Posted: Wednesday May 9, 2012 1:14PM ; Updated: Wednesday May 9, 2012 2:10PM
Stewart Mandel

As the Mailbag celebrates 10 years, realignment talk still leads the way

Story Highlights

Let's take a trip down memory lane for the Mailbag's 10-year anniversary

Arkansas should be an attractive job to prospective coaching candidates

Despite its recent struggles, the Big East stands to make big TV money

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Conference realignment has been a hot topic among college football fans during the Mailbag's 10-year run.
Conference realignment has been a hot topic among college football fans during the Mailbag's 10-year run.

Once upon a time, in a world before Twitter, blogs and 14-team football conferences, there was this novel thing called "the offseason." Weeks would pass with no college football news of consequence save for the occasional police-blotter item. Schools didn't hop conferences every other month, commissioners didn't suddenly resign and coaches didn't get into motorcycle crashes with their mistresses. Any talk of a four-team playoff was purely the stuff of fantasy.

One of the reasons I launched the Mailbag in the spring of 2003 was to help alleviate the boredom of those long months until kickoff. Why not bide the idle time discussing Brock Berlin's potential and John Navarre's Heisman hopes (real topics from the debut 'bag)?

Obviously, the climate has changed significantly. As we kick off the Mailbag's 10th season, there is no shortage of offseason news to discuss. Two years ago it was the possibility of the Pac-16 and USC's sanctions; last year Jim Tressel, Willie Lyles and SEC expansion. This year we've already got a lot to catch up on, and Playoff Watch figures to continue well into the summer.

But I also like to have some fun with this column, and this year, some of that fun is going to center around the aforementioned 10-year milestone in the form of a "greatest hits" component -- though "hits" won't always be the appropriate description. I'll look back on a random question-and-answer from a prior year that proved either eerily prophetic or regrettably off-base. Please feel free to put that Google bar or SI Vault to use and submit nominees. Ideally, these flashbacks won't be too specific to a given week or season but rather more evergreen, perhaps even so timeless that I could answer them again.

As an example: Let's take a look back at the second topic from that debut Mailbag (and please, spare me the snipes about the horrifically schlubby, pre-LASIK headshot). It's hard to believe that something written nine years ago could remain so timely today:

Is it true that the ACC has been soliciting membership from Big East members Virginia Tech, BC, Miami and Syracuse to form a 12-team football conference? If so, what would the division look like, and wouldn't this destroy the Big East in football? What happens to the teams left behind? Secondly, would the Big Ten and Pac-10 follow suit to join the 12-team conference alignment? What teams would they get, and does Notre Dame finally join the Big Ten? Looks like the coming of something big in the future! PLAYOFFS!!!
-- Okinawa Marine, Monroe, Mich.

It took nine years, but that future is (mostly) here, Okinawa Marine. (I've long since stricken the use of pseudonyms in this space.)

Anyway, you get the idea. Have some fun with it. But also keep sending original questions germane to the present. And as always, remember: Concise, profanity-free e-mails that don't include the words "How do you think [Favorite Team] will do this season?" stand the best chance for publication.

Away we go.

Hey Stewart, I'm curious to see what you're more excited for next season: the slew of new Pac-12 coaches or the new layout of the SEC and Big 12?
-- Kyle C., Omaha

I'm certainly eager for the Pac-12 debuts of Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez and intrigued by the start of the Jim L. Mora era in Westwood. (I'd be lying if I said I'm counting down the days until Todd Graham leads ASU out of the tunnel.) Meanwhile, less than a year ago, I was pretty adamant that the SEC would rue the day it diluted a perfectly good product by adding two second-tier programs with limited national appeal. But Mike Slive's master plan must be working, because every time I look at the 2012 early-season schedule I find myself circling Sept. 8, when Georgia visits Missouri and Florida plays at Texas A&M. I can't wait. It makes absolutely no sense.

Maybe it's the fact that there have been far sillier geographic alignments since (like Boise in the Big East), or maybe I've just had more time to absorb the idea of Alabama playing a conference game in College Station. Whatever the case, I'm absolutely fascinated to see it all play out. As for the Big 12, I don't think I'll get the chills the first time Oklahoma visits Fort Worth or Morgantown, but how can you not be intrigued at the football side of it? Have you tried forecasting that conference's standings this season? It's impossible. The Sooners will inevitably go in as preseason favorites, but teams two through six -- Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State, TCU and West Virginia -- are virtually inseparable in my mind. That round-robin slate is going to be brutal, particularly for the defenses.

Some of the sizzle from these new conference lineups will likely fade once the teams start playing the games. I was there for Nebraska's first Big Ten game in Madison last October. After a month of buildup, the historic significance went out the window around the time Russell Wilson or Montee Ball scored their second or third touchdown each. Similarly, once the novelty wears off, I'm sure I will tune into a Missouri or A&M SEC game in October and think, "What was the point of this again?" I may well be steaming mad come Thanksgiving when I'm force-fed Texas-TCU instead of UT-A&M. But Georgia-Missouri? For some reason it can't get here soon enough.

After that I'll start watching Washington State games every week.

How is the Arkansas job viewed nationally? After watching what Bobby Petrino has done in the past four years, the U of A shouldn't have to settle for an up-and-comer, not to mention the new football complex and pending stadium renovation. Arkansas has the resources to compete with the best. Toss out some possible names you think would accept the challenge of becoming the next head coach of U of A. I don't consider John L. Smith a viable candidate due to his ties to Petrino.
-- Jamie Smith, Vilonia, Ark.

Arkansas should have little problem attracting a high-caliber coach, if for no other reason than this: Petrino was one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the country, making $3.5 million a season. Since the school did not have to pay Petrino a buyout, AD Jeff Long can presumably afford to throw a similar amount at the next guy. And plenty of candidates will look favorably upon a high-paying SEC head-coaching job at a program that's shown recently it can win at a high level.

Unfortunately, as of now, there's no Urban Meyer or Leach sitting there for the taking like there was last offseason. The best bets for currently unemployed coaches are Phillip Fulmer (who wouldn't excite the fan base), Butch Davis (scarred by UNC's infractions) and Mike Bellotti (who's shown minimal enthusiasm to date about returning to the sidelines). And because I'm no fan of hiring NFL coaches, I'm not going to bother throwing out the obligatory Jon Gruden reference. (Unfortunately, I just did.) I can't say for certain whether any of these sitting college head coaches would "accept the challenge," because they're pretty happy where they are, but Long should at least make a run at Gary Patterson, Chris Petersen and Art Briles. If Tommy Tuberville finally has a good season at Texas Tech he could work his way into the mix, as could native son Gus Malzahn if he has a great first season at Arkansas State.

I was in Boise recently and the local chatter was that with the BCS dropping the AQ concept and the apparent demise of the WAC, where Boise was playing all sports but football, the Broncos would stay in the Mountain West. The only thing keeping them in the Big East is television dollars. Is the new look Big East really going to get a much sweeter TV deal than the Mountain West? It seems the media markets are similar, as are the national reputations of the respective teams.|
-- Scott F., Portland, Ore.

I don't believe Boise will go back, but if it does, the issue of where to place its other sports will be a more pressing reason than AQ status. You may not believe it, but the Big East, even in its depleted state, will fetch a hefty payday when its TV contract comes up this fall. Television networks covet live sporting events because of the DVR factor, and the Big East stands to provide a lucky network or networks with a massive amount of inventory (with 12 teams in 2013), some very attractive television markets (Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Orlando) and an extremely popular multi-day event, the Big East basketball tournament. With multiple bidders (ESPN, Fox, NBC) likely to drive up the price, TV consultant Neal Pilson told the New York Times this week that the league could approach or exceed the ACC's $155 million annual deal with ABC/ESPN. Contrast that to the Mountain West, which is getting a measly $12 million a year from its current partners in a deal that's locked in through 2016.

But the issue with the other sports is a real concern. Even if the WAC manages to rebuild, it will probably rank among the lower tier of the 31 Division I conferences. The Mountain West is adamant that it will only take Boise back as an all-sports member. The Big West already passed on Boise once, taking San Diego State's strong basketball program instead. Presumably Boise will make another run at that league (which will discuss expansion again next week) but it doesn't have much to offer. The MWC may be its only appealing fallback. But with so much potential new Big East revenue on the table, I have to imagine Boise will find a way to make it work.

When are people going to realize that Lane Kiffin has only succeeded due to his father's presence? Without Monte Kiffin, Lane Kiffin would be unemployed like the rest of us.
-- Rob, Portland, Ore.

Did you send this e-mail in 2009 and it only now reached me?

USC's 10-2 team last season had a significantly higher-rated offense (21st) than defense (54th), and that's not likely to change this year with the presence of Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. If anything, one might argue it's the other way around.
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