Michigan football’s Jim Harbaugh discusses his Urban Meyer comment at the Big Ten media days on Friday, July 19, 2019, in Chicago.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
CHICAGO — The Big Ten missed the College Football Playoff the past two seasons, making the cry for realigning the conference to better ensure a spot in college football’s final four predictable.
The subject has been a sore spot from Big Ten fans to outgoing Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany, who has said more than once that a conference realignment is on the table.
You know what, Mr. Commissioner, you want your conference to line up against Alabama and Clemson at the end of the season? Tell Ohio State not to lose to Purdue and Iowa, teams that reside in … ahem … the Big Ten West.
The Buckeyes’ losses to those teams the last two seasons — Iowa in 2017, Purdue in 2018 — tabled their chances with the playoff selection committee. And it should’ve.
Now, before you say it’s not fair to lay the conference torch at the feet of Ohio State, remember that the SEC has sent as many teams to the playoff as the Big Ten: two.
It’s just that that conference’s top program — Alabama — hasn’t missed the playoff since it began five years ago. Because it doesn’t lose to average teams in its conference.
HARBAUGH ON TRANSFERS: Depression-based claims are questionable
TRANSFER PORTAL: Here’s how Big Ten coaches would change it
MSU TO ROSE BOWL? Why you shouldn’t doubt Mark Dantonio
Last year, the Crimson Tide went undefeated until it lost in the title game to Clemson. Two years ago, Alabama lost once — to the 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers — on its way to a national championship.
So, yeah, the best team in the conference can’t lose to a team it shouldn’t. The committee doesn’t like that.
If, say, Ohio State had lost to Michigan State last season but had beaten Purdue, maybe the Buckeyes get in. Perception matters. And the Spartans play defense.
MSU has also been to the College Football Playoff. Not that it matters now. But it is important to note that Delany’s poor little conference has seen two of its teams — both from the big, bad East division — get to the sport’s (manufactured) holy grail.
And it could get a third this year if Michigan finally beats the Buckeyes, even if the Wolverines lose to Notre Dame. As long as they beat the teams they are supposed to beat in the Big Ten.
Which is every other team they play this fall.
Hey, results matter.
That’s the way it should be. Swapping the Buckeyes or the Spartans or the Wolverines with a “lesser” program from the West isn’t going to change this.
Besides, ask the coaches and they’ll say (mostly) the same thing. As they did this week at the Big Ten’s media days.
“I love the divisions the way they are. It gives us some geographical rivalry,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “I don’t think it’ll be very long before people are talking as much about the West as they’re talking about the East. We have a responsibility to try and make that happen, too.”
Um, yes they do.
Remember when Nebraska used to obliterate college football? I do. It wasn’t as long ago as you think.
Back then, in the ’90s, the Cornhuskers hung 50 on MSU twice, 50-10 and 55-14. Like Frost said, college football is fluid, even though it seems stuck in a Bama-Clemson timewarp.
That isn’t to suggest that Frost will start devouring bullies from the East this season, or the next.
Yet it should remind you that this game has a way of changing on its own, without the heavy hand of meddlesome middlemen. Except those who stuff bags with green. But that’s another story for another time.
Mark Dantonio, who was around for those Nebraska beatdowns when he served as the defensive backs coach under Nick Saban, said he hadn’t heard much about the realignment issue.
“But I guess change is inevitable,” he said Thursday from Chicago. “And at some point in time, things happen. So I’ll just deal with it as it comes.”
Yes, he will. This is what he does. And what the coaches in the West want to deal with, too. Just on their own. Even if they didn’t explicitly say that.
“I think it’s fine the way it is,” said P.J. Fleck, Minnesota’s head coach. “I think the travel is easy for a lot of people. I think the West is getting a lot better, with all due respect with that (issue). But I think the coaches in the West are dynamic coaches. You can see it on the recruiting trail. You can see it in games that are considered upsets. I don’t think those are going to be upsets in the next few years.”
So take that.
Besides, as Ohio State’s rookie head coach, Ryan Day, said, the current alignment aligns with history.
“The rivalries are awesome,” he said. “I do think when you have to play Up North, you have to play Penn State, you have to play Michigan State every year, that’s hard. And so we’ve got our hands full that way. But I haven’t really thought about that.”
Well, maybe he hasn’t. And maybe Dantonio hasn’t. And maybe the Big Ten can survive an uneven distribution in its divisions because, you know, the SEC did.
Yes, the mighty conference to the south pits Alabama, Auburn and LSU on one side of its yearly bracket. That isn’t much different than Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
OK, so the Big Ten East has MSU, too. But the SEC West also houses Texas A&M, which rises up from time to time, as well as Ole Miss and Mississippi State, both of which have trotted out respectable programs in the last decade.
In other words, stacked conference divisions are a fact of life. They are also cyclical. Most coaches this week in Chicago understand this.
Well, maybe not Penn State’s James Franklin, who acknowledged an ebb and flow Friday, but would like to continue the discussion of potential change.
Just don’t forget that beating teams you should beat means more. And if the Big Ten really wanted to make sure it got a team to the playoff every year, it could reduce the amount of conference games from nine to eight and add more cream puffs to the non-conference schedule.
Like the SEC.
But then more fans might stop showing up to games. That’s an issue, too.
Just for another time.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.