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Big Ten vs. SEC? Answers depend on question PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, July 27, 2013 12:00 AM

Associated Press


CHICAGO — Nebraska has won at least nine games in each of the last five seasons. Only Alabama, Boise State and Oregon can say the same.

The Cornhuskers have won four Associated Press national championships. Their honor roll includes three Heisman Trophy winners. They play in front of packed houses every week, often on national television.

So coach Bo Pelini isn’t too fond of those questions about the Big Ten versus the Southeastern Conference.

“I guarantee there are a lot of teams in the SEC that aren’t Alabama that wish they were Nebraska, that wish they were Michigan, wish they were Ohio State,” Pelini said Thursday at Big Ten media days, “so don’t talk to me about the SEC. Talk to me about — let’s compare specific programs.

“The whole SEC isn’t Alabama, isn’t LSU and isn’t Georgia. Every year is different.”

Like it or not, right now the comparison point for the major college football conferences is the powerful SEC and the business is quite good in the home of Nick Saban, Les Miles and Mark Richt.

The Crimson Tide trounced Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS championship last January, earning the SEC’s seventh consecutive national title. Newcomer Texas A&M (Cotton), South Carolina (Outback), Georgia (Capital One) and Mississippi (BBVA Compass) helped the SEC to a 6-3 bowl record, the highest win total for any conference.

The SEC won two of its three bowl matchups against the Big Ten, with the lone loss going to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl against — gasp — Northwestern. The improving Wildcats, once one of the Big Ten’s worst programs, beat the Bulldogs 34-20 for their first bowl victory since 1949 and one of two for the conference’s seven bowl teams.

Looking back a bit further, the strength of the SEC compared to the Big Ten is a more slight advantage. The SEC is 21-16 against the Big Ten since 2003, according to STATS.

It’s crystal clear which conference is the NFL’s favorite. The SEC produced an astounding 63 selections in the April draft, more than double the next highest total of 31 for the ACC. The Big Ten had 22 selections.

So on the eve of the 2013 season, it looks as if everyone is looking up at the SEC. And Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has an idea why.

“We’ve had fast guys in our conference. We’ve had a lot of skill players get drafted throughout the years,” he said. “But if you just study recruiting, I mean I think of the population swing right now to California, the South, warm-weather states.

“There’s differences and there’s a lot of ways to be effective and to be successful and you have to figure out what’s best for you at your school or conference and then just try to maximize it.”

While high school football is strong in the South, some of the traditional recruiting corridors for the Big Ten aren’t what they used to be.

“When you go out and recruit now, I remember northeast Ohio, western PA, still great football, fantastic football, but a perfect example (is) where I’m from,” said Urban Meyer, who coached Florida to two national titles before taking over at Ohio State. “I’m from Ashtabula, Ohio, and my high school class, graduating class, I think had 15 people this year.”

Sitting at a table in a downtown Chicago hotel, Meyer then began to move his hands together in a constricting motion.

“That’s alarming because it’s great people, great communities and really great athletes in that part of the state, but it’s just dried up a little bit,” he added.

Meyer and the Buckeyes could have the best chance this year of ending the SEC’s run of national championships. Quarterback Braxton Miller leads a strong group of returning players on offense and the defense also should be solid.

David to get fewer cracks at Goliath

NEW YORK — College football’s Davids will get fewer chances to knock off the Goliaths in the coming years.

Part of the fallout of the sweeping changes coming to college sports will be a decrease in so-called guarantee games in football, where a power conference school pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a team from a lesser league play at its stadium.

The result will be far fewer opportunities for embarrassing blowouts (Oklahoma State 84, Savannah State 0) and startling upsets (Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32). Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said it would be good for college football and that he is “not very sympathetic” to the potential loss of revenue to the schools on the receiving end of the checks.

The commissioners of the lower-revenue conferences say losing the pay days won’t kill their leagues and that giving players from smaller schools a chance to compete on the big stage has value.

“Traditionally, we play the Big Ten a lot,” Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re in the neighborhood so that makes a lot of sense.”

MAC teams will play 13 games against Big Ten teams this season, plus four against the SEC and two each against the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference and many of them fall into the category of guarantee games.

The shift to 9-game conference schedules, along with an increased emphasis on strength of schedule for the coming College Football Playoff, all but guarantee fewer opportunities for the other five conferences (MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West, American Athletic and Conference USA) in FBS to play the top five.

Add in the need for the power conferences to beef up their schedules to create made-for-TV matchups to justify the millions they are getting in media rights deals, plus a possible reconfiguration of Division I, and it leads to speculation that the big five will be playing exclusively among themselves at some point.

Scott shot down that idea and Steinbrecher doesn’t sound overly concerned about his teams not getting more than a few shots per season to knock off marquee programs.

Steinbrecher said it’s more likely for the big five to trim FCS teams — the old Division I-AA — from their schedules than the other FBS leagues. The Big Ten has reported it would like to eliminate all FCS games soon. And if schools from the big five are getting tired of cutting those big checks for home games, Steinbrecher has another solution.

“We’d gladly give up the guarantee game and start a home-and-home,” he replied.

Patty Viverito runs the FCS Missouri Valley Conference football as senior associate commissioner. MVC teams such as Northern Iowa and North Dakota State frequently play Big Ten teams. Losing that revenue will be a challenge for her schools, she said.

“But at this juncture there seems to be plenty of willing hosts,” she added. “We haven’t had too much difficulty in finding alternate opponents. We think that those games have been good for the game of college football. I think I would like to have a more considerate approach to the good of the game be part of the conversation.”


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