Conferences expand, playoff hopes contract

Aug 9 2010 - 6:05pm

LOS ANGELES -- Camp opens for most teams this week. USC jumped the starter's gun last Wednesday, but it wasn't an NCAA violation (the school has enough of those) because the Trojans play an early game at Hawaii.

Here are a few boilerplate questions as schools work their way into condition and contention:

--Is USC still the team to beat in the Pacific 10?

No, but don't blame the NCAA. The defending Emerald (now Kraft Fight Hunger) Bowl champions weren't the team to beat last year. USC, remember, ended up tied for fifth in the Pac-10. Oregon won the conference and is favored this year.

--We know USC isn't bowl-eligible, but isn't the Sept. 2 opener at Hawaii sort of like a bowl game?

You bet your ukulele. Powerhouse programs with a history of sanctions are smart, years in advance, to schedule bonus games at Hawaii. The pain of Alabama's two-year bowl ban several years ago was offset by trips to the islands in 2002 and '03.

--Was it right for USC to expunge Reggie Bush's memory from its history books?

Reggie who?

--How big is Year 3 for Rick Neuheisel and UCLA?

Huge . . . maybe bigger than Norm Chow's new contract extension.

--Where is UCLA ranked in the USA Today preseason coaches' poll?

Nowhere, man.

--Not even among "others receiving votes"?

Nope.

--How many Pac-10 coaches are voting this year?

Five: Jim Harbaugh (Stanford), Steve Sarkisian (Washington), Paul Wulff (Washington State), Mike Riley (Oregon State), Mike Stoops (Arizona).

--How is that for a vote of confidence?

No vote.

--Any former UCLA coaches on the board who didn't cast a single point toward the Bruins?

Bob Toledo (Tulane).

--Any problem with Alabama being No. 1 in the first coaches' poll and Boise State being No. 5?

Absolutely not. Both schools finished 14-0 last year. Alabama won the national title; Boise State didn't qualify for the game but finished No. 4 in the final coaches' poll. Alabama must replace 11 starters, nine on defense, while Boise State returns 21 starters. Doesn't it make perfect sense?

--Is this Joe Paterno's last season at Penn State?

Could be. It's been a rough off-season for the 83-year-old Paterno, entering his 45th season as head coach, who battled a nasty intestinal infection. "It was a little below the intestines," he recently quipped.

Paterno's mind is razor-sharp, but his body has taken a beating the last few years. His voice sounded tired and raspy at last week's Big Ten media day. He needs six wins to reach 400 for his career but says that's not why he's sticking around.

"When I'm down and looking up, are they going to put 399 on top of me or are they going to put 401?" Paterno said. "Who the hell cares? I won't know."

--Is the Big Ten going to change its name when Nebraska becomes the conference's 12th member in 2011?

Commissioner Jim Delany recently said no. "I think the Big Ten is the Big Ten regardless of the number," he said. Delany has also so far rejected the idea of adding a 13th team and becoming "The Big Baker's Dozen."

--Is the Big 12 going to change its name when it becomes a 10-school conference following the departure of Nebraska and Colorado?

Not sure yet, but if the Pac-10 poaches two more Big 12 teams it could go back to the Big Eight.

--Is this the last year we see a lot of rivalries we've come to love?

It's the downside to all this conference flip-flopping. Texas and Nebraska are probably sparring for the last time. The "Holy War" between Utah and Brigham Young might be excommunicated when Utah moves to the Pac-12. Boise State has said it may no longer want to play Idaho after it joins the Mountain West.

--With the switch to divisions in the Big Ten, will "The Old Spit Bucket" game between Indiana and Purdue survive?

It's actually "The Old Oaken Bucket."

--Is this the end of expansion?

No. Raiding conferences teams is like eating peanuts -- it's hard to stop at one or two. The Big East and Big 12 probably survived extinction when the Pac-10's failure to become 16 teams forestalled a chain reaction that probably would have redrawn the map.

Big East Commissioner John Marinatto recently pronounced his league stronger than ever after warding off a Big Ten attack, but that might be wishful thinking. Delany says the Big Ten is taking a pause, but "we are not necessarily turning our back on expansion."

--Has all this expansion news put the playoff question on the back burner?

Yes. There wasn't going to be a playoff for at least four years, anyway, as ESPN takes over the Bowl Championship Series package. Utah's joining a BCS conference next season also takes some of the acrimony out of its argument and Boise State might even render the system monopoly-proof if it makes it to this season's title game.

"It's pretty clear to me that regular-season college football is maybe as healthy as it ever has been," the Big Ten's Delany recently opined.

--What impact will former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli have at Mississippi?

That's probably a better question for the Oxford police. You could be cynical about this. Ole Miss needs quarterback help after Jevan Snead left for the NFL and Raymond Cotton transferred. The Rebels are picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. Why not give a misunderstood kid a fifth chance? This isn't about football . . . it's about molding men, right?

Masoli was one of the most exciting dual-threat college quarterbacks in recent memory (except in the Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State). Yet, his walking on (as a graduate student) smacks of desperation and makes Coach Houston Nutt look as if he'll do anything to win. Masoli may not be a menace to society, but his "burglary," "lying" and "marijuana" background left Oregon Coach Chip Kelly no choice but to cut him loose.

You also wonder how well Masoli's spread-option skills will translate running around SEC defensive ends.

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