultures, that’s it. We won some and lost some. Now we’re in a new place.

That’s why Nebraska fans should get excited for the Iowa series, even though Iowa’s accomplishments as a program don’t equal Nebraska’s. Nebraska and Iowa have had nearly identical records over the last four years. The Hawkeyes have always kind of had a cult following in Omaha, where it wasn’t really a crime to be a Hawkeye fan since Iowa and Nebraska rarely played each other. Now that they are, it is sure to start breeding contempt among the programs, and makes me wonder if Husker fans can live in the present and only admire the past.

Betting Thought on Big 12 games

 

Oklahoma (-17) at Baylor: The Bear are still inflated for two reasons: their big win against TCU the first week of the season in a stand alone game and alleged Heisman candidate Robert Griffin. The Bears faded after they beat Texas last year. Unlike all the other teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma can play defense, and should have no problem limiting the Bears. They’re also a team that likes to run it up, even though they’re only 6-4 ATS, they score at will. The Sooners lost wide receiver Ryan Broyles for the year, but they have enough playmakers to survive the loss. This is the Sooners last real hurdle before a showdown with possibly undefeated Oklahoma State. Oklahoma could also bring a substantial fan presence to Baylor. Good bet to swallow the points on.

 

Texas Tech (+18) at Missouri: The fact that this line has not moved in the last few days just signifies how bad the public thinks Texas Tech is. Almost always when there is bad news about a team during the week, the line will go in favor the other team. Last week, several lines moved a point in favor of Nebraska when news of Penn State’s scandal broke (and the subsequent coaching changes). When news came down that some of the suspended Ohio State players wouldn’t return against Nebraska, the line moved in favor of the Huskers (who at the time where 1-4 ATS). Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel gets arrested for DUI, and the line stays at 18. All the public remembers is Texas Tech getting blown out by Iowa State, Texas, and Oklahoma State. The Iowa State (which I bet up) came after an upset at to Oklahoma, but there’s no excuse for the other two.

This couldn’t be a better situational handicap. Texas Tech, having thumped three weeks in a row, goes on the road, where they can have an us against the world mentality. (One of the best bets you can make is to take a team that gets blown out at home and bet them if they go on the road the next week.) Missouri, on the other hand, is coming off their biggest win of the year against Texas, a team itself that was coming off a huge win against Texas Tech. Given how important the state of Texas is to Missouri in recruiting and that it’s the school’s last Big 12 matchup, it’s a huge win. After a slow start, the Tigers have worked their way back into the bowl picture. Both teams have five wins, making this a de facto play-in game for a bowl bid.

This game may come down to who needs it more. Texas Tech plays Baylor next week in Arlington, Missouri plays woeful Kansas in Kansas City. The urgency for Texas Tech is there, while it may be lacking for Missouri, with an easier opponent next week.

The weather will be 20 MPH winds with a small chance of rain. While this doesn’t bode well for Tech’s pass happy offense, it does bode well for a low scoring game. Missouri only scores 33 points a game, and is a run-oriented team. Even on a normal week, I would be taking Texas Tech, but Pinkel’s distraction and subsequent absence, I will definitely be taking Texas Tech.

 

Kansas State (+7) at Texas: Like Texas Tech-Missouri, here is another situational handicap. Kansas State is 8-2 and coming off an quadruple overtime win against Texas A&M. Texas is coming off a road loss at Missouri and the loss of their best running back Fozzy Whitaker. This is a spot where I would naturally favor Kansas State, but there are other variables to consider.

First, there is a revenge factor for the Longhorns. They were 5-7 last year, and four teams had what I would characterize as tear down the goalposts wins against Texas (UCLA, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State). In those rematches (Texas hasn’t played Baylor yet) Texas is 2-1 and covered in both wins. The loss was to 10-1 Oklahoma State.

While I don’t think Kansas State’s victory over Texas last year made their season like the other losses did for the other teams involved, it was significant for K-State nonetheless. Kansas State has won the last three against Texas, all in controlling fashion (Texas got a late score for a three point loss in 2006). While I don’t think Texas gets up for most games other than Oklahoma (the only school in the Big 12 they consider close to their level), I do think there will be some extra motivation. As far as motivation for the Wildcats, they’re playing with house money now. Many thought they’d be lucky to get to .500, but they’ve road a wave of momentum to 8-2, not even having a letdown after their first loss of the season to Oklahoma. Now, there are distinct possibilities that the Fiesta would take an 10-2 Kansas State over a 10-2 Oklahoma team, given how anxious Kansas State fans would be to go to a BCS bowl, so they should have the motivation.

Texas has made enough strides on defense, and should be able to limit Colin Klein. Kansas State has been the hardest school for me to figure out (before last week I was 0-6 betting Kansas State), and I almost hate to go against them. I lean slightly to Texas, but if the line gets inflated to Texas -8 or -8.5 I may go Kansas State.

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