The B1G Uglies: 3 Offseason Questions
Each week during the offseason, Phil Harrison, Bart Doan, and Terry Johnson discuss three hot topics on the minds of Big Ten football fans. It's three guys with three opinions that could change the course of human history--or at least add some clarity to football being played in the Midwest. It's the weekly B1G Uglies roundtable.
The B1G Uglies: 3 Questions--National Signing Day edition
(i) Is it a good move for the Conference to no longer play FCS opponents?
Absolutely. Look, we all understand the necessity of having an extra home game to fund today's big- budget college athletics, but with the new playoff model coming, a game against an FCS opponent is like a dried up well--its muddy and you get nothing out of it. Win, and it's as expected, lose--or play a close game--and the court of public opinion holds the gavel up ready to strike.
No, instead, by eliminating the FCS opponent, at least a loss will be excusable, and a win would be against a team not perceived to be from the morgue. That means more competitive games, and maybe, just maybe, more big-time intersectional matchups to get us all in a frenzy going forward.
Of course for the Big Ten, it also means one thing for the Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry. Michigan lost to Appalachian State, an FCS school. There won't be a chance for that to happen for OSU now, so you can bet that little nugget will be used in many Big Ten bar fights across the country.
Hey, take it easy on Michigan. When asked about it after this announcement, sliced bread said, "This is obviously the greatest thing since me." What a fantastic move, and one other conferences should follow. Games against FCS opponents are terrible for college football, a sport where scheduling tough games away from your region is starting to go the way of the dodo bird. Finally, someone steps up to start to put an end to 50 point beatings of teams that in no way contribute to learning about a team.
Ever since the NCAA allowed a 12th game and decreed that one game vs FCS opponents could count towards bowl eligibility if the game is won , it's been a free-for-all, increasing yearly. Used to be one every four years counted.
The chief argument I've heard against this is that the FCS programs depend on those massive payouts to get slaughtered to keep their programs running. Whatever. FCS programs existed well before they started playing FBS teams with regularity. On top of that, the vast majority of FBS programs operate in the red, so not having that payout to dish out might help. And since when is it an FBS team's job to keep smaller programs afloat? They're not the federal government (zing).
This will only lead to more games against better competition, potentially more games against high- level mid majors, and the betterment of college football's chief problem: scheduling inequality. Now, if they can just get some of the other conferences to get their heads out of the sand and jump on board. That will be decidedly more difficult.
It's not just a good move: it's a great move. It's such a wise decision that Commissioner Delany should challenge the other major conferences to follow suit.
Phil hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that teams in the Big Ten have nothing to gain by playing against an FCS opponent. After all, strength of schedule will be a factor for the selection committee to consider when the four-team playoff debuts in 2014. Without a couple of marquee wins in the non-league schedule, the committee might be tempted to place the runner-up from the SEC or Big 12 – who have more depth from top to bottom – in the field over a B1G champ with a couple of losses.
In other words, the Big Ten needs to beef up its non-conference schedule if it wants to play for a crystal football. Eliminating games against FCS opponents is an excellent first step.
(ii) What do you make of news that the conference could go to a nine or ten-game conference schedule once Rutgers and Maryland join?
I like it. Granted, it's sort of like bringing a case of Coors Original to a baby shower...at face value it looks like a terrible idea, but deep inside there are a lot of people who really appreciate it, whether they say it or not. Here's the rub: along with the aforementioned FCS scheduling banned, this inherently makes it more difficult for the conference. Not only are they playing fewer yawners out of conference, now there's less of a chance that the teams miss one another, giving even better opportunity for a "true" champion as the B1G has been criticized for not having in the past. So it's a win. We get more high-level games that mean something, and we learn about how teams match up, which is a good thing.
Bad thing for the conference? They can't "SEC-ify" their schedules, securing that the elite teams always manage to miss one another it seems in the regular season. That leads to higher rankings for more teams in the conference. But the bottom line is, any time we're moving closer and closer to more high-level football games on Saturdays and fewer 63-7 curb stompings, the better off we, the college football fans are.
Sorry, Big Ten fans, the nine or ten-game conference schedule is a terrible idea.
Let's be honest: the league isn't as strong as it's been in the past, and the additions of Rutgers and Maryland certainly won't make it tougher anytime soon. As I mentioned above, the B1G needs to play against better competition if it wants to contend for a national championship. Adding an extra league tilt (or two) will make it virtually impossible for athletic directors to schedule seven home games AND play against top-flight opponents. Whenever there's a conflict between the two, money will win every single time.
In other words, more conference games means more contests against MAC opponents and even fewer tilts against the SEC, Big 12, and Pac 12.
That's not going to earn a shot at a crystal football!
Well we have a mixed bowl of jelly so far don't we? Rather than ask whether we like it or not, it probably makes more sense to ask whether it is needed or not. And when you go to fourteen teams, you almost have to go to nine or ten games to (as Bart points out), determine a true champion. Otherwise, you're going to have even more teams missing each other than what we have now, and we get a watered down league championship game.
I say move it to ten games with the collective understanding that the two remaining games left on the schedule need to be done against quality competition. If we can't get buy in from all of the conferences suits, then go to nine and allow for one "soft" schedule opponent. All in all though, it almost has to be done, but the fear has to be there that Big Ten teams won't schedule anyone outside of the conference, ala the SEC. Still, with the playoff selection committee coming, you have to believe that'll self-police itself or be scorned.
(iii) Is the Big Ten really lining up to be Michigan and Ohio State, and then everyone else?
While many people think that the B1G is turning into Ohio State, Michigan, and the ten (soon to be twelve) dwarfs, it's not going to end up that way.
Make no mistake about it: these two schools have dominated the Big Ten throughout the league's storied history. Michigan (42) and Ohio State (34) rank first and second in conference championships, way ahead of third place Minnesota (18). Given that each team fielded a top 5 recruiting class, both schools will be heavily favored to win their respective divisions this fall.
However, recent history suggests that the B1G is anything but a two-man show. Remember, Wisconsin has won the last three conference championships. Michigan State won a share of the Big Ten title in 2010, finishing in the Top 10 in total defense in each of the last two seasons. And thanks to a 23-9 defeat over the Wolverines last season, Nebraska earned a berth in the conference championship game.
In other words, the three schools listed above – not Ohio State or Michigan – are the only ones that have made it to Indianapolis.
Let's wait until the Buckeyes and Wolverines appear in the B1G title game in back-to-back years before elevating them above everyone else in the conference.
It's beginning to appear that way with the recruiting, but we have to remember that teams like Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State rarely find their ways to the top of the recruiting lists anyhow. And they have done just fine over the last dozen years or so.
Historical numbers will tell a story that OSU and Michigan have dominated the Big Ten, but that would be like saying putting your money under a mattress is the safest way to save money. The time's change, and this conference--and college football for that matter--is no longer the same dinosaur it once was. There is more parity and more innovation to level the playing field.
Wisconsin and Nebraska has been just fine thank you in recent history, and they'll both still be strapping their helmets on going forward. We'll also see teams like Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue and others rise above from time to time and surprise.
The B1G can only hope. Look, before you drop the "elitist college football guy" gavel, understand that this is a conference that has been dominated...not "small advantage here or there,"...dominated by Michigan and Ohio State.
The two schools account for 76 total championships whereas the remainder of the conference and Chicago (no longer a member, obviously) account for 93. That means two schools account for 45 percent of the total awarded championships as recognized. So if the B1G could set it up that those two somehow could play one another in back to back weeks for the title, I'm sure they would. But reality sort of has to play a part in this, and hardly can the B1G set up something deemed by others to be nefarious when again, these teams meet the final week of the season.
Most of the smoke surrounding division changes that are more along geographic lines have centered around putting Michigan and OSU in the same division. That would apparently be a sigh of relief to those who really believe rubbish that it'd be unfair for Michigan and OSU to be set up to dominate a conference that...it has dominated anyway over the course of history. It would be better if one of or both of those teams were in the title game, but sports doesn't always deal with the best return on investment when it vets out who plays for a title and who doesn't. So take out the X-Files DVD and go get some fresh air. The B1G isn't out to get everyone else.
Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN, Bart @Bart_CFN, and Terry @TPJCollFootball