The Michigan-Ohio State dilemma, overrating Stanford; more mail
Change is inevitable in wake of expansion, but moving OSU-Michigan is insanity
Puzzling that Texas A&M is getting more preseason hype than Texas Tech
Stanford has become a media darling, but the Cardinal D is an Achilles' heel
You might think nothing in college football can surprise me anymore. In the past week alone, we saw two schools make a $5 million pledge to keep a conference together, then bolt five days later; we heard Florida State icon Bobby Bowden allege for the first time that he was "fired" from his job after 34 seasons; and, in lighter news, we read that a drunk, naked Oregon State offensive lineman (since dismissed) got in a three-point stance and lunged at police officers.
None of those things surprise me. But the latest buzz regarding Big Ten realignment absolutely, positively flabbergasts me.
Given the way the Michigan and Ohio State ADs are talking, it looks like the Big Ten will be putting Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions and moving the game earlier in the year. The only benefit to the conference I see is $$$. Are they merely hoping that in years to come (once RichRod -- or someone else -- rights Michigan) they could have two UM/OSU games and rake in the dough?
-- Russell, Austin, Texas
Money runs the world, Stewart, obviously. But why would the Big Ten want to mess with the greatest rivalry in sports for the off-chance Ohio State will play Michigan twice a year? Isn't the fact that the two schools meet once at the end of the year, with one perhaps playing spoiler, what made the rivalry? Doesn't history mean anything anymore?
-- Vincent, Dublin, Ohio
Change was inevitable when the Big Ten opted to expand, and I fully expected some rivalries to be altered or severed. But Ohio State-Michigan? Are you kidding me? It's been played the last week of the season all but once since 1935, and it's the league's single most important franchise. You would think conference leaders would go to any length to protect it. Unfortunately, based on Michigan AD Dave Brandon's recent comments, it appears at least one decision-maker thinks he'd be enhancing the rivalry by putting the two in separate divisions, because, "one of the best things that could happen in a given season, in my opinion, is the opportunity to play Ohio State twice."
If we know anything, it's that Jim Delany doesn't do anything unless he sees a potential windfall in it. The league is going to be signing a separate TV deal for the title game, and perhaps he's eyeing some sort of "premium clause" that allows for a spike in rights fees in a year when those two meet. Because there's no question an Ohio State-Michigan championship game would be one of the most coveted properties in sports television. Delany even suggested to ESPN.com on Tuesday: "You could make a good argument that Michigan and Ohio State should never really be playing for a divisional crown. If they're going to play, play for the right to go to the Rose Bowl."
Fair enough, commish, but if you haven't noticed, Switzerland is closer to Pasadena right now than Michigan. Even when the Wolverines do get it going again, they're going to be in a division with at least two other regular contenders (perhaps Penn State and Wisconsin) that will likely prevent any one team from reaching the title game annually. In the years OSU and Michigan don't play for the Rose Bowl -- i.e., most of them -- shouldn't they at least play for something more than a run-of-the-mill conference win? The ACC tried this same thing with Miami and Florida State. Five years later, they've yet to meet in a title game.
Meanwhile, in the Big 12, the Oklahoma-Texas Red River rivalry has seen a huge national resurgence over the past decade, not just because the teams are strong, but because there are tangible stakes: pole position in the Big 12 South. If placed in opposite divisions, Ohio State and Michigan would be playing for much the same stakes -- only they'd be doing so against Penn State or Nebraska instead.
Sometimes leaders make decisions without properly thinking through the issues. This one sounds like a case of over-thinking. Do the right thing, Mr. Delany, Mr. Brandon and Mr. Smith, lest the ghosts of Woody and Bo haunt you in your sleep.
Stewart: I am actually thrilled about the lack of respect that Texas Tech is getting, but curious as to why. They are returning a lot of starters on a team that endured a great deal last year and still blew out Nebraska in Lincoln and finished in the Top 25. Is this coaching change so great that everyone thinks this team is going to drop so far?
-- Adam LaGrone, Austin, Texas
I'm pretty puzzled myself that Tech has fallen off the radar. The ouster of Mike Leach -- the winningest coach in school history -- was obviously a traumatic event, but it's not like the school replaced him with some unproven sucker. Tommy Tuberville was an SEC head coach for 14 years, produced an undefeated team at Auburn in 2004 and finished in the Top 25 in six of his 10 seasons there. And he's inheriting a veteran squad, one about which Leach recently told my colleague Richard Deitsch, "I felt like it was the best team I had coming back in 10 years."
If there's some hesitation among voters, it's probably because Tuberville has no experience running the type of wide-open passing offense for which Leach's players were recruited. While Tuberville hired Troy offensive coordinator Neal Brown to run a similar system, there could be an awkward transition period as they try to incorporate more of a true running game with tailback Baron Batch. On the flip side, however, I fully expect Tech's defense to improve significantly under Tuberville. Led by star nosetackle Colby Whitlock, the Raiders will fly to the ball and get more pressure on the quarterback.
Ultimately, Tech still lags behind division stalwarts Texas and Oklahoma, but I'm a bit puzzled as to all this buzz about Texas A&M being the new "hot" team in the South. Last I checked, Mike Sherman was still the coach of the Aggies. Thanks, but I'll put my money on Tuberville.
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