Big Ten: Southern Miss Golden Eagles
To get you through the dead period and to pump you up for fall, we're here to take an early preview of what each team can expect from its Week 1 opponent. First up: the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Week 1 Opponent: Southern Miss
Coach: Ellis Johnson (first year)
2011 record: 12-2 (6-2 Conference USA; won Hawaii Bowl)
Returning starters: 10 (six offense, four defense)
About the Golden Eagles: Nebraska certainly didn't sign up for a cupcake opener, as the Huskers must face a team that won 12 games and blew out Houston in the C-USA championship game last season. But this is probably a good time to get the Golden Eagles. Johnson, the former South Carolina defensive coordinator, takes over as head coach after Larry Fedora took the North Carolina job. The team also must replace quarterback Austin Davis -- who threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns last season -- its leading rusher, top two receivers and five of its top eight tacklers from '11. Southern Miss finished 14th in the FBS in scoring last year at nearly 37 points per game but likely will struggle to match that production without Davis and Fedora. Hotshot incoming freshman Anthony Alford -- who had multiple SEC offers and was selected in the third round of the MLB draft by Toronto last month -- could start at quarterback right away. Making a career debut at Nebraska wouldn't be the easiest of assignments.
Random factoid: Southern Miss, which is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., has had several nicknames over the years. The school's first sports teams were called Normalites, which was later changed to the Yellow Jackets. In 1940, the teams became known as Confederates, which was later amended to Southerners. The Golden Eagles mascot was adopted in 1972.
Series with Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lead 2-1. Southern Miss won the last meeting, 21-17 in Lincoln in 2004.
Totally unscientific percentage chance Nebraska wins: 84 percent. Nebraska fans should know better than to discount Southern Miss's chances -- all they have to do is remember what happened eight years ago. This is a solid program with good talent and coaching. But with a new head coach and a lot of green players, including the quarterback, the Golden Eagles will be vulnerable on the road in such a tough environment. The Huskers have talked this offseason about wanting to get back to a national championship level. If they're truly serious about that, they should win this opener without too many problems.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- Here's the second half of my interview with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
Are you pretty satisfied with the Big Ten's current bowl agreements or would you like to see some changes?
Jim Delany: Yeah, pretty satisfied. We're just into it two years. The Insight Bowl in Arizona is new for us, we've got the new Champs (Sports) Bowl in Florida. Certainly we think we've got a great bowl partners in Arizona with the Fiesta group, great bowl partners in Orlando with the Bank One group, that seem to be able to manage multiple events. Florida, Arizona, Texas and California are where our people are, and then we've got the regional bowl (Motor City) in Detroit. So I think so, but there are a lot of bowls and a lot of good teams and a lot of great bowl teams, but not everybody's created equal. So when we sit down, hopefully there'll be some competition and we'll continue to be able to grow those relationships.
Will there ever be enough bowls?
JD: Well, there could be as many as there are teams. It's not unheard of. Everybody says there's too many, but I've seen teams under .500 in the NCAA (basketball) tournament and teams at .500 in the NIT. College football is pretty unique. To say that every single bowl is a healthy bowl is probably not true, but to say every single first-round men's basketball tournament game has got a significant followership is probably not true.
As far as scheduling, you look at the Pac-10 and their nonconference schedules are very, very competitive. Are you satisfied with the scheduling in the Big Ten?
JD: If you look at where we were forty years ago -- I was looking at the schedules from 1966 -- we had far fewer games and far fewer mismatches, really sturdy kinds of opponents. Even if you maybe take a look at that twenty years ago, in the late eighties, they're stronger schedules than they are today. Again, fewer games, stronger matchups, more games with the Pac-10, more games out East. Historically, we really haven't played the SEC, in the regular season or in the postseason. So it's something we tried to do in the postseason, but they've got big stadiums, we have big stadiums. Big stadiums typically don't play big stadiums just because of the value of the gate. Everyone talks about TV, but the turnstiles are what drives the revenue, which is what drives the athletic department. Michigan is already playing an away game every other year (at Notre Dame), Ohio State is as well. Penn State historically has, but not recently. In my heart of hearts, I'm the guy that's largely behind the (ACC/Big Ten) Challenge, I'm the guy that's largely behind the Big Ten-SEC bowl games. They weren't here before. I'm the guy who wants to play the SEC, the Big 12, the Pac-10. So if anything, I could be accused of overscheduling, not underscheduling, but our schools are going to be the ones who determine what's best for building their programs. (Some) programs are a stage where they're trying to get respect, others are trying to get a bowl game, others are trying to pay for all of the programs. The one thing that hasn't changed in the 20 years since I've come here is that football and basketball still provide 98 percent of the revenues. We've grown women's opportunities, we've gotten better at other sports, we've won championships in other sports. But the fact of it is, they're going to have to pay their way, and that means healthy football and healthy football means winning football. So that time means you have to manage you've got to manage your schedule in a way that makes sense.
Is there a model for scheduling in the Big Ten?
JD: I don't think there is a model. The Pac-10 has got a good situation, but they've got the 5-4, they can play a full round robin. I like that. I would tend to be more in that direction, but I also understand that Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue, have historically been in the second division. They don't have the legacy of the bowls in the way that Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan will have. What we've seen overall, with the growth of television and the growth of bowls and perhaps, maybe, weaker nonconference scheduling, is the growth of the middle class in terms of their own brand, in terms of their own strength, in terms of the perception. So you have to be careful when you say, 'You should be playing Oregon.' The fact of it is, Indiana did beat Oregon a couple years ago in the preseason (2004). But they're much more likely to beat Ball State than they are to beat Oregon. From a TV perspective, are those games better? But it's a combination of what the fan base demands, what the athletic director believes is appropriate. How much is stepping out? If you have them into a bowl game just twice in the last decade, you're going to put that pretty high on your priority list and not necessarily just (schedule) the best game. People do point out the Pac-10 and the Pac-10 maybe plays (a tough schedule) year in and year out, but they have far fewer choices because there are only four conferences that are east of the Mississippi. The other thing is I don't see everybody's feet being held to the fire with regard to nonconference scheduling. Some people don't even leave their own state. Our top teams have always played Notre Dame and historically, those have been good challenges. We've played lots of Pac-10 teams and we used to play more teams in the East, more Boston Colleges, more Syracuses, and I've encouraged our teams. We've got some that are playing N.C. State, have played North Carolina, Virginia. But also, you have to have two people who want to play.
How important is that first month of the season for the league, just with the negative perception nationally?
JD: It cuts two ways. To be honest with you, we've run up some pretty impressive records, but if you're not playing people, you're not going to get the credit, and I don't think necessarily that you should. I was always a strength-of-schedule, computer guy inside the BCS, but you looked at Kansas and they made a lot of progress without playing a lot of people. And whenever the computers trump the people, the fans don't like it. That's one of the things we've found. So we've really lowered the power of the computer and let the so-called experts, whether they're coaches or the Harris (Poll) people, try to figure out what those games mean. I don't have the magic formula on scheduling. I, like every other fan, like to see great teams play. The one thing that could help us, and we just can't get there with the coaches -- I guess we could get there with the interactive -- is just to delay (the rankings). But everybody wants to print their poll and they're all influenced by polls. So if you're Southern Mississippi or Fresno State and you take on the world and you beat (No.) 4, (No.) 11 and (No.) 28, you should be ranked No. 1 in the country, in my opinion. But none of the bloggers, none of the experts, none of the television people, do that. They go to Southern Cal and Florida and Michigan and Ohio State, and maybe that's right. But they don't necessarily go clean slate, start fresh, reward people who beat people and then delay their evaluation. Because that's what happens in the basketball tournament. The evaluations are made subsequent to the games. College football, quite to the opposite. Evaluations are made based on tradition. And I think we've improved that. The bowl system is so much better than it was 15 or 18 years ago. We've got a 1-2 game, we've got elite challenges. Coaches aren't setting up the games anymore. Bear Bryant used to set up the games. We went 50 years with I think nine 1-2 games. Of course, no one cared about 1-2. In '64, when Wisconsin played USC, it was a 1-2 game and if you listen to a replay of the game, they didn't even mention it. So things have changed.