It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Chip Kelly and Maurice Clarett, Josh Hamilton and Devin Nash, Bill Callahan and Jim Delany, Iowa’s haunted house and Creighton’s potential goodbye to the Missouri Valley Conference.
But first, Bowl Fever!
We know it’s likely to be another bad holiday season for the Big Ten. The league has seven bowl teams. All are underdogs. But here’s my ranking of teams most likely to pull an upset (with opponent and spread):
1. Northwestern (v. Mississippi State, 2 points) — The Bulldogs, 2-point favorites, were a train wreck the last month of the year, losing four of five. Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since 1949!
2. Michigan State (v. TCU, 2 1/2) — The Spartans will have the best defense on the field. Of course, they’ve said that almost every game this year. It hasn’t meant much with their offense.
3. Minnesota (v. Texas Tech, 13) — Yes, the Gophers are nearly two-touchdown dogs. But they’re facing a fickle Red Raider bunch that just lost its coach.
4. Michigan (v. South Carolina, 5) — The Wolverines showed a spark at Ohio State. But Spurrier’s bunch played brilliantly at Clemson in the finale. First-team All-Americans Taylor Lewan and Jadeveon Clowney go head-to-head.
5. Nebraska (v. Georgia, 10) — I’ll write it 10 times between now and New Year’s: The Huskers need to find a way to neutralize the line of scrimmage. Give Martinez time in the pocket. And find a way to stop the Georgia run game.
6. Wisconsin (v. Stanford, 6 1/2) — Two old-school offenses. Had Bielema stayed, I would’ve had the Badgers higher. But it’s hard to know what you’ll see from Barry Alvarez’s makeshift staff.
7. Purdue (v. Oklahoma State, 17) — The Boilers deserve to be the biggest underdog on the board. They’ll get blown out by a quality Okie State team.
While we’re talking point spreads, can you name the last time Nebraska won a bowl game as a double-digit underdog? Your answer is at the bottom of the Chatter.
>> I must admit, it was a bit of a pipe dream the first time I wrote about it 15 months ago. Creighton? In a league with Georgetown? Now it appears the Jays will be one of the “first teams out”, or “last teams in” to college hoops’ new high-major conference.
The latest news, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, says the seven Catholic non-football schools will join with Butler and Xavier. That’s nine teams. According to the Journal Sentinel, “Creighton, Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton or St. Louis could become the 10th team, or the conference could begin play with 12 teams if three schools vying for the 10th spot are all worthy candidates.”
Obviously, if it’s 12, the Jays have a great shot. If it’s 10, they’re likely out, especially since they’re the geographic outlier.
I would hope the Big East (or as some columnists like Tom Shatel are calling it, the Big Priest) would see Creighton’s long-term potential, which exceeds Saint Louis, Dayton and VCU. It may come down to politics. How many friends does CU have on the East Coast?
I understand some Creighton fans have reservations about pursuing a conference change. But the Jays’ peers, especially in basketball, are no longer Missouri State and Southern Illinois. They’re Xavier and Marquette. If this move happens, it would be a huge boost not only to Creighton University, but to Omaha.
(Here’s more on the Big East fracture from Sports Illustrated).
>> I’m surprised to see the Big Ten Network polling fans on potential divisional alignments. It’s not that I don’t recommend giving fans a voice, it’s that I don’t think Jim Delany will create an entirely new scheduling cycle for 14 teams, only to do it again for 16 teams. And 16 is where we’re going, likely before Rutgers and Maryland officially join the league. Perhaps Delany’s staff at BTN is just giving fans something fun to do. But I doubt the Big Ten will play a single season with 14 teams.
>> For the record, I’m still a strong proponent of a geographical split, with one team east of Chicago joining the West. Purdue is the westernmost school, but I’d be OK with moving Michigan State over. That would basically guarantee the West produces a Top-20 team every year (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State or Iowa) while Ohio State and Michigan anchor the East.
>> Will Georgia bring its “A” game to the Cap One Bowl? If the past two years are any indication, the answer is no.
>> Would Chip Kelly’s spread offense work in the NFL? We may soon find out.
>> Mitch Sherman, former World-Herald all-star, looks at five college football powers that have the recruiting punch to challenge the SEC. Ohio State and Michigan make the list.
>> I understand why Bo Pelini didn’t want Jake Waters from Iowa Western. He has Taylor Martinez in 2013, then Tommy Armstrong or Johnny Stanton in 2014. But why wouldn’t Nebraska recruit Devin Nash, a Lincoln kid who plays a position where NU is desperate for help (defensive end)? If Nash pans out for Bill Snyder, it’ll be even more of a head-scratcher.
>> Are Iowa baseball players living in a haunted house? The details are just a little bit hard to believe.
>> Fascinating piece of history from ESPN’s Dana O’Neill, who looks back at a watershed moment in college hoops history: Mississippi State-Loyola, 1963.
>> Former Nighthawks running back Maurice Clarett planned to murder a man in 2006. This is what happened next:
“Clarett jumped into his car wearing Kevlar body armor and carrying a loaded assault rifle and three handguns. He drank half a bottle of Grey Goose vodka as he drove. He missed his intended exit off the freeway. He got off at the next exit and made an illegal U-turn. A cop car happened to be there. The cops pulled him over and used Mace to subdue him. That U-turn may have saved his life and the lives of several others. He’d been on his way to that man’s house.”
>> I don’t think I have ever bought a beer at a sporting event, but this story from Minneapolis should cause athletic administrators all over the country — including Nebraska — to review their opposition to beer sales. Minnesota profited almost $1 million from beer sales at football games and had fewer incidents than past years. Why? The ability to buy beer in the stadium removes the motivation (by some people) to get hammered before kickoff.
>> In case you’re wondering, it’s still too early to worry about the Lakers. It’s an 82-game season. Playoff seeding doesn’t matter. If Nash and Gasol return and they still look bad, well, maybe there’s something structurally wrong. But it’s not even Christmas.
>> Should the NFL expand its playoffs to 16 teams? No. Fourteen teams? Maybe. I’m not worried about watering down the playoffs. We’ve already seen 9-7 teams make Super Bowl runs. My concern is maintaining an incentives to win in the regular season. Those first-round byes are critical. If you expand to 16, you drop all byes. If you go to 14, only the team with the best record receives a bye.
>> Remember when the center of the baseball universe was the Northeast? With the Angels and Dodgers dumping truckloads of cash this offseason — and two playoff teams, including the defending champs, in the Bay Area — it’s 1958 all over again.
>> Finally, your Husker trivia answer: The 2005 Alamo Bowl. Bill Callahan’s finest moment, overcoming an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit as a 10-point underdog. Feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.