Despite a brief delay, the 2007 version of my annual attempt at radically realigning the college football conferences is nearing its conclusion. Ere I offer the latest installment, I should summarize briefly the substance of my efforts thus far, which have included tossing the also-rans into Conference U.S.A., giving the Pac-10 and the W.A.C. memberships to match their nomenclatures, bringing back the Big West, upgrading the M.A.C., dusting off the S.W.C., making up the Central Conference, paring down the Big Ten, reconfiguring the Big East, and rearranging the A.C.C.
Remember . . . we're just talking about radical realignment, which is merely an intellectual exercise for the offseason; we're not talking about radical careering, which purportedly will help jump start your job, your career, and your life. (For what it's worth, though, I'd like to think one of the 100 ways of attaining professional advancement would be to change your name if your last name was "Hogshead.")
In 1920, several of the members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association reorganized as the Southern Conference. Although 13 of the league's institutions withdrew to form the S.E.C. in 1932, the venerable association warrants inclusion in this year's radical realignment plan. Accordingly, I now present to you the 21st century edition of the Southern Conference:
Although there was something to be said for reuniting Virginia, I elected to go with practical political reality rather than strict Constitutional orthodoxy in including the Mountain State alongside the Big Bend State, the Magnolia State, and the panhandle of the Sunshine State in the new league.
It's not that I don't think Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution still applies, but, after Georgia's loss to the Mountaineers, I feel somewhat obligated to give them a pass on the question of the legality of their statehood.
Once again, there is much to recommend this arrangement. Marshall and West Virginia share a state (although reasonable minds may differ over which state that actually is) and, while both teams seldom have been good at the same time, the Thundering Herd and the Mountaineers ought to play annually. Due to their close proximity, Ole Miss and Memphis have played one another regularly and now the battle between the Rebels and the Tigers would have conference implications.
Likewise, Mississippi and Vanderbilt have enjoyed a series of competitive contests since becoming permanent interdivisional rivals after the S.E.C. expanded in 1992. (The Commodores' presence also provides a much-needed boost to the Southern Conference's graduation, and even literacy, rate.)
The Seminoles would be able to enjoy a whole host of new rivalries, as well. F.S.U. missed out on national championships in 1989 and 1998 because of losses to the Golden Eagles and the Volunteers, respectively, so seeds of disdain from the Florida State faithful towards Southern Miss and Tennessee already have been planted. Likewise, F.S.U. and W.V.U. share a common bond, inasmuch as Bobby Bowden used to be in charge of both of their football programs.
That joke was just for you, Orson.
Southern Miss obviously deserves the opportunity to demonstrate that it is as worthy as any football program in its state. (Between 1977 and 1988, the Golden Eagles were 5-2 against Mississippi and 10-2 against Mississippi State.) The Blue Raiders, who attended a bowl game last season, claimed wins over the Commodores in 2001, 2002, and 2005, robbing Vandy of a bowl game in the latter instance. (In the last two years, Middle Tennessee has made it into postseason play as many times as Tennessee and more times than Vanderbilt.)
Given the Blue Raiders' clear competitiveness with the Commodores, it is not too great a stretch to claim that M.T.S.U. could, on occasion, play with the Volunteers. After all, in the 20 seasons from 1987 to 2006, Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt in 2005 and claimed nine of its 19 victories by scores such as 38-36 in 1987, 14-7 in 1988, 17-10 in 1989, 29-25 in 1992, 12-7 in 1995, 14-7 in 1996, 17-10 in 1997, 28-26 in 2000, and 38-33 in 2004.
If the Vols lose to the 'Dores or beat them by seven or fewer points about half the time, and if the Raiders are capable of beating Vandy regularly, shouldn't Middle Tennessee have a halfway decent shot at the Big Orange every now and again, particularly if 50 per cent of M.T.S.U.'s games against Tennessee are played in Murfreesboro?
Also, when the Blue Raiders traveled to Tallahassee to take on the 'Noles, there's half a chance Chief Osceola would stick a flaming spear in this mythological mutation.
In the end, while there might be a two-tiered hierarchy in the Southern Conference at first, there would be a great deal of competitive football between Florida State, Tennessee, and West Virginia in the upper echelons and between Marshall, Memphis, Mississippi State, M.T.S.U., Ole Miss, Southern Miss, and Vanderbilt in the middle-to-lower reaches of the league (much as we find in many, if not most, current conferences), and there exists a real possibility of one or more teams from the second stratum rising up and knocking off one of the big boys on a pretty regular basis.
Coming soon . . . the modified Southeastern Conference.