Big Ten hellbent on taking $tupidity and greed to the next level

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The drumbeat started low and slow, with hardly anyone at the time putting much stock in the insane ramblings coming out of the normally lucid and coherent Sweater Vest.

“There’s always going to be change,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said at the Big Ten’s media days back in early August when asked about expansion changing the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. “I don’t think — I can’t imagine that there would ever be a change from the fact that Ohio State and Michigan are going to square off and it’s going to be exciting and meaningful and all the rest.

“How it will be done exactly and where within the year and all those things, I’m sure if we look back in our history, most recently it’s been in the last regular season game. Prior to that, it wasn’t.

While Tressel’s quotes caused a more-than-minor ripple, Michigan athletic director David Brandon shed all pretense and cannonballed into the discussion of moving the UM-OSU game from the end of the season — where it’s been for 70-plus years — to earlier in the season and allowing for the possibility that the two long-time and hated rivals could meet twice in a given season — once in the regular season, once in a conference title game.

I think there’s a distinct possibility that game will be a later game in the season but not necessarily the last game of the season,” Brandon said. “That’s simply because I don’t think the coaches or the players or the fans or the networks or anyone would appreciate that matchup twice within a seven-day period.”

Brandon’s counterpart at Ohio State, Gene Smith, was a little more demure, but no less using a public forum to brace fans for what seems like the inevitable, when he said “we may end up playing the last game of the year, or not. I just don’t know that yet.”

The latest to chime in on this potential abomination is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.  And, just like Tressel, Brandon and Smith before him, Delany hinted strongly that the die has already been cast, and one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports is about to be devalued by moving up on the calendar when the conference announces its divisional alignments.

“I would put Michigan-Ohio State among the top five events in all of sports for rivalry,” Delany said. “It’ll get played. Now the question is, how best to play it? Are they in the same divisions or are they not? Do they play in the last game, the second-to-last game, the third-to-last game? How to do that is still under discussion. …

“You could make a good argument that Michigan and Ohio State should never really be playing for a divisional crown. If they’re going to play, play for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. When Tennessee and Florida play, when Auburn and Alabama play, only one of those teams is going to go to the championship game because they’re in the same division.”

How exactly has the Iron Bowl suffered by the two schools being in the same division, as Delany intimates?  Last time we checked, ‘Bama-Auburn in many parts of this country is viewed as the greatest, most heated rivalry in all of college football, and they’ve somehow found a way to keep that hatred alive and well for nearly twenty years while residing in the same division.

And what’s to say that the two schools intertwined in a decades-long conference rivalry have to have the opportunity to face each other in a title game, anyway?  There’s no sound logic or any semblance of a good argument in Delany’s attempt at justifying a move by shifting the attention to conference title match-ups.  How much more would be on the line if a shot at the Big Ten title game hung in the balance that weekend after Thanksgiving?  Certainly a whole helluva lot more than if The Game were the meat in a Indiana/Illinois or Northwestern/Minnesota October sandwich.  

What happens to the 2006 game or the 1969 game or the myriad other classics if they were played at any time before the end of the regular season?  Here’s a hint: they fade into oblivion and become a footnote to the rest of the regular season most years, with a slight chance that one could avenge the prior midseason loss in the conference title game.  And the reason they’d fade?  They’d be lost amongst what happened in the two or three or four games after The Game Lite was contested.

When those games were played had as much to do with the memories as how the games were played or ended.  There was something on the line, either a Rose Bowl/BcS berth or the opportunity to ruin the other’s season; move The Game from the end of the regular season, and you lose that something being played for every single year on the off-chance that they meet up, what, once every four, five years with something on the line?

This is not the era of the Ten-Year War.  There were no Penn State’s, Wisconsin’s, Iowa’s or Nebraska’s to speak of back in the days of Woody and Bo, at least not consistently.  This is a more balanced Big Ten, rife with top-shelf programs that would make the conference’s seemingly desired target of a twice-a-year grudge match between its two flagship schools much less likely than the league’s officials would care to admit or consider.

Be warned, Big Ten: you move The Game, you will rip the heart and suck the soul out of the single greatest property the conference owns.  And for what, a few more advertising dollars every few years when they do happen to stumble into a title showdown?  One that will, incidentally, likely be contested in a sterile, domed, neutral location as opposed to yet another reason that The Game is what it is — The Big House and The Shoe.

The shame in all of this is not the fact that it’s nearly a done deal; the shame is the fact that it’s being considered at all.

Conference USA releases 2018 schedule

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Conference USA released its 2018 schedule on Tuesday, confirming that once again the league will play football this fall.

The league slate kicks off Sept. 8 with FIU’s visit to Old Dominion, while the first game involving a C-USA team is set for Aug. 25, when Rice hosts Prairie View A&M. Conference games are scattered throughout the month of September, with the first full Saturday slate coming on Oct. 6 with Old Dominion at Florida Atlantic, UAB at Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee at Marshall, North Texas at UTEP and UTSA at Rice.

While the MAC has opted for a full embrace of midweek football, Conference USA has gone in the exact opposite direction. Not one C-USA game is scheduled as of today for a weeknight — Thursday or Friday included — and only one game will be played on a day other than Saturday, a Friday, Aug. 31 visit to Wisconsin by Western Kentucky.

The most-anticipated non-conference games involving C-USA teams are Florida Atlantic’s opener at Oklahoma and on Sept. 1 and the Owls’ Sept. 22 visit to reigning American and Peach Bowl champion UCF. North Texas also has two shots to win nationwide respect for the league in its opener against SMU on Sept. 1 in Denton and a Sept. 15 visit to retooling Arkansas.

The highlight of the league schedule comes on Nov. 17 with a rematch of the 2017 title game when Florida Atlantic visits North Texas. The Owls won both meetings last season by a combined score of 110-48.

The 14th C-USA Championship will be held on Dec. 1 at the home of the division winner with the best conference record. FAU will look to become the second straight back-to-back C-USA champion, joining Western Kentucky in 2015-16.

Former LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada reportedly lands at Maryland

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It’s good to be Matt Canada.

He parachuted into Baton Rouge for a year, got paid a bunch of money, then got paid even more money to leave. And now he’s set to get paid from another school.

According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Canada is set to join the Maryland staff as offensive coordinator. Rittenberg notes that Canada signed a multi-year agreement with the Terps, though salary terms were not revealed. Walt Bell, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Florida State, made $500,000 in 2017, according to USA Today.

Maryland will be Canada’s seventh school to call plays for in this decade alone. He spent 2010 (and three years before that) at Indiana, then moved to Northern Illinois in 2011. He parlayed that into one season at Wisconsin, three at NC State, and then one season stints at Pittsburgh, LSU and now Maryland.

Report: Oklahoma State signs 27-year-old Australian punter

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Australian punters are the hot new commodity in college football, and word has made it back to the Land Down Under: punt the ball far and high enough and you, too, can receive a full scholarship to an American university.

According to the Latrobe Valley Express — which you now is legit, because its header as of press time already reads Wednesday, January 24 — 27-year-old Australian punter Tom Hutton has signed with Oklahoma State. Hutton hails from Newborough, Australia, about a two hour ride from Melbourne, and in December attended a training session at Prokick Australia.

“I was told about [American football] a few years ago so I thought ‘I’ll probably be too old for it now’, thinking that it was like Aussie Rules and that if you were over 21 then you had no chance,” Hutton told the paper. “But then I saw a few older blokes getting scholarships so I thought I may as well give it a go.”

Prokick Australia claims the last five Ray Guy Award winners as alums, including 2017 victor Michael Dickson of Texas. Oklahoma State saw his ability up close, as Dickson punted 11 times for a 50.9-yard average in October, nearly booting his way to victory in a 13-10 Cowboys overtime victory. “Their punter is — did he win the Ray Guy Award last year?” Mike Gundy said after that game. “He should have won it. He changed the field on us. I don’t know what the yardage is, I just know that every time we go a little bit of field position, he changed the field … he was fantastic for them.”

The story of how Hutton was approved for an Oklahoma State offer doesn’t go into details, but Hutton’s recollection of how Hutton, who works overnights at a paper mill in addition to playing Aussie rules football in the Mid Gippsland Football League, received the offer is perfect.

“I woke up after night shift on two hours sleep and this person said ‘we know where you’re going, you’re going to Oklahoma State and we’ve got the coach on the phone,'” he said. “I thought ‘Jesus Christ, can you give me half an hour? I need to have a shower and actually wake up and make sure this is not a dream.'”

According to the Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing, Hutton will arrive in Stillwater in July and have four years of eligibility.

Arkansas adds TCU signee who signed with New York Yankees

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Austin Aune‘s circuitous sports journey, one which Chris Weinke and Brandon Weeden would approve, has taken its next stop in Fayetteville.

According to 247Sports.com, Aune has joined the Arkansas football program and is enrolled in classes at the university.  At least initially, the quarterback will be a part of the Razorbacks as a walk-on; it’s expected he’ll take the field with the rest of his new teammates when spring practice kicks off month after next.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aune had also considered TCU and North Texas before the SEC’s mystique proved to be too much.

“The allure of the SEC and the SEC West and Chad [Morris] and Coach [Joe] Craddock, and everybody being on the same page up there as far as the opportunity goes,” the player’s father, Greg Aune, told the Democrat-Gazette. “He likes their system. It’s a fast-paced system, wide-open system. That’s what he played in high school. It’s a pass-oriented offense. He’s a read-run oriented guy, so that’s a lot of what those guys do.”

The fact that Aune considered TCU as a potential landing spot before settling on Morris and UA shouldn’t come as a surprise as he actually signed with the Horned Frogs back in 2012.  However, he was drafted by the New York Yankees that same year and, after signing a contract that included a $1 million signing bonus, embarked on what turned out to be a six-year career in the minor leagues.  Despite that financial commitment, Aune never made it past Single-A ball.