More powers need to face off in intersectional games
Posted: Thursday September 8, 2005 1:17PM; Updated: Thursday September 8, 2005 4:35PM
Vince Young is downplaying Texas' showdown with No. 4 Ohio State.
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At a team meeting prior to Monday's practice, Texas quarterback Vince Young told his teammates to treat its Saturday-night opponent, Ohio State, as "just another team we've got to get out of our way right now to reach our goals," according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
Not to question a star player's motivational tactics, but c'mon Vince don't kid yourself. You and your Longhorns are about to play in one of the most colossal regular-season games in years, an event so special the normally taciturn Jim Tressel said this week, "if you had to pick two [teams] you'd want to see play, if it was the last game you'd ever want to see in your life, it might be these two."
The first meeting between two of the sport's most prestigious programs, a game fans have been talking about since just after last season ended, grew a notch bigger Tuesday when the Buckeyes moved up two spots in the latest AP poll, officially rendering it a showdown between No. 2 and No. 4. The past decade has seen plenty of "poll bowls," as legendary writer Dan Jenkins used to call such high-stakes showdowns, but they've tended to pit familiar rivals such as Florida and Florida State, Ohio State and Michigan or Oklahoma and Texas. Rack your brain for a second and try to remember the last regular-season matchup of two elite, non-traditional rivals both ranked in the top five. You have to go back to Sept. 28, 1996, when No. 4 Ohio State beat No. 5 Notre Dame 29-16 in South Bend.
Glamorous intersectional showdowns have long held a special place in college football lore, from the Army-Notre Dame classics of the 1940s to the memorable USC-Alabama series in the early '70s to the so-called "Catholics vs. Convicts" games between Notre Dame and Miami in the late '80s. They've become increasingly rare over the past decade, however, partially because budget-conscious athletic directors have been loath to surrender precious home dates, and because many of the game's traditional powerhouses have gone through down periods, taking much of the luster of off otherwise glamorous matchups such as Notre Dame-Nebraska (2000 and '01), Nebraska-Penn State ('02 and '03) and Oklahoma-Alabama ('02 and '03).
There are signs Saturday's game could mark the beginning of a new era. Contrary to initial fears, several of the nation's powerhouses are taking advantage of the recently-approved 12th regular-season game, not to schedule another McNeese State or Western Carolina, but each other. Ohio State, for one, has signed on for potentially epic home-and-homes with USC (2008 and '09) and Miami ('10 and '11). "We'd like to have a home-and-home [every year] with a team of great interest to fans in our state," said Tressel. "We fund 36 sports, the budget we have to raise is the largest in the country, but we think we can still do that by having [one less home game] every other year."
Elsewhere, USC and Nebraska will meet the next two seasons, as will Tennessee and Cal, while Oklahoma has arranged home-and-homes with Florida State (2010 and '11) and Notre Dame ('12 and '13) and is in discussions with Miami about a possible series in 2007 and '09.
One might view such aggressive scheduling as risky for programs that expect to contend for the national title, particularly if, like the Buckeyes, they'll also be playing a daunting conference schedule every year that includes fellow title contender Michigan in the last game. But as the BCS has shown, there's also something to be said for strength-of-schedule, which the Sooners in particular benefited from in reaching the past two BCS championship games over other teams (USC in 2003, Auburn last year) with similar records. "We believe scheduling one so-called 'marquee matchup' is the best approach," said Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione. "We believe in the importance of schedule strength, and our recent [BCS] experiences underscored that philosophy."
Texas coach Mack Brown doesn't seem to share Tressel's and Castiglione's enthusiasm for such matchups. In a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Brown intimated the 'Horns, who scheduled the Ohio State series roughly a decade ago when the program was struggling financially and competitively, might not have made the same choice under the present circumstances. "At places like ours, we're going to fill up our stadium regardless of who we're playing," said Brown, "so we'd actually make more money playing another game at home, getting our guys ready for our conference schedule. So I don't see this continuing [beyond next year's game in Austin]."