Posted: Wednesday August 3, 2011 11:09AM ; Updated: Wednesday August 3, 2011 1:14PM
Stewart Mandel

Do's, don'ts for division alignments, impact transfers; more mailbag

Story Highlights

Big Ten divisions are confusing, but priority No. 1 was rightly competitive balance

K-State's Bryce Brown and USF's Darrel Scott could have an impact on new teams

Impressive list of out-of-work-coaches, Kevin Wilson effect at Indiana and more

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Producing title games between storied rivals Michigan and Ohio State weighed heavy in the Big Ten's division alignments.
Producing title games between storied rivals Michigan and Ohio State weighed heavily in the Big Ten's division alignments.
John Biever/SI
Mandel Initiative
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald discusses his quarterback's Heisman hopes. Stewart and Mallory break down the title race.

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While Big 12 athletic directors met Monday to squash yet another crisis sure to expedite that league's imminent demise (a non-story, yet again), the Big Ten announced that all public tickets to its first-ever league championship game sold out in two hours last weekend. That's par for the course in the SEC but was not always the case for the Big 12's now-defunct title game and pretty much unfathomable for the ACC's six-year-old event.

For some, however, those kooky Big Ten divisions remain a cause for concern.

Stewart, in 2004 the ACC expanded and expanded again the following year to have two six-team divisions. The divisions were not split geographically, but "competitively" -- namely, separating Miami and Florida State, ensuring the Hurricanes and the Seminoles would meet in the championship game each year. How did that work out? As a Big Ten backer, I'm afraid Jim Delany's attempt at "competitive balance" (read Michigan vs. Ohio State championship) will repeat the ACC's history and fail miserably.
-- Scott Saxton, Windsor, Ontario

I've made well-known my continued distaste for Delany's ridiculous division names (which have yet to be used in a Mailbag this offseason, a streak that won't end even in this answer). Beyond being a punchline, they will likely cause much the same confusion the ACC's Atlantic and Coastal have for anyone outside that region. But I've also stated from Day 1 that Delany was absolutely right to put competitive balance as the No. 1 priority in divisional alignment, and that won't change this week, either.

The ACC's situation was a little different. It was operating under the belief (understandable at that time) that Florida State and Miami were going to be the Oklahoma and Texas of that conference. Placing them in opposite divisions would ensure that each division had a flagship team, and upped the chances of getting two editions a year of its most nationally prominent rivalry. John Swofford couldn't have foreseen that both the Seminoles and Hurricanes were right on the brink of prolonged periods of mediocrity, and that one of his other new invitees, Virginia Tech, would emerge as the league's alpha dog. Led by the Hokies, the Coastal Division has won four of six conference championship games, but you might be surprised to learn that the Atlantic holds a slight 147-141 edge in regular-season games.

In Delany's case, yes, the Ohio State/Michigan dynamic hovered over all expansion decisions, but his league is now home to four traditional powerhouses, not two. And if he'd gone strictly by geography, three of the four (Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State) would have been bunched on one side with Nebraska on the other. While it's rare that all four will be dominant at the same time -- in fact, they aren't now -- over any larger stretch of time, it's a pretty good bet that these four will be appearing in the title game most often. That obviously wouldn't happen with three on one side.

Ideally, you want to achieve what the SEC has enjoyed mostly through natural geography. Entering its 20th season of divisions, the East and West have been incredibly balanced, with the East leading in titles (11 to eight) but the West holding a slight edge in cross-division play (a .509 winning percentage). Conversely, you want to avoid what happened to the Big 12, where the South maintained a stranglehold over the North (11 titles to four, including the last seven) that the title game was often anticlimactic (not to mention the larger political infighting that led to Nebraska bolting). Maybe I'm not giving Iowa, Wisconsin and the rest enough credit, but I do believe a straight geographical split would have caused many of the same problems for the Big Ten.

Stewart, who are the impact transfers that become eligible this season?
-- Gary Thornton, Crystal Beach, Fla.

Well, we already discussed the most high-profile of the bunch, N.C. State-turned-Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. Many of us are expecting a similar splash from Kansas State running back Bryce Brown, so much so that he's already garnered preseason All-Big 12 honors. That may seem presumptuous for a guy that rushed for just 460 yards as a Tennessee freshman in 2009, but the former No. 1 recruit suffered a hip injury in preseason camp that hampered him much of the year. He looked good in K-State's spring game, and given Bill Snyder's history with elite tailbacks, I fully expect Brown to continue the tradition. Another former all-everything running back recruit, Darrell Scott, becomes eligible at USF this season following two uninspiring seasons at Colorado (459 yards total). Bulls coach Skip Holtz doesn't hesitate to mention Scott's potential impact, but he's not quite as much a sure thing as Brown.

As for some more under-the-radar guys, look for former USC tight end Blake Ayles, a senior who is immediately eligible due to USC's sanctions, to play a big role in Al Golden's Miami offense. Another former Trojan, junior linebacker Uoana Kaveinga, is expected to be one of the stalwarts of BYU's defense. Arizona receiver Dan Buckner, who left Texas following an arrest on two misdemeanor charges, made seven starts and caught 44 passes for 445 yards for the Longhorns' '09 BCS runner-up team. And Cal coach Jeff Tedford has already named Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard his starting quarterback, beating out incumbent Brock Mansion. One other guy worth mentioning is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones (from, you guessed it, USC), who could have a huge impact but whose NCAA eligibility is currently in question.

Stewart, I'm a teacher so I have a lot of time on my hands during the summer, but I do keep busy. I was interested in the success of many coaches in their second year so I crunched some numbers and found that of the 112 coaches hired from 2000-2010 (yes, I know that is 11 seasons), 50 percent of them improved the team's win total in their first year. Of 100 coaches in their second year at the same school, 59 percent improved the win total from the year before. But get this, of 82 coaches in their third year, only 41 percent improved on the previous year's win total. Any thoughts?
-- Horacio, Staten Island, N.Y.

Well first of all, thank you for taking the time to compile and deliver empirical evidence that finally confirms the "second year" phenomenon with coaches. For a while, I sat here trying to come up with some common thread behind this apparent third-year slump (losing an important senior class, complacency after a breakout second season, etc.), but the explanation is probably a lot simpler. How many teams -- regardless of how long the coach has been there -- improve their record for three straight seasons? It's hard to pull off, what with players coming and going, not to mention you'd probably have to be pretty far down to begin with. For example, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez presumably counted among those 41 percent, going from three wins to five to seven, but what good did that do him?

Horacio did his research, so here's mine: Of the 67 BCS-conference teams, just 11 improved their record each of the past three seasons -- 16 percent. Assuming a similar percentage among the other five leagues, that means the majority of those successful third-year coaches were probably just experiencing a normal rise after a normal dip, i.e., the natural flow of college football.

Stewart, every year at the beginning of the season the major media outlets all lament the rise of FCS matchups, and every year the argument is that the fans deserve better. But I have a lot of conversations with a lot of college football fans, and I rarely hear anyone complain about his or her school playing one game per year against an FCS team. If anyone complains it's almost always in the context of some other team not deserving its ranking because of a weak nonconference schedule. So here's my question: Do you actually get many complaints from fans about their own schools playing FCS teams?
-- Stephen, Atlanta

Actually, now that you mention it -- no, I do not. And that's exactly why the schools will keep doing it. They know 90,000 people will show up every Saturday whether they're playing Georgia or Georgia State.
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