December 18, 2009

Mailbag: Where does Big Ten turn?

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The 11-member Big Ten is pondering expansion to 12 schools.

If that happens, there will be significant changes in scheduling, championship format and maybe even the conference's name.

If the Big Ten does indeed expand, the aftershocks could be felt across the country - and most likely in the East.

Further explanation and speculation can be found in this week's mailbag.

Big Ten plans
What do you think of the Big Ten's plans to expand? Who do you think the top candidates will be? If they add a Big East or Big 12 member, what are the likely ripple effects?
Josh
Nashville, Tenn.

Big Ten expansion could be the Big East's worst nightmare. But that's not the Big Ten's problem.

I think the Big Ten would be wise to add a 12th member. That way, the league could add a conference championship game and enhance the chances of getting a team in the BCS national championship game.

True, Ohio State played for the national championship as recently as 2007, but that was a fluke because one-loss teams Missouri and West Virginia were upset in the final games before the BCS pairings were set and there were no other teams from Big Six conferences with fewer than two losses.

Although Texas, which barely escaped Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game, obviously would argue, a championship game provides a contender one more chance to impress BCS voters. And, frankly, with the poor - and perhaps unfair - reputation Big Ten football has these days, the conference needs every chance it can get to make a good impression.

But what team would the Big Ten approach for membership? Obviously, Notre Dame is on the wish list, but it's only a wish. The Irish turned down a Big Ten invitation in 1999, and earlier this week, Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Notre Dame wasn't interested in giving up its independent status in football.

Who can blame them? Why split revenues 12 ways when you can keep the whole pie for yourself?

Missouri often has been mentioned as a possible target for the Big Ten, although I'm not sure why it would want to leave the Big 12, where it has longtime rivals such as Nebraska and Kansas.

If Missouri did leave? The Big 12 would have to scramble to find another team, and the guess here is the league would try to lure Arkansas from the SEC. Despite the geographic advantages, that probably would fail.

The SEC is a glamorous conference, so why would Arkansas want to leave? If the overture to Arkansas failed - and it probably would - the next target might be TCU. But why add another private school in a state the Big 12 already owns?

Perhaps the Big 12 would make a run at Utah or Colorado State.

That's probably not a big concern for the Big 12, though. Again, why should Missouri leave the conference?

The Big East should be sweating out the possibility of another raid. Pittsburgh would seem the most obvious fit (providing Penn State didn't object too vehemently). Syracuse and Rutgers also could be candidates.

Adding one of those teams would be a great boost for the Big Ten and could potentially cripple the Big East.

That conference was weakened considerably when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College bolted for the ACC a few years ago. Losing one of its few remaining marquee teams would compromise the Big East's image even more. How could the Big East retain its status as an automatic qualifier for a BCS bowl with just seven teams?

It could be worse. What if Arkansas did accept a Big 12 invitation? The SEC would need another team and likely would go after Clemson or Florida State. Then, the ACC would need a replacement.

Hmmm ... what program out there has had football success, a decent football name and a respectable basketball program, which is a must for the hoops-loving ACC? That sounds a lot like Louisville, doesn't it?

Frankly, if the Big East loses another team, it should approach Notre Dame, which is already a basketball member, and agree that the Irish wouldn't have to share its television revenue for home games with the other conference members and perhaps provide other incentives.

That doesn't seem fair, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Make no mistake, a seven- or six-team Big East would be desperate. And if it can figure out a way to get around its glut of basketball teams, the Big East might even consider trying to expand to a 12-team football league so it, too, can stage a conference championship game.

Maybe the Big Ten will decide that 11 members are enough. Big East officials hope so.


How many losses?
If Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez doesn't get the Wolverines back on track next season, do you think that he will be fired?
Matt
Ann Arbor, Mich.

The feeling here is that every coach deserves four years. That way, he can have seniors and juniors on the depth chart that were recruited for his system.

That said, it's obvious some programs have higher expectations, greater demands and more advantages than others. Michigan clearly is one of those programs.

Just this decade, losing seasons in the first three years on the job resulted in dismissals for Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville, Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss, Buddy Teevens at Stanford and Chuck Long at San Diego State. And none of those programs are nearly as demanding as Michigan.

Heck, Florida fired Ron Zook after three consecutive winning records.

Maybe Michigan's administration will agree with my opinion that every coach deserves four years to get his program established. But Rodriguez had better not count on that.

He needs to win next season. He might even need eight wins.


Allegiance available
I went to Oregon. The parental units are Illini and Buckeyes fans. What am I going to do?
Mike
Portland, Ore.

The Good Book says honor your parents, so be respectful.

Your Illinois parent has had enough pain already. And your Buckeyes parent has had to endure so much lately, with three consecutive BCS bowl losses and the national misconception that Ohio State no longer is an elite program.

Although the Buckeyes' defense is exceptional, I have to believe it will have difficulty containing Oregon's running game, which ranks sixth in the nation. The Ducks have scored at least 40 points in each of their past six games. They've beaten two teams - USC and Purdue - that beat Ohio State.

I wouldn't be surprised if Oregon wins by at least 10 points.

If that happens, be a gracious winner. Remember, college football success often is cyclical. In a year or two, roles could be reversed.

Besides, you don't want risk your inheritance.


Assistant tryout?
If Rodney Garner shows a good defensive game plan against Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl, should be considered a candidate for the defensive coordinator job at Georgia?
Joe
Evans, Ga.

Why not?

A&M is the fourth team Georgia will play that ranks among the nation's top 15 in scoring offense. Against the other three, Georgia allowed 41 points to Arkansas, 41 to Florida and 24 to Georgia Tech.

Though woefully inconsistent this season, A&M has a dangerous offense. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson has passed for 3,217 yards and 28 touchdowns. The Aggies have five players with more than 30 receptions. Running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray each rushed for more than 750 yards.

When A&M rolled up 39 points against Texas on Thanksgiving Day, it marked the ninth time this season the Aggies exceeded 30 points. Only 10 FBS teams did that.

The Aggies were shut down in a 65-10 loss to Oklahoma and gained a little more than 300 yards in a turnover-plagued 62-14 loss to Kansas State. But in a 56-19 loss to Arkansas, they still accumulated 458 yards of offense.

A&M can score. If Garner devises a way to stifle the Aggies' offense, he should at least merit some consideration for the defensive coordinator position.

Georgia is an attractive place to coach football, so there won't be a shortage of able candidates interested in that position. But coach Mark Richt probably already has a successor for ousted Willie Martinez in mind.

Maybe Garner is it.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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