ESPNU College Town, a new social networking game from ESPN, launches today. Part of the game is building a college program.
If you were putting together an ideal program with the best parts of the Big 12, here's what it would look like:
Academics: Texas. The school has 12 different colleges and 650 study abroad programs. U.S. News ranks it 45th among the nation's best universities and despite having over 50,000 enrolled, still only accepts 45 percent of applicants. And yes, realignment enthusiasts, the Longhorns are members of the Association of American Universities, just one of 35 public universities to hold the distinction. "Hands off, Jim Delany," says everyone else in the Big 12.
Athletic director: Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma. He took the job in April 1998, made Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops his first big hire and two seasons later, he was celebrating the program's first national title since 1985. Since then, the program has enjoyed a decade of success rivaled by few. The Sports Business Journal also named Castiglione the Athletic Director of the Year in 2009.
City: Austin, Texas. Up north, you'll hear the city is overrated. Just not from anybody who lives there. Any kind of food. Any kind of bar. And it's warm. A close second: Boulder, Colorado. Pearl Street Mall is the most European thing in the Big 12. In this case, that's a good thing. And it's all in the shadow of a gorgeous mountain.
Coach: Tie, Texas' Mack Brown, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Kansas State's Bill Snyder. Maintaining success is harder than it sounds, and recruiting isn't as easy as Brown and Stoops make it look. They both revived struggling programs and helped pave the recruiting trails that keep both programs in the national top 10 almost annually. As for coaching on the field, the perhaps clichéd mark of an elite coach is getting the most out of what you have. No one personifies that more than Snyder.
Facilities: Texas. Its stadium is the Big 12's largest and the 20,000 square foot Al-Rashid Strength Complex is immaculate. Walking past tons of individual awards encased in glass to get to that weight room makes sure the players inside maximize their time there. Money may not buy happiness or wins, but it can buy a bunch of cool stuff.
Fans: Nebraska. The sellout streak is impressive, but Nebraska fans are courteous, knowledgeable and numerous. Can't ask for much more. There are no other teams of note (My apologies, Omaha Nighthawks) in the state, including basketball, so the support of the entire state and the school's alumni elsewhere goes behind the football Huskers.
Game day atmosphere: Nebraska. There are only a handful of Saturdays every year when a campus gets to host a game, and Nebraska makes the most of it. Fans come early and they're amped all day until after the game's over. No game day atmosphere has more of the intangible buzz that the few square miles around Memorial Stadium possesses on fall Saturdays. Or maybe that buzz is a side effect of various smoking meats.
Mascot: Ralphie the Buffalo. Find me another mascot who is capable of seriously injuring a person. Bevo just kind of sits there all game, but he could probably pop Lil' Red.
Stadium: Memorial Stadium, Nebraska. Above the main entrance reads "Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football," and I won't be one to argue. Renovations have kept the stadium current with new suites, while staying true to the history that's made the program the nation's most beloved by its fans. The gates that open to let players out on to the field (also a nod to the program's history) at the end of the Tunnel Walk are guarded, and a statue of athletic director and former coach Tom Osborne with former quarterback Brook Berringer watches over an entrance.
Also, multiturf looks sweet.
Strength program: Texas isn't short on talent, but elite high school players wouldn't make it to the NFL without strength coach Jeff Madden. Texas hasn't always had more players in the NFL than any other college team, but it does this year. The strength program is a big reason why.