The Big Ten is, depressingly, not involved in tonight's BCS title game between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama. But that doesn't mean the league doesn't have some fingerprints on this game.
Let's start with the most obvious tie-in. Alabama head coach Nick Saban, of course, was Michigan State's head coach from 1995-99 -- and was an Ohio State defensive backs coach at Ohio State from 1980-81. Crimson Tide associate head coach Burton Burns played fullback at Nebraska under Tom Osborne (1971-75). Tide offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is a former Michigan State quarterbacks coach who worked with Drew Stanton and Jeff Smoker.
Alabama offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland held that same positions with the Spartans from 2000-06. Tight ends coach/special-teams coordinator Bobby Williams followed Saban as Michigan State for a tenure that lasted from 2000-02. Before that, he'd been a Spartans assistant from 1990-99, and he was a three-year starter at defensive back for Purdue, where he started his coaching career.
For Notre Dame, assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is a graduate of Iowa, where he was a two-time All-Big Ten linebacker and team MVP in 1995. Don't be surprised if he's a Big Ten head coach someday. Head coach Brian Kelly's trusted strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo worked at Iowa from 1988-2003. Co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks is another former Hawkeye; he was a two-year starter who graduated from Iowa in 2000. Cooks also coached defensive backs at Minnesota in 2005 and then at Wisconsin for four seasons.
Safeties coach Bob Elliott is another Notre Dame assistant with deep Iowa ties. He served on Hayden Fry's coaching staff from 1987-94 and from 1996-98. In 1999, he was a special assistant to then-Iowa athletics director Bob Bowlsby, and he was executive director of the Iowa Alumni Association in 1995. Elliott is the son of former Iowa athletic director and ex-Michigan head coach Bump Elliott.
Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand oversaw the Illinois O-line from 1997-2004 and was assistant head coach for his last five seasons there. He replaced Ed Warriner on the Notre Dame staff when Warriner took the offensive line coach position for Ohio State last offseason. (Buckeyes cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs got his first college job from Kelly at Cincinnati).
Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston played outside linebacker at Michigan, lettering from 1994-96. Outside wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Mike Denbrock got his start as a Michigan State graduate assistant.
So you can see that there are many Big Ten ties in tonight's game. Now, if we can just get a Big Ten team back in the national title picture.