Radical Realignment 2007: Big East

Although my latest efforts at realigning radically the college football conferences briefly caused some confusion for Sunday Morning Quarterback (to whom the description "caveman" was applied by Orson Swindle on Tuesday night's edition of EDSBS Live, placing SMQ alongside me in the category of webloggers to whom Orson has applied that appellation on the air), the gist of this endeavor is pretty straightforward.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, I'm just a caveman. Your world frightens and confuses me. My primitive mind can't grasp concepts like this 'internet.' But there is one thing I do know . . . Oregon is unlikely to make it to a January 1 bowl game next season!"

Using geography as my primary guide, I have turned Conference U.S.A. into Division I-A's garage sale, placed the Pac-10 and the W.A.C. where their names indicate they should be, revived the Big West, beefed up the M.A.C., breathed new life into the S.W.C., concocted the Central Conference, and retooled the Big Ten. All that having been accomplished, I now take up the task of introducing you to the made-over Big East:

Akron
Bowling Green
Cincinnati
Kent State
Miami (Ohio)
Ohio
Ohio State
Penn State
Pitt
Toledo

I will concede that the new Big East would be a two-team league for the first few years . . . but, then, that was true of the old Big East in almost all of the years prior to 2006, wasn't it? I don't suppose we've traded down too much by confining the league to the Buckeye and Keystone States, then, have we?

Gosh, I've created a Big East of questionable competitiveness. Imagine that.

One key component of promoting the M.A.C.'s Ohio contingent to major conference status, of course, would be the requirement that historically strong programs like Ohio State, Penn State, and (to a lesser extent) Pitt would have to play these squads on the road in straight-up home-and-home arrangements. Anyone who doubts the significance of this shift has not paid adequate heed to the historical record.

Cincinnati hosted Ohio State at Nippert Stadium in 2002 and lost to the eventual national champion Buckeyes by four points. No team in the land played O.S.U. any closer that year . . . not the Hurricanes (who lost by seven in the Fiesta Bowl), not the Nittany Lions (who lost by six), not the Badgers (who lost by five), and not the Wolverines (who lost by five).

Miami (Ohio), which rarely proved competitive against Big Ten teams on the road, hosted co-Big Ten champion Iowa in Oxford---the other Oxford---in 2002 and fell to the Orange Bowl-bound Hawkeyes by a five-point margin. Toledo, which defeated Penn State in Happy Valley in 2000, also claimed wins at the Glass Bowl over Minnesota in 2001, bowl-bound Pittsburgh in 2003, and bowl-eligible Kansas in 2006. Ohio beat Pitt in Athens---the other Athens---in 2005.

A major benefit of this particular conference composition is that the Nittany Lions' dormant rivalry with the Panthers would be revived after a lengthy dry spell during which the cross-state rivals have met just four times in the last 14 years. This renewal would be achieved without the need to sacrifice Penn State's yearly conference clash with Ohio State, which produced thrilling contests in 1995 (28-25), 1997 (31-27), 2001 (29-27), 2002 (13-7), 2003 (21-20), and 2005 (17-10).

Dr. Evil has agreed to provide color commentary for E.S.P.N.'s Thursday night broadcast of the annual Akron-Pittsburgh game, most likely because he will have occasion to use the phrase "Zip-Pitt" repeatedly throughout the contest.

While, obviously, the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions would rule the roost in the short term, the potential is there for a resurgence by the Panthers or by the RedHawks. I have had to defend Miami (Ohio) before, so I should point out that the RedHawks had one losing season in the 16 years from 1990 to 2005 and Oxford, Ohio, is the "Cradle of Coaches" because the program there sent Woody Hayes, Terry Hoeppner, Bill Mallory, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, and Randy Walker on to major Midwestern programs. If given the opportunity to compete with the big boys, why couldn't Miami (Ohio)---arguably, a school with more history than that possessed by Miami (Florida)---lure another such coach to Oxford and keep him there?

Such a rearrangement also could open the door for a Cincinnati or a Toledo to break through to the next level as a program. The Bearcats have attended six bowl games in the last 10 seasons and successfully made the leap from Conference U.S.A. to the Big East, whereas the Rockets have made it into postseason play four times in the last six years. Toledo, by the way, beat Cincinnati in the 2001 Motor City Bowl.

At least initially, Ohio State and Penn State clearly would be to the new Big East what Miami (Florida) and Virginia Tech were to the old, but the battle for third place would be fierce and as many as five programs could challenge the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions for periodic league supremacy, if not regular conference hegemony.

Coming soon . . . the revamped A.C.C.

Go 'Dawgs!

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