Tag Archives: cincinnati

2016 is the Year of Butch Jones and the Vols

It’s been 3 years since Tennessee bought out Butch Jones’ contract with Cincinnati. Three years of top 15 recruiting classes, three years of improving records from 5-7, to 7-6, to 9-4. Three years of preseason hype followed by losses that make fans’ hopes rise, but hearts break. There was that Pig Howard fumble at the goal line for a 31-34 loss to Georgia in overtime in 2013, those consecutive losses to Florida and Georgia by a combined four points in 2014, and every loss in 2015, which consisted of a double-overtime loss to #19 Oklahoma, a one-point loss to Florida, a four-point loss to Arkansas, and a five-point loss to the eventual national champions, Alabama. After three years of work, he has the recruiting classes, he has the experienced players, he has the Power Five conference football program, and he even has the not-so-formidable schedule to help him out. Only one real question remains about Butch Jones as a head coach, and it is now set to be answered this year. How far can Butch Jones take the Tennessee football program?

Can Butch Jones end the 9-year losing streak against Tennessee’s arch-rival Alabama?

That game will be played at Neyland Stadium, in front of their passionate fan base. Barring injury, they’ll have the senior quarterback, Joshua Dobbs with 24 starts under his belt, against a quarterback yet to be determined by Nick Saban and the staff who will have a total of six options. Tennessee’s defensive line of juniors and seniors will be playing against Alabama’s offensive line of sophomores and freshmen. Again, barring injury, almost every player that starts for Tennessee will have played in that five-point loss to Alabama last year. Alabama still has its vaunted defense, running back Bo Scarborough, and some of the best coaching in the nation, but if everything holds through the first six games, there has been no better opportunity for Tennessee to defeat Alabama in the nine years since it last did so.

Can he win an SEC Championship and make the CFB Playoffs?

If he can defeat Alabama, the road to the SEC Championship is one of the least formidable in the SEC. Non-conference home games against Appalachian State and Ohio, as well as a neutral site game at Bristol Motor Speedway against Virginia Tech, give them a manageable 3-0 record out of the gate.  The only real threat to that will be Virginia Tech, who’s coming off a 7-6 season and still trying to find a starting quarterback.

The next four games will determine the path of their season, at home against Florida, at Georgia, at Texas A&M, and at home against Alabama. Florida will be a difficult game against a tough defense, but they’re also looking for a quarterback (none of their quarterbacks have ever thrown a pass for Florida), and the game will be played at Neyland. Georgia will be their first difficult road game, but they will be facing a new head coach, Kirby Smart. Georgia is also young on offense but very talented and has a quarterback that won ten games last year in Greyson Lambert. Georgia is very experienced in the secondary on defense, and Smart is a defensive coach. This game will be a grind and a test for Tennessee.  the road game against Texas A&M will be their “trap game,” with a quarterback in Trevor Knight who went 11-4 last year at Oklahoma, and a coach fighting to keep his job in the midst of off-the-field drama in Kevin Sumlin. Alabama has already been discussed above.

All four of those will be tough games, but after them, Tennessee has the easiest four game schedule a team could compile in the SEC, and an FCS school they will soundly defeat. Ending the year at South Carolina, at home against Tennessee Tech, at home against Kentucky, at home against Missouri, and finishing off at Vanderbilt is a schedule that even Cincinnati, the program he left, could reasonably go undefeated against. Mark my words, if Tennessee is 7-0 on October 16, 2016, they will go undefeated through the regular season. Those middle four games will be tough, and I expect them to at least be 3-1 in the Florida, Georgia, A&M, Alabama matchups, but could there be an easier route to the SEC Championship? If he gets there and wins, it’s a virtual guarantee Tennessee will be in the CFB Playoffs… How far can they go? Every piece is in place for Butch Jones to answer the question every Tennessee fan is asking, “How far can Butch Jones take this program?”

So Tennessee fans, as you sit at #10 on the recently released Amway College Top 25 Coaches Poll, kick back and enjoy. You’re about to see the full potential of what your athletic director Dave Hart bought out of Cincinnati 3 years ago. Whether Tennessee has the next great coach in the SEC, or just one in the series of coaches trying to bring the “Power T” back to prominence, everything is in now in place.  You will know which of these he is at the end of this year, which is why, for Tennessee fans I would call it, “The Year of Butch Jones.”

Photo courtesy of Jason Yellin.

The Big 12 is Talking about Expansion Again

Over the course of an eight hour period, the Big 12 conference went from placing expansion on hold to being all in with expansion. The only thing that seemed to have changed within that eight hour window was that the ACC announced their mega media rights deal.

But in its reactionary mindset, the Big 12 now has expansion back on the table.

If you want numbers, Clay Travis has you covered in one of his recent Outkick The Coverage articles. If it’s an opinion on what the hell the Big 12 and these teams are thinking, then hang on and fasten your seatbelts.

Commissioner Bowlsby announced that the league will add two or four teams to the league. Saying that the league announced this is an understatement. It’s more like Texas decided that it was time to expand the conference because they figured out a way of screwing everyone.

So who are the teams being considered for membership in the Big 12 as Texas’ newest peons? The teams include Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida, Connecticut, Colorado State, Houston and BYU.

First of all, let me say this – Adding teams to the conference makes absolutely zero sense.

Sure, the conference will increase its market share and the geographic footprint that seems to be so important to them, but adding teams to the conference will not add value to the league. I’m sorry/not sorry for bursting the bubbles of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida, Connecticut, Colorado State, Houston and BYU, but you add no real value here.

The allure of adding any of these teams is so the Big 12 can give the impression that their footprint is larger than the SEC’s. Hey Big 12! Your Napoleon Complex is showing.

And how about Houston and BYU? These are the schools truly vying for the affection of Texas. Surprise, surprise, Texas is at the forefront of this reality dating show. Just who will Texas give its rose to? Tune in next week to find out!

The Longhorns already have the governors of Texas and Utah lobbying for their vote.

Governor Greg Abbott started his wooing campaign on Twitter:

 

And not to be out done, so did Governor Gary Herbert:

 

This is all so cute. Houston and BYU are bickering over who gets to be the first to join the dysfunctional family that is the Big 12.

And all for what? To be short changed at the bank? These schools are willing to settle for less as opposed to staying where they are at. Way to sell yourselves short.

Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida, Connecticut, Colorado State, Houston and BYU have all had their share of success where they are at. No, none of these teams have made a football playoff appearance, but joining the Big 12 wouldn’t have changed that.

As good as Memphis, Houston and BYU in particular have been, they still wouldn’t have sniffed a Big 12 championship and, as a result, wouldn’t have come any closer to a college football playoff appearance.  They are now begging to join a conference that will place them at a financial disadvantage to the other conference members while still not truly being in contention for a football national championship. What are they thinking? Being a member of a Power 5 school for the sake of Power 5 membership is incredibly shortsighted.

Conference expansion makes no sense for the Big 12 or for the teams who are positioning themselves for an invitation. But if the Big 12 stays true to form, all of this expansion talk will evaporate in a few weeks and the conference will go back to figuring out how to make a conference championship work with a 10 team league.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

Photo: Twitter

Brian Kelly Has Returned Notre Dame to Relevance

Whether people have realized it or not, times have changed throughout College Football over the past decade.

Change has been seen at many places.

Conferences have significantly been realigned, rivalries have been lost, and the scene just isn’t what it once was.

Notre Dame fans should be especially thankful for that.

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Looking into the rearview mirror, Notre Dame was a struggling program, teetering on becoming irrelevant in the minds of many college football fans. A 3-9 season in 2007, followed by two, 6-loss seasons, certainly did not help that notion portrayed by the national media.

In fact, it was true.

There are many people that disagree with me, tossing out that Notre Dame can never be irrelevant. For a long time, I was one of those people.

Looking back, Notre Dame was irrelevant; there are no two ways around it. Winning a total of 16 games in three years is not relevant, definitely not by Notre Dame’s higher standard of relevance. Charlie Weis took the program to a place where not many people ever thought it would go, and some people desperately wanted it to be.

Completely irrelevant.

Enter Brian Kelly

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While Notre Dame was tumbling down from the top of the college football ranks, Current Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly was taking programs such as Central Michigan and Cincinnati places where they never thought they would be. Kelly led CMU to a Mid-American Conference crown and was then in charge of a Cincinnati team that reached back-to-back BCS Bowl games. His next accomplishment might be more impressive than the previous two, because it was one that no one ever thought would be needed.

Kelly was tasked with returning Notre Dame to relevance.

After taking the job in December of 2009, he was up to the task. Things were not always as smooth as one would hope, but Kelly was able to get the Fighting Irish to the eight win mark in his first year at the school, and has not had a season with less than eight wins since.

At times, Kelly has not been a fan favorite due to his aggressive, ‘in your face’ coaching style towards his players. Over the past couple of seasons he has toned that down, and he is no longer known for his bright red face on the sidelines. People need to start recognizing Kelly for his accomplishments instead of a few downfalls early on.

It’s easy to scrutinize a coach that is in the spotlight every week, as the coach at Notre Dame is, no matter who it happens to be. With this being the case, I do think Kelly deserves more credit than he has gotten. In all of his years coaching, I would argue that no matter how the rest of the season turns out, this is the best coaching job of his career, and any coach in the country.

Taking a look around the country, how many coaches would have a team fighting for a playoff spot without their starting QB or their backup QB? A very limited number of names come to mind. Add in the fact that Notre Dame also lost their starting running back, backup running back, and at times their third string running back has been out with injuries. Even fewer names come to mind when thinking of coaches that would be successful in this situation. The success here is a testament to the depth that Kelly has built through recruiting.

Going back to 2012, the season was magical but the team was missing depth. An injury in most spots would have cost that team the season, not anymore. Notre Dame now has just as much depth as anyone in the country.

Kelly has accomplished quite a few things, including leading Notre Dame to a BCS National Championship appearance, multiple bowl wins, the best winning percentage in South Bend since Lou Holtz, and having the current edition of Notre Dame right in the playoff mix.

His most impressive accomplishment while at Notre Dame?

Brian Kelly has Notre Dame undeniably relevant again.

Record Performance for Elliott, OSU Offense Bails Out Secondary

Following a 50-28 shootout victory over Cincinnati, Ezekiel Elliott is officially the starting running back for Ohio State. With 27 combined carries through the first three games of the season, Elliot surpassed that total against Cincinnati alone. He rushed 28 times for 182 yards and a touchdown. Elliott also made five receptions for 51 yards to give him 233 all-purpose yards. What was most impressive about Elliott’s rushing performance was over 100 of his yards on the ground occurred after initial contact. His 182-yard performance was the most in a non-conference game for the Buckeyes since Maurice Clarett rushed for 230 yards against Washington State in 2002.elliott

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 I don’t know what it is but there seems to be something special about No. 16 playing quarterback for Ohio State. Through the first four games of his career and just like former quarterback Craig Krenzel, J.T. Barrett seems to make the right play at the right time, especially with his legs. Barrett finished 26/36 for 330 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 14 carries for 79 yards and picked up many first downs with his shiftiness when it looked like nothing was there, something Krenzel was known for.
Barrett conducted an offense that could not be contained by a porous Cincinnati defense. The Buckeyes set a school-record with 45 first downs, which ties them with Texas Tech for the FBS record. The Red Raiders also had 45 first downs against Iowa State in 2003. If it were not for a botched snap that sailed over the head of backup quarterback Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes would have also set a school-record for total yards. Ohio State finished with 710 yards of total offense, which was the most since the Buckeyes gained 715 yards against Utah in 1986.
Since head coach Urban Meyer took over in 2012, the offense has not been a problem, especially against bad defenses. Even in a 22-point victory, the big plays that the defense continues to surrender cannot be ignored.
chrismoorecincyCincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel connected with receiver Chris Moore for a 60-yard touchdown pass just 1:34 into the game to give the Bearcats the early 7-0 lead. Kiel also found Moore for an 83-yard touchdown just before halftime and again for a 78-yard score early in the third quarter to cut what was a 30-7 OSU lead to 33-28. Moore came into Ohio Stadium with three receptions for 35 yards to go along with a pair of touchdowns. Moore left the Horseshoe with three catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeye secondary.
Are you kidding me? It’s so easy to say that if you take away those three plays, the defense played great. The problem is you can’t take those plays away. They are a part of the game and it’s back to the drawing board for co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash and the coaching staff.
I will credit the defense for holding Kiel and the Cincinnati offense in check for the final quarter and a half. If not for a phantom illegal lineman downfield penalty against Cincinnati that prevented another touchdown, this game could have really became interesting.
We are now a third of the way through the season and other than the loss of Braxton Miller, not much has changed from a year ago. The offense beats up on bad defenses and the defense gives up big plays to any school not named Kent State. With that said, I don’t think any of us expected Barrett to look this good four games into his career. Is part of the reason for that the competition? Probably. The offense, in general, is looking like a force to be reckoned with and that will come in handy Nov. 8 when the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing.
The defense is a different story. The secondary is getting a lot of flack and deservedly so, but even the strength of the defense, the defensive line, is not playing to its capability. Don’t get me wrong, the Silver Curtain is playing well, especially Joey Bosa. However, as a group, the defensive line has not looked like one of the best units in the country. I’d like to see a few more sacks but overall, it’s hard to complain. In regards to the linebackers, the more freshman Raekwon McMillan plays, the better. McMillan has the potential to be the next great linebacker at Ohio State and shore up the pass coverage against underneath routes in the middle of the field. But until the defense as a whole makes the necessary adjustments, this team will not defeat a quality opponent like Michigan State.
The Buckeyes travel to Maryland to begin conference play and it isn’t going to be a cakewalk. The Terps are coming off a 37-15 victory in their conference-opener at Indiana. It was an impressive performance considering the Maryland defense limited the high-powered Indiana offense to 15 points, who were coming off their upset victory over defending SEC West champion Missouri. Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs will present quite a challenge for Ash and the much-maligned Ohio State secondary. The Terps aren’t the offensive juggernaut Cincinnati is and the focus of eliminating the big play should result in an improved defense for the Buckeyes this week.
Don’t expect Ohio State to put up numbers like they did against the Bearcats but the offense should be consistent enough to control the game. The coveted Big Ten Championship chase begins now.
Prediction: Ohio State 31, Maryland 23

Ohio State Game Guide: Cincinnati

Ezekiel ElliotWhat a week it was for the B1G. Going 12-1 as a conference is no easy feat, and to have Indiana go on the road and beat an SEC team is flat out remarkable. This week the Buckeyes have their sights set firmly set on the Bearcats that come from i71 south. Not sure how to go about watching your beloved Buckeyes this week? Well have no fear, we have you covered with this week’s game guide.
What We Learned
Being as it was Kent State who the Buckeyes played last, followed by a bye week, we didn’t learn a whole heck of a lot. Two weeks ago we saw what this Ohio State squad could do to a woefully unskilled opponent, and we also saw that the B1G wasn’t half bad this past Saturday. Though most of the victories came against MAC opponents, Iowa and Indiana got gold stars for beating both Missouri and Pittsburgh at home.

Gunner Kiel
Gunner Kiel could be a problem for Ohio State’s Secondary

What to Watch
Somehow the game against Cincinnati is being labeled as the first major test for the defensive backs. To which I say, “good for you guys, for forgetting how you got torched by Virginia Tech on third and longs all night long. It takes a real mentalist to forget those wounds, so well played.” In all seriousness, Cincinnati quarterback, Gunner Kiel, has made opposing teams look like Syria, as he has been on aerial assault mode. Head Coach Tommy Tuberville has also said that his group of receivers at UC is the best group he’s ever coached, and this is coming from a guy who coached for a long time in the SEC. On the other side of the ball, it will be interesting to see if Cincinnati implements the same Bear defense that Virginia Tech used to destroy the Buckeye offense.
Who to Watch
Along the same lines of Gunner Kiel and his band of merry receivers, the Ohio State defensive backs have been talking the talk all week long, so it will be interesting to see if they can back up their game. I will be watching to see if Curtis Grant can take care of the underneath routes that have been torching the Buckeyes. If he can’t get it done, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Raekwon McMillan get some valuable minutes. On the other side of the ball tight end, Jeff Heuerman, is back in action, and I’m sure he is ready to smell that sweet end zone aroma.
Ohio State FootballWhere to Watch
The game is at 6:00 pm at home, which is one of my favorite times for a game. You don’t have to get up and rush down to the stadium, but you’re also not getting done at 11:30 or midnight. I also don’t know if anyone has noticed, but it’s officially fall outside, with cool nights and comfortable days. If you can’t make it to the game, I would check out Little Bar on High Street, just north of Lane Avenue. As a guy who is shorter than the average bear buck, Little Bar is one of my favorite places to watch the games, as they typically bring out a giant television for all to enjoy. While it is sometimes hard to view during the day, a night game provides the perfect lighting — or lack thereof — to watch the game. $2 drafts ain’t bad either.
Where not to Watch
Anywhere that is approximately 2 hours southwest of  Columbus, and right next to the Ohio river. That’s right, I’m talking about the ol’ dirty dirty, Cincinnati. While I have recently come to enjoy the queen city, if I had to, I would drive through Indiana to avoid it this weekend. Why take great lengths to avoid Cincinnati and it’s city full of Cincinnitiens (?) this weekend? Because any group of people who are delusional enough to attempt something like this, can only be bat-shit insane.
Prediction
This will be closer than the experts think. Virginia Tech gave opposing teams a blue print to beat Ohio State, and I think that Tuberville will bring the house on defense and make J.T. Barrett beat them with his arm. If this game gets out of hand, look for a general “sky is falling” mentality, as it will be the first time an in-state team has beaten Ohio State for almost a century. Hopefully the Urban gets the Buckeyes out of the woods and to B1G play with a winning record.
Ohio State 31 Cincinnati 28 

OSU Secondary: Time to Bear Down Against Kiel, Cincinnati Offense

With Cincinnati set to make the trip up I-71 to Columbus this weekend, we will find out how much of an impact Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has had on the Buckeye secondary. Ash was brought in to specifically help fix what was a below average pass defense to put it nicely in 2013. Through the first three games of this season, the secondary has looked improved but hasn’t faced anything close to the challenge they will see with the Bearcats and quarterback Gunner Kiel.

OSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash
OSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash

Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds averaged one pass per quarter finishing 2/4 for 20 yards in the season-opener. The Buckeyes yielded only 199 passing yards to Virginia Tech and quarterback Michael Brewer and the Kent State game was over before it even started. However, Kiel is a different beast.

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Cincinnati has only played two games this season but Kiel has been impressive. The Notre-Dame transfer is 50/76 for 689 yards and 10 touchdowns. Miami (OH) and Toledo was the opposition but those are great numbers against any competition. Kiel is more than capable of putting on a show in the Horseshoe, especially with the production of the Ohio State secondary over the past few years.
Not that Kiel is a Heisman trophy candidate or anything, but I can remember when top-flight out of conference quarterbacks would come into Ohio Stadium and if not completely shut down, they would be contained by the Ohio State defense. Whether it was Jason Gesser of Washington State in 2002 or Cody Pickett and Philip Rivers from Washington and N.C. State, respectively in 2003, the Buckeye defense got the last laugh.
Do I think Kiel will have a decent game and that there will still be questions regarding the Ohio State secondary? Probably. Players like freshman cornerback Eli Apple and sophomore safety Vonn Bell are extremely talented but young and will probably need more time before they become special. Although I’m not a big fan of the “young” excuse. Everybody is young.

OSU safety Vonn Bell
OSU safety Vonn Bell

It would be nice to see a player like Bell or sophomore safety Tyvis Powell take a page out of the Mike Doss/Nate Salley playbook. As long as there is no intent to injure, deliver a shot to one of the receivers even if it draws a flag. Make a statement that you’re not coming over the middle on the Ohio State defense. Unfortunately, it has been years since this was the case. Now, do I think Kiel will walk into the Horseshoe and come out with a victory? Absolutely not.
Kiel and the Bearcats will put up their fair share of points but Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett and the offense should be able to move the ball at will and the defense will make the necessary stops to put this one on ice. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will not let his Buckeyes put out another Virginia Tech performance under the lights. Since their upset victory over the Buckeyes, the Hokies are 0-2 and Cincinnati could be every bit as good, thus Ohio State will be ready to go this time.
In their previous close-calls with Cincinnati in 1999 and 2002, the Buckeyes were the heavy favorite. Ohio State went on to win those contests 34-20 and 23-19, respectively, but both were struggles. The Buckeyes are still significant favorites but the talent gap between the two in-state foes has decreased substantially. A loss to the Bearcats would be devastating on a few levels. It would end a streak of consecutive victories over in-state opponents that dates back to 1931. It would also be a minor blow in recruiting, given the fact that Cincinnati is landing far better in-state recruits than ever before. Oh, and the fact that Buckeye Nation would never hear the end of it.
When it is all said and done, the Buckeyes should deliver a fairly convincing victory. With the energy of another night game in the Horseshoe, the defense should come out on fire. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the defense pick off Kiel early and for the Buckeyes to dominate the action on both sides of the ball to start. Kiel should be more comfortable as the game settles down and will get his numbers. It’s time for Ash and a young secondary to make a name for themselves and my guess is this will at least be a start.
Prediction: Ohio State 45, Cincinnati 27

Does Ohio State Need the Big Ten

If Michael Vick isn’t playing quarterback for the Hokies, there are really no excuses for losing to Virginia Tech at home in prime-time. Frank Beamer really isn’t that great coach everyone tried to make him out to be fifteen years ago, and he’s only still empolyed because no one is Blacksburg believes they can do better. That said, Ohio State only has themselves to blame for dropping out of the National Championship hunt early, with their 35-21 loss to their ACC opponent last Saturday.
If that seems a little dramatic on the surface, I’d ask you to really think about it. In the past early season losses to Texas and USC have crippled their chances, even though it may have taken subsequent losses to Penn State and Purdue to put the nail in the coffin of their championship hopes. Someone might be quick to point out how they recovered from a late-season home loss to Illinois in 2007, but it took a lot of chaos to put them in the Superdome with LSU the following January, a match-up that the consensus hated on paper and in reality. One of the problems is wiggle room, and once conference play begins, Ohio State has none. I may be out of line, but what type of showing is required on November 8th in East Lansing to erase the events of September 6th in Columbus?
That’s the problem right there; with ten games left to play, no Big Ten opponent, not Michigan State, regular Michigan, or Penn State, has the clout for anyone that matters to think it took one hell of a football team to take those guys down. If Oregon, who beat the Big Ten’s best from a year ago soundly, or Virginia Tech run the table, things look better for Michigan State and Ohio State, but the Big Ten contenders have a Big Ten problem on the national scene. Of course, the focus might currently be that the Spartans have a Michigan State problem and the same logic applies to Ohio State, Wisconsin, and any other school in the league that has suffered an early season defeat.
The way it used to be, the Big Ten Champ had a set destination. Pasadena or bust, it was a showcase to take on the best out west, the Pac-10 Champ. The game was played on New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl, and as the bowls expanded and playing in one became less exclusive, it was always special to see your team in the sunshine out west, as you watched the game on ABC on a dark wintry night back east. For the teams, the privilege of being showcased on this stage was not to be taken for granted. For all that Ohio State has been cracked up to be over my lifetime, a span of 36 years and change, they’ve reached the game just four times over that period and just twice since I became congnizant of sports in 1985. Before that, the Big Ten’s participation was something of a status symbol or badge of dominance for Ohio State and Michigan, who represented the conference in the Rose Bowl every year from 1969 to 1981. In the final years, before something called the Bowl Championship Series came to be, the Rose Bowl had National Championship implications for Arizona State in 1997, and then again for Michigan in 1998. The Sun Devils went undefeated in 1996, en route to a Pac-10 Championship and a berth in the Granddaddy of Them All, but were denied a title when the Joe Germaine led the Buckeyes to victory in the game’s final minute. The loss didn’t simply deny them a chance at being the consensus #1; Florida State’s loss to Florida meant winning that Rose Bowl would have left them as the only team without a loss. A year later, Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines did what they needed to do on the field, besting Washington State 21-16, but the world didn’t crumble around them as much, forcing them to share the glory with an undefeated Nebraska team that handed Peyton Manning’s Tennessee team a loss in his final collegiate game.
The next year, they had to get #1 and #2 on the same field. To pull this off, the Rose Bowl would sacrifice its traditional Big 10 vs Pac-10 matchup at least once every four years, in order to be put in rotation with previously inferior games in Arizona, Louisiana, and Florida. Three years later, for the first time since Alabama beat USC in 1946, the Rose Bowl was not a match-up of Big Ten vs Pac-10, but the Big East Champ against the runner-up in the Big 12 North, a game designated as the fourth BCS National Championship. Meanwhile, Illinois represented the Big Ten in a forgettable Sugar Bowl.
In 2003, Ohio State reached that title game, facing Miami, while we got that Big Ten vs Pac-10 match-up in the Orange Bowl and the Big Ten was, once again, not represented in Pasadena. Look, I’m sure few supporters of the Big Ten will gripe too much about being denied representation in the Rose Bowl, given the Buckeyes win in Tempe was the only Championship the conference would attain in the series’ 16 year run, but that was the peak. Ohio State and the rest have slid into the valley since that Friday night early in 2003. Since, highlights include Michigan State’s win over Stanford in Pasadena last January and Ohio State’s 2010 win over Oregon, but even those have been overshadowed by the Southeastern Conference’s 7-year run of National Championships. Ohio State defeated Kansas State and Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Michigan won a Sugar Bowl, and we saw Penn State and Iowa celebrate Orange Bowl victories, but good luck getting anyone without a dog in the fight to recall or recognize any of that success.
That brings us to where we are today, where the Big Ten has a Big Ten problem. Their reputation now precedes them, and it’s more reality than perception at this point. Did I think there was any shame in getting plastered by USC annually, speaking to the games that saw Michigan, Penn State, and Illinois fail to achieve victory in the Rose Bowl? The answer is no. I didn’t think it was fair to brand the conference as awful when Ohio State lost to the National Champs from the SEC in consecutive years, or even to a Texas team that had a good argument for their own Championship Game pedigree. However, the big picture is telling and I don’t think there’s a solid case to deny it.
As a football conference, the Big Ten stinks.
Now, Ohio State’s problems are mostly their own…mostly. Keep in mind, every school in the country has these types of problems, issues with whom they have no one to blame, but they can argue strength of schedule day and night, even when they’re playing an FCS opponent in mid-November. So, maybe that’s just the SEC, but does it matter if it’s just Alabama that can lose a regular season game and then turn around and get another opportunity at the same team in the title game. We might remember that Michigan wasn’t afforded that luxury in 2006. The point is, someone outside of the Big Ten gets the leg-up, because perfection is not demanded of them, which is exactly what the system requires a Big Ten team to do, if they want to play for all the marbles. How do you avoid it, if you’re Ohio State? While some might respect regular appointments with Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State, they will rarely be admired for wins over Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers, while often avoiding Wisconsin and/or Nebraska in the other division. In a game where style points still mean a great deal, dominance in the Big Ten will long be a hard sell to any type of selection committee, considering the conference has spent nearly a decade planting the seed of doubt.
One school of thought, probably the more popular one, is for Ohio State and their fans to deal with it. Enjoy the 9 or 10 wins every year, anticipate the Michigan game, drink until you pass out, hope for a trip to the Capital One Bowl, and embrace the remaining tradition, rather than getting upset at how much the game has pissed on those very traditions you used to enjoy. That’s a reasonable approach; the world needs its doormats, and if you’ve ever supported a MAC school that was thrown to the wolves at Ohio Stadium, you might understand and appreciate that. Something tells me that most at Ohio State don’t care to simply accept putting the shoe on the other foot, and that Ohio State should be no one’s cupcake opponent, let alone someone from the Southeast region.
Strictly from a football perspective, has Ohio State exhausted the benefit of being a member of the Big Ten? I think it’s worth considering that they have. Money is probably the main thing that debunks this sentiment, as Ohio State gets a lot of it from the Big Ten Network and it’s other television partnerships, but there’s a school, albeit a private one, 250 miles northwest of Columbus, whose pockets are deep without an entire conference of hands reaching into them. I really don’t know if Ohio State can reach the plane that Notre Dame is on with their independence, and the Irish have their fair share of issues scheduling 12 games without 8 already built-in by a higher authority, but maybe it’s an idea worth exploring. Is this a break Ohio State can make, while still maintaining relationships with their former league counterparts? We have not seen anyone depart from the Big Ten in my lifetime, but if expatriated institutions like Nebraska, Texas A&M, or West Virginia serve any precedent, I doubt remaining members of the conference would be amicable about continuing their rivalries with the Buckeyes as non-league foes.
Even without the obligation of league play, I believe Ohio State would want to keep Michigan and Penn State on the schedule every year, with the finale against Michigan remaining in tact. I do not believe Ohio State would ever schedule more than four games away from Columbus, and why should they? If you want Ohio State to come to your place, you would probably need to ante up a nice ransom since that game is an automatic sellout, but agreeing to a home & home would probably be worth more than cold hard cash, depending on the stature of your program. Another thing to consider is taking a page out of the USC playbook and scheduling regular trips to Hawaii, just to get awarded that 13th game, since Independents don’t have that bonus conference championship game.
So, how does the schedule shake out for Independent Ohio State? It really depends on the Big Ten’s attitude towards them in the aftermath of their departure. If they’d be cooperative, and they should be, Michigan and Penn State stay on the schedule constantly, and I imagine we’d see two more of their former conference opponents in some kind of rotation, something similar to the ACC’s new relationship with Notre Dame football.
Notre Dame would likely be the model to use, and you know that means service academies, in addition to traditional rivalries. Away from the Big Ten, that might include in-state rival Cincinnati, regular Rose Bowl opponent USC, and fellow Independent Notre Dame. As it stands, the Buckeyes have future commitments w ith Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, and Boston College; no reason not to honor those. I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up a mock schedule, with and without the cooperation of the Big Ten. We’ll start with 2015.

2015 w/ Big Ten 2015 w/o Big Ten
at Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech
Hawaii Hawaii
Northern Illinois Northern Illinois
Western Michigan Western Michigan
Notre Dame Notre Dame
at USC at USC
Cincinnati Bowling Green
Northwestern Pittsburgh
at Iowa at Tennessee
Penn State West Virginia
Navy Navy
at Michigan at Cincinnati
2016 w/ Big Ten 2016 w/o Big Ten
Bowling Green Bowling Green
Tulsa Tulsa
at Oklahoma at Oklahoma
USC USC
at Notre Dame at Notre Dame
Akron Akron
at Wisconsin at Kansas State
Iowa Ball State
Kentucky Kentucky
at Penn State at Syracuse
Army Army
Michigan Cincinnati

With this, we tried to honor existing agreements, but an independent is always at the mercy of who might actually be available when October and November roll around, given conference obligations.  One would think this would open the door to escalate strength-of-schedule even more than we’ve done here, but in the real world travel is a concern, as well as the amount of teams that might reject a proposed series with Ohio State.  Tennessee, Georgia, and Vanderbilt have all pulled out of deals that would have required them to travel to the Midwest in recent years, though it’s possible things crumbled from Ohio State; we’ll never really know.
In the end, none of it matters.  Ohio State isn’t leaving the Big Ten next year or ever.  Money talks and the Big Ten has it. Ohio State will simply deal with their Big Ten problem, but they obviously must address the problems they see in the mirror first.

The Best of Times; Remembering the Big East's Run With the "Big Boys"

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With all this talk of committees and selection process, it’s hard to imagine college football ever used computers to pick its national championship games. Times have sure changed. The much maligned BCS era produced its share of controversy over the years, but for the old Big East (preceding the American), it wasn’t so bad.
The conference racked up a 9–7 record overall during that time in BCS games, with some huge wins along the way. While the conference was never considered the upper crust of college football, it sure had its time in the sun.
Below are the top five moments for the Big East/American between 1998 and 2013.
1) UCF wins the Fiesta Bowl. As far as wins go, it might not have been the biggest. After all, they beat Baylor, and on most years Baylor hardly passes as a division one program. But the Golden Knights winning a BCS game against a top-ten team in 2014 marks the high point for the American. Why? Because in no other year did the conference receive so much criticism, and have so much to prove, than in its inaugural year.
2) West Virginia embarrasses No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. No one saw that one coming. Not even WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for Michigan before the game was even played. Interim coach Bill Stewart rallied his team to not just a win, but a good old fashioned beat down of the Sooners, 48-28.

3) Big East finishes 2006 season with a 5—0 bowl record. The only conference that year with a perfect bowl record was highlighted with Louisville’s Orange Bowl win over Wake Forrest. The Cardinals, Rutgers and West Virginia would all finish in the top AP top 12 that year.
4) Cincinnati goes 12—0 in the 2009 regular season. Any other year that doesn’t feature an undefeated Alabama and an undefeated Texas, and you might have lived to see the Cincinnati Bearcats in a national title game. When Nebraska blew the Big 12 title game in the final seconds versus Texas, their fate was sealed. Brian Kelly left the team a matter of days later and the Bearcats were outclassed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

5) Miami wins the 2002 National Title. The one and only a time a Big East team won a national title. It seems like a distant memory now that the Hurricanes were ever in the Big East, but they left a heck of an impression.
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Is The American Forgotten In the Playoff Era?

Fans and writers alike have quickly forgotten that the American (long the Big East) was a BCS conference. They were a “power” school, one of the big boys. They’ve forgotten the conference’s respectable 9-7 record in BCS games, including UCF handling Baylor, 52-42 last season. The ACC’s record in BCS games, including last season’s banner year, was a pedestrian 5-13.
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So what makes the playoff and access bowls so different that everyone seems to be forgetting the American is still a pretty decent conference? There will be new faces, sure. And the conference has undoubtedly lost a lot of its brand identity. But it doesn’t mean that some of the new schools won’t fill the void.
Cincinnati is my favorite example of this, and no, not just because I went there.
Before UC’s arrival in the Big East in 2005, the Bearcats were abysmal on the gridiron. Truly, <i> abysmal</i>. Their small stadium lacked upgrades (or fans, for that matter), no one in the city remotely cared about the team, and they went from 1964 to 2002 without a single conference title. Even the drought in California can’t touch that.
Whether out of some sort of obligation to improve facilities, more money spent on athletics, and/or increased exposure, the Bearcats turned into a contender against programs that were long-considered traditional football schools (Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia). Today, their head coach is someone they ripped away from Texas Tech. Not too shabby.
So who’s to say these new teams won’t elevate themselves in the same manner? Just because Tulane was an afterthought in the Conference USA, doesn’t mean they won’t be a completely new program now that they have a new stadium, TV deal and increased conference revenue.
ESPN and Sports Illustrated like to believe that there is truly a night-and-day competitive difference between the top five conferences and the lower five. They don’t appreciate the grey area. But they grey area is where the American Athletic Conference will thrive. No, I don’t expect a national championship anytime soon, but the teams will hold form against “power” conference competition, much in the same way the Mountain West has always competed well with the Pac-10/12, but still found itself beneath the line.
There’s no good reason for how the American has gotten the short end of the stick in the new selection process. It doesn’t matter how well its champions have performed in major bowl games, it still gets lumped in with the Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA to determine which conference sends a single team to one of these access bowls. So what if there’s an undefeated Boise State and an undefeated UCF in the same season? One of them likely gets to play in a big boy bowl, while they other gets to demolish the sixth best ACC or Pac-12 team.
The American Athletic Conference is going to be competitive, without question, but the Playoff Era isn’t going to be kind to these teams. Win or lose.

Big Trouble in the Big Apple

As a fan, it’s hard to criticize your favorite team when they’re in first place and seemingly have their post-season fate within their control.  That is, until they put up a huge bomb like the New York Giants did yesterday against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Make no mistake, the Bengals are a talented, if underperforming team, and there’s no shame for the Giants to lose to them.  There is, however, reason to be concerned over the way they lost.  It wasn’t a hard-fought game that the Bengals managed to win.  It was a game the Giants seemed determined to hand over to them.

There were so many things that went wrong yesterday for the Giants, it’s hard to no where to begin.  Perhaps the easiest place to start is A.J. Green, the Bengals’ super-stud WR getting behind everyone on the Giants’ defense to walk in for a 56 yard TD less than 2 1/2 minutes in to the game.  Or we could look at the normally sure-handed Victor Cruz dropping a perfectly thrown ball from Eli Manning to open the 4th quarter that would have gone for a 38 yard TD.  There was enough blame in between those two plays, and plenty enough throughout the rest of the 4th quarter to give even the most die-hard fan reason to consider where this season may be heading.

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