B1G Uglies: 3 Hot Big Ten Topics
The B1G Uglies: 3 BIG TEN HOT TOPICS TO IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS
The B1G Uglies: 3 BIG TEN HOT TOPICS TO IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS
(i) Did the Big Ten get it right by selecting Bill O'Brien as coach of the year in the conference?
Absolutely not. Look, Bill O'Brien did a fine job considering the circumstances, but the Nittany Lions finished 8-4, second in the Leaders Division, and lost to very mediocre squads Ohio and Virginia coming out of the gate. I get that the stretch run was decent from the 0-2 start, but the body of work still falls WAY short of what Urban Meyer accomplished.
And here's the trump card: Urban Meyer went 12-0 in a year in which there was little to play for. Wait, Urban Meyer went 12-0, end of story, with no addendums needed. Let me say it again because somehow that doesn't seem to ring true to everyone. Ohio State did not lose a game this year--Penn State did. Urban Meyer coaches the Buckeyes, and Bill O'Brien coaches the Nittany Lions. I just wanted to make sure that everyone was clear on that in case there was confusion over which guy was coaching which fine institution.
Oh, and Spare me the--"yeah but O'Brien had to deal with...".-- mumbo-jumbo too. The entire Penn State team didn't defect and there is still more talent and experience on the roster in Happy Valley than eight or nine of the twelve teams in the league. I'd say 8-4 is about where the talent should have Bill O'Brien's squad in 2012. It's the further years when the scholarship restrictions start to hit that the slide really begins.
Truth be known, Meyer should be getting accolades nationally, not just in the conference. You know, because he coached an Ohio State team that went 12-0.
I am in agreement (shockingly so) with Phil on this one. They got it all wrong. It should be Urban Meyer. Look, I'm not trying to take anything away from Bill O'Brien (actually, I sort of am if you want to spin it that way), who did a fantastic job overcoming an unprecedented situation at Penn State in year one, and it pains me to say it because he's close to my New England Patriot heart, but the reality of the situation is that just like with USC (as Phil points out), PSU's sanctions and defections won't really show themselves heavily until a year or two down the road.
Meanwhile, Meyer returned much of a seven-loss football team on probation for a year and sold everyone the idea that they were still playing for something more grand, leading them with a completely new offensive-system that isn't always easy to pick up...to a 12-0 record. Not only the ability to keep guys motivated through knowing the end result being no bowl because of punishment, but doing it at an unbeaten clip? Meyer seemingly somehow keeps getting better with age.
Meyer and his staff's work this season is something that probably will never be duplicated, and when you think back to the later Jim Bollman offense to this one? It's a Travis Tritt love song to Rammstein single type of night and day. This was a gaffe, and one hard to understand considering both were on sanctions. Did you know Jim Tressel or John Cooper, for all his great seasons, never won one either? I mean, who's calling the shots in the heartland anyway?
As always, I love to be the voice of reason. Yes, the B1G got it right by selecting Bill O'Brien as the Coach of the Year.
I certainly understand why many people believe that Urban Meyer should have won this award. After all, he led the Buckeyes to a perfect record in his first season, doubling the win total from a year ago. However, Meyer inherited a roster that was loaded with talent, so his early success at OSU wasn't really a surprise.
On other hand, Bill O'Brien walked into a much tougher situation. Shortly before the season started, the NCAA issued a "coma-sentence" to the program causing some of its top performers – including leading rusher Silas Redd and top receiver Justin Brown – to leave Happy Valley. Rather than complain about all of the defections, O'Brien made the most of the talent that remained on campus, and led the Nittany Lions to solid 8-4 record.
Given that O'Brien had to overcome more obstacles than Meyer, it's only fitting that he receive Coach of the Year honors.
(ii) Is there hope for the Big Ten to save face this bowl season?
Hold on. Let me grab another vodka and tonic....okay, we're good now. Sure they can!
The prevailing theory is that the B1G was so awful in the out-of-conference season and in a very Big East style, put a five-loss champion in a BCS game, thus they have no hope. But football is often about matchups, and the B1G got a few plum ones. For instance, Texas Tech is in total upheaval again, and is a stout passing team, but Minnesota, unbeknownst to most, has a top 20 national pass defense. If nothing else, they should be able to keep it close.
Then you look at Michigan State versus TCU. Both struggle miserably on offense, but Sparty's defense is plenty better. As far as Northwestern vs. Mississippi State go, the Bulldogs haven't beaten anyone with a pulse all year. If the ‘Cats can find a way to not choke it away, they should be in position to take that game.
Lastly, Michigan vs. South Carolina are similar, very. Michigan has a higher ranked national-defense and a much more dynamic quarterback and offense when it puts its mind to it. South Carolina hasn't been the same since losing Marcus Lattimore, and that could be a win for the blue.
At this point, the bar is so low, that should be "saving face." The B1G is the guy who talks himself down to his date, so by the time she ends up getting dropped off at the door she thinks "huh, that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it'd be. Maybe I'll give him another shot." There's Jim Delany's best hope.
Sorry to be the voice of gloom and doom, but the Big Ten will not redeem itself this bowl season.
A careful examination of the matchups will bear this out. The B1G is an underdog in all seven of its games, and a double-digit dog in three of them. Since six of these contests are against either the Big 12 or the SEC – the two strongest conferences in the land – the odds are against the Big Ten posting a winning record in bowl games this year.
That's simply not going to get the job done. Unless the Big Ten can earn a split on New Year's Day, it won't receive the same level of respect as the other power conferences.
Terry, you party-poo-pooer. Whether the league does it or not remains to be seen, but it certainly has a shot (hey some of us live with optimism here in the Uglies garage). You shouldn't be ready to write off Wisconsin against Stanford because the Badgers match up well with the brand of ball that "the tree" will be producing. That would obviously be a statement game if a third-place divisional team could beat the Pac-12 champ.
In addition to that, there are your customary Big Ten vs. SEC matchups with Michigan vs. South Carolina in the Outback, Nebraska vs. Georgia in the Capital One, and Northwestern vs. Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Of course, none of us need to tell you that practically ANY win against the SEC will go miles towards bonus rewards these days--so there's that.
Then of course there are the other teams like Purdue and Michigan State that underachieved in 2012 and have a shot to make some fool's hay against teams that are more beatable. And since everyone and their mother's step-cousin-in-law will use the conference records in the bowl games as proof of galactic domination, then padding the win total won't be a bad thing.
Of course, just like there is the possibility of saving face, there is also the hot-mess that would ensue from the conference teams tripping all over themselves on national television--again. As if the Big Ten needs that. Keep your eyes, fingers, and toes crossed Jim Delany.
(iii) What does the loss of Bret Bielema mean for Wisconsin?
As Atlanta Falcons' head coach Mike Smith would say, "Next man up".
Believe it or not, Wisconsin will be just fine without Bret Bielema. Sure, he guided the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls, but it was Barry Alvarez who turned Wisconsin into the consistent winner that it is today. Given that Alvarez alone will conduct the search for the next Badger head coach, it's safe to say that he'll find someone that's every bit as good as Bielema – if not better.
Regardless of who takes the reins next year, expect Wisconsin's trend of excellence to continue. After all, over the last ten years (2003-2012), the Badgers have more conference wins (49) than everyone but Ohio State. They also return a talented roster loaded with NFL-caliber talent, including Travis Frederick, Chris Borland, and Jacob Pederson.
That's right. It's more of a slap in the face than a cause to believe the program will go to the dogs. Terry said it best--Alvarez got the program to be a big-time winner, and that culture isn't going anywhere soon. The Badgers will still get the same players, and with Alvarez there, you can bet a coach with similar philosophies will back the U-Haul up to a luxurious home in Madison soon.
Instead, what the thief-in-the-night, shot-gun wedding departure of Bielema did, was leave the Badger administration and fans with morning breath with the thought that the program isn't good enough to keep a head coach from jumping to a mediocre SEC program. That's simply not true, but it does tell you that there is still a misconception about what kind of program Wisconsin is. Despite being the best program in the Big Ten over the last three years, despite going to three straight Rose Bowls, and despite winning three straight Big Ten Championships, Bielema still jumped, and all of the SEC laughed...
At the end of the day though, Badger fans shouldn't be too worried once they can get past the initial shock of the program being used as a stepping stone to quicksand.
I lean more on the side of my cohorts there, and if the cliche that no one person is bigger than the program is true, certainly Bret Bielema isn't changing that. The hilarity of the entire situation still hasn't worn off. Bielema writes Jeff Long a letter about integrity when he fires Bobby Petrino, then he leaves his team at the altar holding the bouquet of roses.
Bielema as late as last year clowned the SEC by saying that he didn't want the B1G to become the SEC. Benedict Bielema. Bielema--also in that rant--chided Urban Meyer for his "gentleman's agreement" violation of recruiting in the B1G. If there's an agreement down there, it's written in pencil, already has been voided by everyone, and something on the document is probably spelled wrong. Good luck, Bret.
Honestly, Wisconsin will be fine. In true Bo Schembechler-Bill Frieder mode, Barry Alvarez basically said that a Wisconsin Man would coach the Rose Bowl, and that was he. Alvarez is routinely known around the sport as one of the last really good guys, running a program with utmost integrity.
There aren't many of those left, but there are guys out there who want to work for someone like that. Alvarez will find someone who hopefully bleeds Badger colors and won't turn coat at an opportunity out of town, then leaving parting shots to the school and fans. This is a critical next hire and the Badgers could learn from what happened in Ann Arbor. Michigan reached years ago, not used to hiring new coaches, and went outside the family. Then a messy divorce ensued.
Wisconsin needs to find someone young, talented, and loyal. And they will. And they'll be competing for Rose Bowl's soon.
Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, Bart @Bart_CFN, and Terry @TPJCollFootball