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BCS Chaos: Cases for Auburn, Missouri, and Ohio State

It’s only fitting that BCS goes out with a bang, or some other big controversy, and thanks to Auburn’s win over Alabama, we’ve got one. Now all the SEC lovers are out there telling us how daunting it is to go through the SEC, how the Big 10 has fallen completely off the map. But in the case of Auburn, I’m not buying it.

Yes, the SEC is still the best conference, although I don’t think they run nearly as deep as they have over the last few years. (Still, they have four BCS-bowl worthy teams.) But if you are going to buck tradition and put an one-loss team in the national title game over a multi-loss team, it better be pretty obvious that the one-loss team is better than the undefeated. And that’s not the case when you comare Auburn and Ohio State.

If we’re going to ask who has Ohio State beaten, just look at Auburn’s best wins: every bowl eligible, major conference team that Auburn has played stayed within one score of the Tigers, including the dregs of Washington State, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, arguably the twelfth best team in the SEC. LSU was up on Auburn 21-0 early in the second quarter, and led them 35-14 in the fourth quarter. And you have the matter of their two miracle wins. If Auburn deserves to be number two in the country, they should have beaten a really good team soundly, and they haven’t.

Having watched both teams, I would say that, if Auburn and Ohio State played on a neutral field on equal rest, the game would be a coin flip, with a slight edge to the Buckeyes because they have the more dynamic quarterback. Granted, Auburn has a very good defensive line, but they lack the down field passing game to press Ohio State to match them score for score. And let’s not forget Auburn’s history: they have not exactly dominated their non-conference matchups and bowl games. Of their last eight bowl games, they have only two wins by multiple scores, and even their national championship team struggled Oregon, Clemson, and from the SEC, Mississippi State. Clemson in fact has beaten Auburn twice in non-conference play, West Virginia once LSU, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina under Steve Spurrier mowed through their bowl games and important non-conference games; Auburn does not.

The lamest case for Auburn is on the SEC’s history. Everyone making that case should be remind of how Notre Dame campaigned on its history a year ago. If you’re going to crack Notre Dame for close home wins against BYU and Pitt, you have to crack Auburn for close home wins against Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Missouri, on the other hand, can be seriously considered for the number two spot over Ohio State. Even though some may make the case that they lack seniority in the SEC, just look at the Tigers’ resume: they have crushed three good SEC teams on the road in Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Mississippi, dominating the Commodores from the first snap of the game. Missouri has beaten ten of twelve teams by at least thirteen points. They only teams that have been closer are Texas A&M and South Carolina. And Missouri led the Gamecocks 17-0 in the fourth quarter before Connor Shaw stage a late comeback and the Tigers lost on a missed field goal in overtime. That is a resume worthy of a National Title Game.

Still, when I watch Missouri, I don’t know that they are vastly better than Ohio State. Earlier this year, I thought they were one of the most compelling football teams I had ever seen on television, the way they just flat out whipped Georgia and Florida. They don’t pass the eye ball test the way that Alabama and LSU do, but they execute like no one’s business.

If I was compelled to vote an SEC team into the National Title Game, I would choose Alabama, because I feel their best is better than anyone else best, except maybe Florida State’s. If they had a few field goals against Auburn, they could have beaten the Tigers going away. They lost to LSU in 2011 for virtually the same reason, and, as the rematch proved, they were clearly the better team. If I were a voter, I don’t know right now who I would choose as my top two, but I would take the week to think about it. The one thing that has changed for me is that I wouldn’t feel as bad voting Ohio State number 2 as I would have three weeks ago.

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)

Why Pelini’s SEC Interest is Keeping Nebraska Stuck in Neutral. And Why Certain Coaches Stay Under the Radar

Bummed Bo

Another end to a Husker season, another round of Bo Pelini-leaving-Nebraska rumors. This year, the rumor was less reliable than in years past (Football Scoop tweeted Arkansas was on the verge of hiring him), but still, Pelini was again linked to another high profile job. After Nebraska’s meltdown in the Big 10 Title Game, Pelini’s constant flirtations for the SEC causes begs the question if Pelini’s wandering eye is hurting the program. To judge that, one has to ask what Nebraska is and what works there, and what Bo Pelini is, and where he works.

Nebraska is an outlier, both from major cities and major recruiting hotbeds. Major changes in college football have gone against Nebraska: more games being on TV, fewer recruits wanting to come north because of the weather, more committed programs in the middle of college football. But to succeed at an outlier, you need to find a coach who gets the outlier. Consider Tom Osborne and Bill Synder: both grew up in smaller cities in smaller states and went to smaller, non-DI colleges. Both achieved long-term success by molding average players into stars. Who else fits that profile? Chris Petersen, who grew up around Sacramento and went to UC Davis, and Charlie Strong, who went to Central Arkansas, in his native state. Pedersen has stayed at Boise State (in a city that is the exact mirror of Sacramento), and Strong looks like he’s turning down Tennessee to stay at Louisville.

Now look at Pelini. Pelini went to a large Catholic high school in Ohio, then to Ohio State, a major program in a state with lot of FBS-ready talent. He’s friends with Bob Stoops, who turned down his alma mater (Iowa) and instead found longevity at Oklahoma, surrounded by the best high school football talent state in the country, Texas. Pelini worked for Michigan alum Les Miles, who has now twice turned down his alma mater to stay in talent-rich Louisiana. Pelini knows he’s got a rawer deal then Miles and Stoops by the players who sign for him.

Husker fans, why do you think Nebraska’s seniors laden defense got completely worked by Wisconsin on Saturday night? Kansas State’s defensive talent is no better, and the Wildcats were shutting down offensive juggernauts in the Big 12. Reason: Pelini had a fire when he first came to Nebraska, and the players then had the motivation to embrace discipline after the Bill Callahan-debacle. After an initial burst with Callahan’s recruits (and Ndamukong Suh), Pelini was left with a bunch three-to-four star recruits who needed coaching. For stretches in 2009 and 2010, Nebraska had to play perfect on defense just to stay in the games, including two against Oklahoma. After nearly three years of having to win without any mistakes, Pelini was exhausted from coaching up Prince Amukamara and Phillip Dillard, and had no energy to develop Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley.

Consider also how Pelini’s post-game press conference demeanor has changed: in his first few years, there were times after losses he looked like he wanted to fight a reporter. Now, he looks relieved after wins and despondent after losses. Watching this change, I have wondered if he’s the kind of coach who burns bright for a couple of years, but burns out after seven or eight years because he’s all motivation and no innovation. He has innovated: changing Nebraska’s offense after the 2010 season gave the program a huge edge coming into the Big 10. But again, look at the defense, where Pelini puts in most of his time. There isn’t one star, sure-fire high NFL draft pick on that unit.

This leads to the question of whether or not Turner Gill would have been a better hire than Pelini. Indeed, some have written that Gill should have replaced Osborne as head coach in 1997. (Perhaps Osborne forgot how Bob Devaney choose him as Nebraska’s next head coach over many of his veteran assistants). At the time, Pelini was a hotter commodity and Gill had only a 7-17 record at Buffalo, but that wouldn’t have been a determent to a Husker fan base who remembered Gill for his playing days and his work with Tommie Frazier, Scott Frost, and Eric Crouch. As Osborne and Gill were such good friends (Osborne was the best man at Gill’s wedding), it may not have been the ideal situation for Osborne to hire a coach he was so close to. But given Gill’s steady hand, he may have been the better fit long-term.

Pelini’s not headed to the SEC if he continues to have looses like he did on Saturday. But in any case, fans have to wonder if his heart is in his job 100% and how many sorry press conference they may have to endure.

College Football Week 1: Rise of the Tech-ola Crap, the Fall of Big Schools #2’s

Around the country, top teams struggled with lesser competition. I’m not even going to count Ohio beating Penn State and Nevada downing Cal in new Memorial Stadium-Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Georgia all struggled on some level to put away lesser, unheralded mid-majors at home. Pitt lost to FCS Youngstown State-by two scores at home, and Maryland barely got by William and Mary. Of course, Duke went out and crushed upstart Florida International, so who knows.

As I reflect on this phenomenon, I’d cite two reasons, beyond the Appalachian State effect. First there’s the super-conference effect: teams in every conference, not just the SEC are playing tougher conference schedules and can only count on so many carries from their stars in early season games (Rex Burkhead not coming back for Nebraska against Southern Miss, for example.) Depth has been depleted not just by scholarship reductions, but transfers. Two, all the mid-majors know they are going to have chances to move up, and need to showcase themselves in these games.

Florida, if you wanted an easier week one opponent, you should have scheduled a Big 10 team. But let’s not scorn Michigan-they took on the challenge of Alabama and there isn’t as much shame in being humbled by the nation’s best program and coach happens. The serious causaulty is that Dennard Robinson got hurt again. And speaking of the ‘Nard Dawg, shouldn’t Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez be even more commended for sliding and getting help with his passing game in light of Robinon’s constant injuries?

Big 10 teams exhausting lead backs in Week 1. Le’Veon Bell, Damon Bullock, and Montee Ball all needed to tote the rock more than thirty times to lead their teams to victory. Meanwhile, Nebraska lost their workhorse back Burkhead and thrived on offense. With all these teams exhausting their running backs with big games still to come, it could be long years in East Lansing, Madison, and Iowa City. Iowa has the most to be concerned about, with their losses at tailback in the off-season. But Michigan State and Wisconsin have new quarterbacks who should help shoulder the load as the season goes on.

The biggest assistant coaching gain and loss may have been on display in the Georgia Dome Saturday night, as Clemson’s defense, now under the leadership of Brent Venables, stopped Auburn’s offense, now minus Gus Malzahn. Nothing made me happier last year than watching Clemson revive their tradition behind a funky offense with Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins; with Venables, they could shoot into the stratosphere.

It’s only one loss, but the slow trot toward exile begins at PSU. The Nittany Lions are going to get every teams best shot, as teams know they are down. And judging by Bill O’Brien’s press conference, he doesn’t have the personality of an elite recruiter. Ouch. With games at Virginia, and home against Temple and Navy, Penn State is going to struggle to get a win in September.

Final point: great to see Erin Andrews hosting on Fox, but seriously, could ABC or Fox have a competitive game to switch to at least?

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?

SEC’s New Scheduling Model: Dragging its Feet to Change, Par for the Course in the CFB Universe

Last week, the SEC did what the SEC does: put winning ahead of everything else. Ignoring the trend in college football, the SEC kept its eight-game conference schedule, even though it means there will only be one rotating opponent on each team’s schedule every year. So much for being a “conference”, the SEC is now two small conference with a scheduling alliance and a championship, basically what the Mountain West and Conference USA are.
While I won’t consider myself an expert on SEC politics, I understand that of the seven permanent cross-division rivalries, two are historically important: Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia . The newly christened MissouriArkansas border rivalry is also an important game to play every year, even though the two schools don’t have much history. While the four other rivalries are all well matched (Florida-LSU, Texas A&M-South Carolina, Mississippi State-Kentucky, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss), but aren’t as essential to the respective program’s history. Each of these schools could just as well play a two rotating non-division games a year.

New found rivals

I’m not saying that the Third Saturday in October and the Deep South’s Oldest rivalry shouldn’t be played every year.  I’m not saying that Arkansas and Missouri can’t start up a good border war. The team of my heart, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, had their top rivalry ripped away by Big 12-Texas politics, so I’m sympathetic to their plight. What I am saying is let’s not have Mississippi State and Kentucky play every year just because four other schools have to have cross-division rivals (When I googled “mississippi state kentucky” I got one football image in the first two pages).

Vital that these two teams play every year?

Not as vital as keeping these rivals together

To be a real conference, the SEC needs to play a nine game conference schedule, like the ACC will when they go to fourteen. The Big 12 and the Pac 12 already play twelve, and the Big 10 and Big East will likely both go to nine soon. (Of course, part of the motivation for the ACC, Big 10, and Big East to play nine conference games is to get Notre Dame to join a conference.) If you are only going to have one rotating opponent every year on the schedule, you are no longer a conference. The possibility now exists for a massive imbalance between the divisions of the SEC.

The SEC gave the typical reasons for not wanting more than eight conference games: Florida and Georgia, who play at a neutral site, would be disadvantaged because they would only have three home games every other year (which already happens). Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina want to keep their in-state rivalries together. But I hear the bragging by SEC fans: our conference is so tough, we only need eight conference games a year. To that I say, if your conference is so tough, why are you always teasing Texas for being too soft to play in it?

But I get it in this regard: the SEC is about winning championships, not just conference but national. While I’m not a fan of this decision as a whole, I do respect the drive to win, which is hard enough to do in college football as it is. The SEC is so great as a conference, they can only play eight conference games a year, and yet, it still gives fans quality games at home. Hopefully, the SEC will get so add two more teams and establish four four team divisions, so scheduling can be a little easier.

A Nebraska Fan on the Arkansas Situation

I have to confess something; as college football fan, and specifically, a Nebraska fan, I feel bad for Arkansas. Maybe it’s because both of us have been the mutual object of the scorn of Texas, and both Arkansas and Nebraska are small states without major cities. And because of their small population, both programs had to make hard choices to leave their historic conferences and move on to super-leagues.
In an odd twist of fate, it was the man who replaced and was succeeded by Steve Pedersen (Nebraska’s prodigal son) at Pittsburgh , the athletic director who had to make the tough call on Bobby Petrino. In a small state like Arkansas, a major football program isn’t just the state’s identity; it’s one of the few major business. Los Angeles has the Lakers, film industry, and countless others to go along with it. In Arkansas, it’s football and that’s it.

Petrino’s firing just represents the futility that surrounds the rural program who hasn’t lived up to the expectation of the past. After twenty years, Arkansas’ football program had finally surpassed Texas and become elite again. On top of which, the Razorbacks no longer had to listen to the Longhorn’s mocking that they had deserted their SWAC rivals; with Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC, the Hogs could now boast to Austin that they were ahead of the expansion curb, in the place where it matters most: the homes of Texas high school players.

But to get there, they had to take a chance on a questionable coach. Jeff Long hired Bobby Petrino because, after the school had a decade of Houston Nutt, an average coach who wasn’t bad enough to get himself fired quickly. Ultimately, Bobby Petrino may just be a more successful version of Mark Mangino; a successful coach whose issues got hi relegated to a rural job, although Petrino’s was much better than Mangino’s.

So now Arkansas is open again; at least now it’s a better job than it was when Petrino took over. Oddly enough, Nebraska’s Pelini is rumored to be on Long’s list. Not surprising the two states have the same taste in coaches.

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.

Missouri’s Move to the SEC: Is this really who you think you are?

Over the last, I have followed the realignment of college conferences closely, given that it has involved my team (Nebraska) and my favorite sport. The most interesting move to me has been Missouri going from the Big 12 to the SEC. Many thought that Missouri would eventually join in the Big 10, but instead, the Tigers choose to cast their lot in the toughest football conference in America, leading them on a path to play new rivals and leaving their two most natural rivals (Illinois and Kansas) behind. An audacious move for a school that doesn’t care passionately for the SEC’s number one sport: football

Missouri’s move is one that frustrates me because it could have made a move that promoted rivalries instead of destroying them. College football realignment has taken out some of the great rivalries in the sport, such as Nebraska-Oklahoma, Virginia Tech-West Virginia, and going back twenty year, Arkansas-Texas. Not to mention having ended good regional series (Nebraska-Iowa State for example) in favor of more sparse conferences. Missouri could have waited and tried again to get into the Big 10, a league that many expect it to get into in the spring of 2010, until the Tigers ran their mouths about the move and Jim Delany choose the more modest Nebraska for the rust belt league. Unlike many other conference realignment moves, this one would have maintained Missouri’s border rivalry with Illinois, and restarted their series with Nebraska. Missouri fits in with the more modest intensity in the Big 10, and would only be out-resource by a handful of schools. Instead, Missouri goes to a league where they won’t even play their primary border state Arkansas.

Missouri really did fail to realize their own power in the realignment scheme. After the ACC invited Pitt and Syracuse, the Big 10’s candidates were dwindling. Missouri would give the Big 10 a new TV market in Kansas City, and as I said before, promote rivalries that the Big 10 values. Right now, the Big 10, with its TV network and its coupe of landing Nebraska a year ago, thinks it should only expand if it can land the big fish of Notre Dame, even though the Irish would rather go to the easier ACC now. If Missouri had just waited it out, the Big 10 would have moved on from Notre Dame, and there’s no way the Big 10 would take Louisville or Rutgers over Missouri.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand Missouri’s move to a degree. Even though the Big 12 has some mild stability now with Chuck Neinas as commissioner, a pledge of TV rights, and equal revenue sharing, there still is an albatross hanging over the league as long as Texas could go independent. I understand the frustration of having to go through the conference realignment mess two years in a row and wanting to be in a league that’s stable. I get all that, and if the SEC was out there, there could be stability in a conference that will be around and the one of the top revenue stream in college sports. And the SEC will likely continue to give teams four non-conference games a season, meaning that the Tigers can easily schedule four wins a year and only need two conference wins to get to a bowl.

But when it comes to passion, Missouri does trail every school in the SEC except for Vanderbilt. Every other school in the SEC has mad passion for their their teams; even basketball-first Kentucky draws 60,000-70,000 fans a game in a state with another major university. Meanwhile, Missouri drew around 54,000 for its final home game against Texas, a game that a smart marketing department could easily sell to it fans, and has averaged between 50,000-60,000 even when they’ve had only six games in Columbia. It isn’t that it’s Missouri’s fault that their state has other pro sports their fans care about more, but it is the reason their program is going to be looked down upon in the SEC. Arkansas, who had more significant success than Missouri before joining the SEC, is still looked upon like a step-child among the leagues’ major schools; how bad could it be for Missouri?

Recruiting may also be an area where Missouri might be a little naive. Yes, Missouri is going to the best football conference in America, which produces more NFL players than any conference. But perhaps they’re forgetting what recruiting at Missouri used to be like. Gary Pinkel said in a radio interview with Jim Rome in 2008, when he took over the program, he went into Missouri high schools that wanted nothing to do with the Tiger football program. Even though Missouri produces 20-25 FBS prospects a year, St. Louis and Kansas City are constantly getting hit hard by other programs from the Big 12 and Big 10 who don’t have enough players in their own states. Now the players in Kansas City have to choose between playing at Kansas and K-State, with road games against teams they’ve grown with, or playing in Columbia against teams from the South. Likewise, the players in St. Louis can either go to the familiarity of the Big 10, or choose the fanaticism of the SEC. Yes, Pinkel will probably win some if not most of those battles, but he’s only got so many years left.

That leads to the question of what Missouri football really is: are they a really good program, or have they been elevated by one coach? History would suggest the later, that they’ve been elevated by Gary Pinkel the last ten years from being a poorly manged program the previous thirty. In the end, Missouri football will probably end up like Minnesota football: a program that could be dominate, but ultimately wasn’t because their fans didn’t care as passionately about it when they got pro sports. Yes, perhaps the program could continue to be successful if they make a good hire after Pinkel retires. But Missouri has more margin for error. Florida made a disastrous hire (Ron Zook) but even still was able to hire the best young coaching prospect in the country, Urban Meyer. If Missouri were to make such a disastrous hire, could they still land a good coach after they fired the mistake?

On the basketball sid, there might be a chance that Missouri gets out of Kansas’ shadow. Even though Kentucky is basketball king in the SEC, Missouri could get make some headway in the league, given that many of the schools don’t care about basketball with any kind of passion. It is the reason I often thought that a school like North Carolina State should join the SEC, because they would instantly go right to the top in basketball. Such success may not offset losses in football, but it’s good to make hay nonetheless. And there should be a great basketball rival with Arkansas whose head coach Mike Anderson bolted Columbia last year for what ended up to be only a marginal raise.

The odd irony is, West Virginia, the school that is replacing Missouri in the Big 12, would have been a much better fit in the SEC. Like the other schools in the SEC, West Virginia has fans that push their football program first. They could have a nice border rivalry with Kentucky, and the already have recruiting ties in Florida, and their current leadership has ties to Texas, where they would likely play Texas A&M every year. The Mountaineers may have struggled the first few years, but eventually, they would have gotten a great coach and the recruits to match, just like Arkansas eventually did. West Virginia in the SEC could have been a great fit if someone actually ran realignment. But no one runs conference realignment; it’s just a free-for-all as to who get themselves in the best position to make the most.

So those are my initial thoughts on Missouri’s move to the SEC. I was surprised when I dug into how much there was to process, and later this week, I will deal with at least two specific issues created by the move: whether Missouri could become the tough outlying, northern school of the SEC, and why the bowl selection process was a bad reason to leave the Big 12.

The BCS didn’t fall for Texas’ Grand Plan…and they shouldn’t.

This weekend, the BCS caused a victory for good football when Alabama was selected to play in the BCS Title game over Oklahoma State, and I don’t just mean that because I think the better team got into the National Title Game. Alabama is the better team, no doubt in my mind. But as a fan of college football and a Nebraska Cornhusker fan specifically, I am very happy to see that the new Big 12, a conference set up in order to get teams into the National Title Game, failed in their first opportunity.

Eighteen months ago, with two teams gone, Texas decided to keep the Big 12 together so long as it could do so the way it wanted to. That meant the Longhorn Network, and that meant getting rid of the conference championship game the coaches despise. (Another sign of incompetent leadership at the top of the Big 12. If the conference really wanted the money from a championship game, they would have it.) Now, Texas looked like it was going still play big games when, in the immediate aftermath of Big 12 Championship’s expiration, they went out and scheduled home-and-home series with USC and Notre Dame, but that’s just window dressing. Get a team up at full health in September to play a high-profile, non-conference opponent is much either than getting your beleaguered, beat-up team to play one more game at the end of the year. Even their most difficult game of the year, Oklahoma, is played the second weekend October, and they never have to play at Oklahoma. And also consider Texas’ worst-case scenario: going into the Big 12 Title after scratching through the Big 12 South, only to get upset by a North team that got hot in the last month (as almost in 2009 against Nebraska).

Now, I’m not here to say that I completely disdain Texas for wanting an easier road to the Title Game, that’s their prerogative. The SEC does the same when they play eight conference games and schedule cupcakes in September. But let’s get something straight here: just because the Big 12 has set up an easy road to get into the BCS Title Game doesn’t mean the voters should reward them for it.

Let’s also get something straight about Conference title games in general: they didn’t hurt the big dogs as much as they hurt the upstarts. Oklahoma lost the Big 12 Title Game in 2003 but still got into the National Title game. Yes, Texas did loose a shot at the National Title when they fell to Colorado in the 2001 game and almost again to Nebraska in 2009 (by more their own fault than anything of Nebraska’s doing), but three times times an upstart team from the Big 12 North lost a chance to get to the National Title Game as well (Nebraska in ’96; Kansas State in ’98; and Missouri in ’07).

And coaches like Bill Synder and Gary Pinkel would have their own reasons for getting rid of the conference championship game. Coaches like the possibility of a split conference crown more than a title game so that at least they can put that on their resume and up on a ring in their stadium. Last year, Mark Dantonio and Michigan State could at least claim a share of the Big 10 crown even though they didn’t even have a BCS game to show for it. This year, the have a mere Legends Division Title, a step up from the ole grand Big 12 North Title that Nebraska or Missouri had to win one tough game a year to get. This speaks to the fact, that, when it comes to making decisions about a conference’s future, the university president’s and administrators should have the final word and not the coaches, who don’t want one more tough conference game to play in or a championship to weed out inferior teams. Not that it’s wrong for them to have their own interests (many coaches have only a few years to prove themselves in a high-profile position), but we shouldn’t be served mediocre football because of it.

That’s why I’m glad that Oklahoma State will be playing Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. First of all, they will be playing on grass, a surface on which the Cowboys have three of their lowest four point totals of the season and haven’t scored more than forty points on all year. They will be playing against a Stanford team known for its physicality and who will run the ball directly at them, a novelty not seen in Big 12 outside of Kansas State. And Stanford’s defense, toughen by facing their wrecking ball offense every day in practice, will have a month to study the Cowboys’ finesse offense. Once the Stanford defense starts hitting the undersized Cowboy receivers in the mouth, Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, and their basketball-on-turf cohorts will go into the same shell they were in at Iowa State and be exposed in a way that the soft Big 12 couldn’t expose them.



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