It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We have Rafa Nadal and Alex Gordon, Ryan Lochte and Nick Bahe, Montee Ball and Joe Paterno. But first, the gulf between the SEC and Big Ten.
Jim Delany’s league can’t escape the SEC’s shadow these days. When the SEC isn’t stomping ‘em in bowl games, it’s smacking ‘em around in playoff negotiations. At this moment, the gap seems wider than ever.
But if you follow sports, you know how quickly story lines change. The Big Ten-SEC relationship could look very different in a few months. Here’s how it happens:
Step One: Michigan upsets Alabama in the season opener. Nobody in his right mind is picking the Wolverines to beat the defending national champions. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Denard Robinson will be the best athlete on the field.
Step Two: Urban Meyer wins 9-10 games at Ohio State. Meyer’s celebrity status has already delivered much-needed credibility to the Big Ten. ESPN can’t get enough of him. If Ohio State plays well in 2012, the hype for 2013 — when the Buckeyes can actually play in the postseason — will be off the charts.
Step Three: The Big Ten wins two of three in the New Year’s Day bowl series against the SEC. The Capital One Bowl, Outback Bowl and Gator Bowl all take place on Jan. 1. All match SEC v. Big Ten. Last year, the Big Ten won one (Michigan State beat Georgia). It needs to do better. This is likely where Nebraska can help.
Step Four: Somebody outside the SEC wins the 2012 national title. It doesn’t even need to be a Big Ten team. USC. Oregon. Oklahoma. Florida State. Right now, the SEC is an unstoppable locomotive. It won’t feel that way if the 6-year championship streak finally ends.
If those four steps happen — it’s unlikely, I realize — the SEC and Big Ten will enter 2013 as near-equals. Michigan and Ohio State could be in the preseason top 5. And if the Wolverines and Buckeyes are rolling, so is the Big Ten.
(ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg covered similar ground this morning.)
>> New San Diego State coach Rocky Long, inspired by a widely known high school coach in Arkansas, wants to abolish punting — at least once the Aztecs have crossed midfield. It’s a bold plan. It’s also smart. Football coaches need to take a cue from baseball managers and pay more attention to advanced statistics. Fourth downs are a great example. Mathematically, it doesn’t make sense to punt nearly as often as coaches do. Thirty yards of field position typically isn’t worth giving up an opportunity to score, especially when the punt comes on fourth-and-short.
>> The moral dilemma of being a football fan.
>> Pat Forde addresses the academic scandal at North Carolina — and wonders if the NCAA will step in.
>> Two weeks into fall camp, Nebraska true freshman Jared Afalava still hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA to participate. His academic eligibility remains in question. This happens almost every year with a recruit. And every year I wonder why it takes so long. If the kid has done his school work, let him play. If not, let him know. A kid shouldn’t miss a whole month of practice just because the NCAA moves at a snail’s pace.
>> Notre Dame’s alternative uniforms are a good reason to outlaw alternative uniforms.
>> This is the year when the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry moves to the front burner, says a Detroit columnist. They might be the Big Ten’s two best teams. The Spartans have beaten Michigan four straight years, but they’re desperate for respect.
>> A Dallas pee wee football league has a 135-pound weight limit for seventh-graders. A 297-pounder wants to participate. The league says no.
>> Sports writers everywhere are anxiously awaiting Joe Posnanski’s biography on Joe Paterno, which will be released Aug. 21. Posnanski is a star in the business. He’s also known for his “glass-half-full” perspective on life. Will he defend Paterno? Empathize with Paterno? Or join the crowd and criticize the man’s morals? He wrote this for USA Today explaining the challenges.
>> Ryan Lochte is a great swimmer — and a terrible actor. He says he’s interested in being “The Bachelor,” too.
>> Rafa Nadal is skipping the US Open because of knee problems. Just when Andy Murray joins the Big Three at the grown-up table, Nadal’s career is in jeopardy.
>> Remember that funny guy who used to do the morning show on 1620 The Zone? (Not you, Matt Schick). The other guy. Nick Bahe. He is getting a new gig. It’ll be unveiled this afternoon on Twitter — probably at about 4 p.m.
>> Alex Gordon, who’s been lighting it up in the leadoff spot all summer, is moving to the No. 3 hole in the Royals lineup. I’m not sure I like this one. Gordon is Kansas City’s best on-base threat. He doesn’t hit with a lot of power. He runs the bases well. Sounds like a great lead-off man, especially because he’s comfortable there. Leave him alone, Ned Yost.
>> Bret Bielema sheds light on the brouhaha that led to Montee Ball getting jumped.
>> Finally, my question to you: What’s the best Nebraska offensive line since 2001? The 2012 version, like so many in recent history, looks shaky right now. Which years — if any — belonged in the “Pipeline” category? I’ll revisit the topic in Monday’s Chatter.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.