- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
We'll take the WAC over the SWC, even if some of its schools seem to recruit from the cast of I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. Was any game better than last season's Holiday Bowl, in which BYU Quarterback Jim McMahon—holder of 34 NCAA offensive records—brought the Cougars back from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat SMU 46-45?
Now, the Big Ten has inspired volumes of jokes since Michigan and Ohio State took it over in the late '60s and proceeded to lose 10 of 12 Rose Bowls to the Pac-10 (Pac-8 before 1978). But last year was a Big One for the Big Ten. Kowalski vs. Kowalski might make a good title for a Brando movie, but it doesn't describe the Big Ten any more than "Big Two, Little Eight" once did. Maybe the Big Ten used to resemble a cattle drive; now it's more diversified. Michigan's Anthony Carter was catching passes; Purdue's Mark Herrmann, Ohio State's Art Schlichter and Illinois' Dave Wilson were throwing them. And Michigan won the Rose Bowl! Purdue won the Liberty Bowl! O.K., Ohio State lost the Fiesta Bowl, but all three teams ended up in the Top 20. Outside its conference, the Big Ten went 12-18-1, not too good. Thirteen of those games were against teams that wound up in the Top 20. No other conference had as tough an outside schedule. Too bad the Big Ten lost 12 straight before breaking through in the Rose Bowl or we would be making an even stronger case for the rise of the Big Ten here. As it is, despite the long Rose Bowl drought, the Big Ten has represented itself a little better in bowls the last three years, going 5-5.
Among conferences committed to a major bowl, Oklahoma—that is, the Big Eight—has been as good as anyone over the past three years. Yes, Oklahoma, with quarterbacks like the bandannaed Thomas Lott and wispy J.C. Watts, has won three straight Orange Bowls. So what? In the last two, it-beat overrated Florida State teams, and before that it beat its own clone, Nebraska. The fact is that Big Eight football is as exciting as the geography of the land the conference spans. The Big Ten finally got smart and added the forward pass to its football, and now we like it. So how come Big Eight quarterbacks always seem to be drafted into the pros as defensive backs? Last year the Big Eight went 2-2 against the SEC, 0-2 against the SWC and 0-3-1 against the Pac-10. Oklahoma, 10-2, lost to Stanford, which went 3-4 in conference, 3-1 outside. Against "others," the Big Eight won nine of 12. Bully, bully.
So finally we come to the Pac-10, where the power I was invented, the conference that brought us Billy Kilmer, Dan Fouts, Jim Plunkett and, of course, those USC tailbacks from Garrett to O.J. to Charlie White. Forget about Notre Dame. What we're talking about here is the prototypical American red-blooded golden-boy football players, such as Stanford Quarterback John Elway, who has the looks of a movie star and gives Academy Award performances in game films. Perhaps it is because life is so laid back on the Coast that multidimensional football has been able to flourish there, while elsewhere in the country bone busting and tooth gnashing have become more the order of the game. Perhaps life is too laid back, and that's why five Pac-10 schools were nailed for eligibility-cheating last year—by the conference's presidents and chancellors, it should be noted—and banned from postseason play. The rest of the nation was lucky. The Pac-10 went 21-15-1 outside its conference—7-3 versus the Big Ten, 5-4 against major independents and 4-4 against Top 20 teams.
As good a way as any to determine the best conference is to look at the 1980 NFL rosters. The Super Bowl-champion Oakland Raiders listed eight players from the Pac-10. By contrast, New Orleans, the league's worst team, had 11 from the Big Eight. Overall, the Pac-10 had 140 players on NFL rosters, followed by the Big Eight with 132, the SEC with 102, the Big Ten with 96 and the SWC with 90. In the 1981 rookie draft, the Pac-10 led the way again with 42 players chosen, to 32 from runner-up Big Eight.
Of course, you Tuscaloosans and Texans, you Athenians from Georgia, Nor-maniacs from Oklahoma and Michiguanas from Ann Arbor—and, yes, you effete Ivy snobs—may all disagree. You may not give a hoot for the NFL, Robert Redford or dancing bears. You want to like your conference, go ahead. We admit it—we liked the Pac-10 even before this whole exercise began. Prejudice is where it's at, anyway.
As Herr Doktor Professor Hermann Rorschach might put it, "Wer bezahlt, hat die Wahl."
Which means, of course, "You pays your money, you takes your choice."