Posted: Tuesday July 26, 2005 12:20PM; Updated: Tuesday July 26, 2005 1:38PM
That's still not shabby, but let's be realistic: Charlie Weis or no Charlie Weis, even an improved Irish program will not finish in the top eight on a regular basis. Don't take it personally, Domers; the same could be said for almost any school in the country. ND's only bowl tie-ins are through the now-depleted Big East. Even with Notre Dame attached, bowls haven't exactly been beating down the door to re-up with the conference, as discussed last week.
Here's guessing all it will take is a couple too many New Year's Eves in Memphis or El Paso before the Irish start cozying back up to the Big Ten and its seven bowl opportunities -- almost all of them in exotic locations like Orlando and Tempe -- the combined total of which provide a pretty decent revenue source even when split 12 ways.
If and when that day comes, it will be a win-win merger for both the program and conference, but the divisional alignments could be a nightmare. First of all, I don't know if it's even possible to do it geographically. There's no particularly logical North-South or East-West divider, and no matter what you do, Penn State is going to be far away from somebody. Second of all, you have to protect all those annual trophy matchups (the Little Brown Jug, the Floyd of Rosdale, Paul Bunyan's Ax, etc.).
But most significant is the Ohio State-Michigan issue. They need to play every year, and I don't think anyone would want to see them move their traditional, late-November date to earlier in the season, a la Florida State-Miami. That said, would you really want the Buckeyes and Wolverines to face each other again two weeks later? I think you have to put them on the same side, even if that means creating what right now might seem like unbalanced divisions. My proposed lineup would be:
Division B: Notre Dame, Penn State, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern
This lineup places two "marquee" programs in each division (granted, the two in Division B aren't exactly pulling their weight right now) and ensures that almost every existing rivalry (Ohio State-Michigan, Michigan-Michigan State, Michigan-Minnesota, Iowa-Minnesota, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Notre Dame-Purdue, Purdue-Indiana and Illinois-Northwestern) would be played every season. Now that's a Vince-Mandy Moore caliber merger.
How is it that "experts" continue to include Cal in their Pac-10 favorites? As far as I can figure, Jeff Tedford is one of the few legitimate reasons the Bears might finish with a winning season, what with the losses of Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Arrington and even Ryan Riddle on the defensive line. Is it just easier to predict last season's winners to avoid later embarrassment, or are their other reasons Cal is favored over teams like Oregon? -- Dane Hansen, Portland, Ore.
I don't know that Tedford is the only reason, but he's certainly the biggest. For one thing, he's already proven he can withstand significant personnel losses, particularly at quarterback. After Tedford lost first-round pick Kyle Boller from his 2002 debut team that improved from 1-10 to 7-5, most people figured the Bears would slip back down. Instead they went 8-6 under first-year starter Rodgers. And a year ago, Arrington was a first-time starter looking to step in for 1,195-yard rusher Adimchinobe Echemandu. Therefore, at this point, I think it's reasonable to expect Tedford will reload just fine on offense, especially with speedy Marshawn Lynch, who averaged 8.8 yards a carry as a freshman, stepping in for Arrington, and another highly regarded juco QB, Joe Ayoob, waiting in the wings at quarterback.
The more legitimate concerns are on defense, where, as you mentioned, Cal loses not only All-America lineman Riddle but seven other starters from a unit that finished eighth in the country last year in points allowed. Again, though, it looks like Tedford was able to plug some of the holes, bringing in juco All-Americas Nu'u Tafisi and Desmond Bishop to start at defensive end and linebacker. Now, it's entirely possible that the Bears will slip and Oregon will rise above them -- as I hinted last week, the Ducks are a legitimate dark horse, and besides, when is the last time a conference finished in the exact same order as the year before? -- but it's taking a pretty giant leap of faith to automatically assume a team that went 5-6 last year will finish ahead of one that went 10-2.