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Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 9/1/2013

Commentary

College fun begins, but it’s all changing

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

For the past 15 years, give or take, Ohio State has been scheduling Mid-American Conference football teams with no repercussions and very few close calls.

Oh, the Toledo game in 2011 comes to mind. A good Rocket team came within one play and 16 yards in the late going, but a bad OSU team, at least by Buckeye standards, held on for a 27-22 win.

Michigan has done the same thing with almost the same results. There was that huge hiccup in 2008 when a bad Toledo team beat an epically bad UM squad 13-10.

But it has otherwise been fairly smooth sailing, as one might expect.

The scheduling was justified, in part, by keeping money in the respective states. Why pay those huge guarantees to Rice or Troy or, gulp, Appalachian State, when you can buy a win and help out an in-state school’s athletic budget at the same time?

That explains Saturday’s Michigan opener against Central Michigan, but not so much UM’s game against Akron in a couple weeks. Of course, Michigan’s MAC menu is slimmer.

It certainly doesn’t explain Ohio State hosting Buffalo while any of six in-state MAC opponents, despite an innate dislike for playing the role of “little brother,” would happily accept a million dollar payday in return for a bus trip.

Given the choice, would a Toledo, for example, prefer playing at Ohio State or traveling to Florida, where the Rockets traded a competitive 24-6 loss Saturday for an $800,000 check?

It probably depends who you ask. Coach Matt Campbell probably saw it as an opportunity, win or lose, to further establish UT’s brand in a place it considers lush recruiting territory. Athletic director Mike O’Brien, the chancellor of the Rockets’ exchequer, probably would skip the considerable price of airfare and choose renting a few buses for the drive to Columbus.

Whatever, it will soon be a moot subject.

The college football landscape will change starting in 2014 when the BCS championship switches to a four-team playoff format. And the Big Ten’s landscape will further change at the start of the 2016 season when teams begin playing nine league games per year instead of the current eight.

Both moves will squeeze the MAC out of some lucrative nonconference opportunities.

Under the current BCS format, the drive for a national championship mandates going undefeated, at least for most teams.

Sure, maybe a Southeastern Conference team, maybe a couple others scattered about, can afford a loss and still be in the hunt. The Big Ten’s members, of late, have not earned that type of respect.

Coaches like Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke might help change that over time. Certainly, they haven’t been recruiting to beat Buffalo and Central Michigan. They have their eyes on far bigger prizes.

And starting next season their schedules will begin to be reshaped for a BCS formula in which opponents’ competitive strength will carry far greater weight with a selection committee than it does for the hodgepodge of human and computer polls that are about to be put out of business.

Add in the change in Big Ten scheduling, which will eliminate one nonconference game starting in 2016, and MAC teams will be further squeezed out by the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

Squeezed out, but not shut out.

Not all Big Ten teams will share the same lofty ambitions. Whether they admit it or not, coaches at places like Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois, to name a few, will always be looking for winnable games and bowl eligibility, so MAC opponents should remain popular.

But those games will come with smaller price tags. And, with fewer nonleague games, getting Big Ten opponents to return games in MAC stadiums, a rarity such as it is, will become virtually impossible.

That’s all in the future, though.

The present is OSU’s Braxton Miller as a Heisman candidate and seeing if the Buckeyes can indeed turn that 40-20 opening win over Buffalo into a string of 13. Will Nick Saban, quarterback A.J. McCarron, and Alabama pull off a championship three-peat? Where will UM and Notre Dame stand after their clash next Saturday? How will the saga of Johnny Manziel play out and will we ever stop laughing at the NCAA?

Week 1 is in the books. It has only begun.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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