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Year Five begins

The 'bag returns to discuss Big Ten hype and more

Posted: Wednesday May 2, 2007 1:12PM; Updated: Thursday May 3, 2007 1:09PM
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The Big Ten's credibility came into question after Michigan and Ohio State suffered blowout losses in their respective BCS bowls.
The Big Ten's credibility came into question after Michigan and Ohio State suffered blowout losses in their respective BCS bowls.
Peter Read Miller/SI
The Mailbag's Five Commandments
Please heed these five rules before submitting a question for the Mailbag
1) Thou Shalt Limit Submissions to 100 Words or Less. It's not that I'm trying to stifle your creativity. I've just got a lot of e-mails to read (often 1,000 a week during the season) and I tend to glaze over anything longer than a couple of paragraphs. Therefore, there's a direct, inverse correlation between the brevity of your e-mail and the chances of it getting published.

2) Thou Shalt Refrain From Obscenities and ALL CAPS. These have a tendency to fall victim to the delete key.

3) Thou Shalt Not Ask the Generic ("How do you think [my team] will do this weekend/season?") The goal here at Mailbag HQ is to select a batch of questions each week that will be of interest to a national audience. This is not to say you can't ask something related to your favorite team; just try to make it a little more creative than that. (As an example, see this week's Arizona State and Miami questions.)

4)*Thou Shalt Wait Until At Least October 1 Before Complaining About the BCS. For yours and my sanity.

5) *Thou Shalt Never Refer to One's Team as "We" or "Us." Unless, of course, the question comes from an active coach or player, which, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to occur.
* -- New for 2007
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Year Five of the Mailbag is officially under way. Please take your seats.

Without question, the best part about writing the Mailbag is ... well, the groupies. But the second-best part is that it gives me a real-time window into what you, the fans, are talking about. No need to guess what topics most interest you -- all I have to do is open my inbox.

Since we parted ways in January, that inbox has become a regular outlet for what can only be described as America's new favorite sporting pastime: Big Ten bashing. The BCS beatdowns of Ohio State (by Florida) and Michigan (by USC) have created a residual backlash that Jim Delany's venerable conference is having a tough time living down. (Commissioner Delany did not do himself any favors, either, with his sore-loser letter insinuating SEC schools cut corners academically while his league is a bunch of choir boys.)

How bad has it gotten? A couple of weeks ago I wrote a fairly innocuous column about Michigan's turbulent spring -- the basic premise being that the Wolverines have a lot of questions for a purported preseason top-five team. Apparently, the mere mention of a Big Ten team on a national Web site is enough to trigger defense mechanisms among the rest of the country's still-frayed football fans.

And so, let the preseason overrating of Big Ten teams commence! Great to see that you are paying so much attention to a team that lost both of its games last year against quality opponents, including being totally outclassed by USC, and then lost half of their best players for an assortment of reasons. It makes total sense that they should be ranked in the Top 5, "possibly as high as No. 2" to start the season. You college football pundits are unbelievable.
--Larry, Morgantown, W. Va.

Are you kidding me? More Big Ten Kool-Aid? When was the last time Michigan beat an elite team? Notre Dame? Please. You'd be closer to the truth if you just went ahead and said that the national championship game will be between USC and the SEC champ. Texas might crash the party, but no one else. Spare us the countdown to another overrated OSU-Michigan "Game of the Century."
--Jason Heady, Smithville, Miss.

How about this, Mandel? How about, until the Big 11 (I can count, too bad they can't) has more than two somewhat decent teams in the whole conference followed by much mediocrity, you and your other Northern biased writers stop saying any of those overrated teams are (mythical) national championship contenders? How about you people finally acknowledge that if Michigan or Ohio State played in the SEC, there is no way they'd have chance of going undefeated, and that slow Michigan would be lucky to get eight wins a year? How about you lay aside your bias, Mandel, and embrace reality?
--Matthew Cafaro, Athens, Ga.

First of all, let me pick up right where I left off in the last Mailbag four months ago by offering a friendly reminder that conference strength is cyclical. There's no question the SEC is hot right now and the Big Ten is in a rut. But it wasn't always that way and it won't always be that way. (Thought it might as long as four national championship coaches are all in the SEC at once). I don't remember hearing any complaints about the "slow" Big Ten when Ohio State beat Miami in the 2002 championship game. And while SEC fans can rightfully point to their national-best 11 first-round draft picks last weekend as further proof of their conference's all-around awesomeness, I didn't hear any of them handing out props to the ACC a year earlier when that league produced 12.

There was one point brought up earlier, however, on which I empathize with followers of the SEC and every other conference, and that is the hype factor. I used to laugh when fans espoused their various ABC/ESPN conspiracy theories, but they definitely had a valid argument last year regarding Ohio State and Michigan. I certainly don't blame the suits for wanting to hype up a historic No. 1 vs. No. 2 game on their own network, one that the whole country (even the South) wanted to see, but there's no question that for about a three-week period right before and after that game, Florida completely vanished from the national-title discussion on those networks. That in large part prompted Urban Meyer's vocal lobbying effort and, in turn, caused Gary Danielson's over-the-top rant on the Gators' behalf during CBS' telecast of the SEC championship game.

But most of all, that's what's causing the virulent Big Ten backlash you're seeing in e-mails like the one above. People feel duped after having had the Buckeyes and Wolverines shoved down their throats week after week last year only to watch them lay an egg when it mattered most.

The end result is that you're going to see a lot of lingering skepticism toward those two, Wisconsin or any other Big Ten team that starts the season with a bunch of wins. And there's only going to be one way for those teams to make it go away: Win the big one.

So ... what else is on your minds these days?


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