Former Wisconsin coach and current Arkansas coach Bret Bielema spoke to the media earlier this week and he brought up one of his favorite ideas: an SEC-Big Ten (or SEC-ACC, but screw those guys) Challenge in football, similar to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in hoops every year.
Arkansas’ Bret Bielema favors an SEC/Big Ten or SEC/ACC challenge in football, similar to basketball model— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) May 31, 2016
It was -- and is -- a really fun idea. It could inject some incredibly fun games into the non-conference schedule, which can otherwise feature way too many games against opponents from the Southern Conference or more MACrifices than any man should have to watch in one week. It could provide fans with an excuse to visit campuses they've never seen before and see new places, new faces, and traditions (not to mention new recipes and new drink ideas that they can bring back to their home tailgates). It could boost strength of schedule numbers for teams angling for a big-time postseason destination. And so on.
It probably won't happen since we're not allowed to have fun things. Oh, and because schedules are set years in advance, schools hate giving up home games (and the accompanying revenue bonanzas), and coaches hate adding possible losses to the schedule. The money issue is probably the biggest impediment, but who knows -- maybe a special media rights package for the SEC-Big Ten Challenge could rustle up enough cash to make it worthwhile. I mean, we are talking about the two conferences with the largest and most passionate fanbases around -- fanbases that love shit-talking one another and would love to have another opportunity to see how each conference measures up against one another. Where there's a giant check, there's a way, right? Hopefully. In the meantime, though, this idea is relegated to the ranks of fantasy.
So what could the match-ups look like? CBS Sports did a mock-up based on last year's conference standings:
Alabama vs. Michigan State
Florida vs. Iowa
Ole Miss vs. Ohio State
Tennessee vs. Michigan
Georgia vs. Northwestern
Arkansas vs. Wisconsin
LSU vs. Penn State
Texas A&M vs. Nebraska
Mississippi State vs. Minnesota
Auburn vs. Indiana
Vanderbilt vs. Illinois
Kentucky vs. Maryland
Missouri vs. Rutgers
South Carolina vs. Purdue
That's not bad. There are some fun-looking games there for sure.
The Gazette's Scott Dochterman also came up with his own set of match-ups:
Michigan at Alabama
Tennessee at Michigan State
Ohio State at Florida
Arkansas at Wisconsin
Iowa at Ole Miss
Texas A&M at Nebraska
Northwestern at Georgia
LSU at Penn State
Indiana at Kentucky
South Carolina at Maryland
Rutgers at Mississippi State
Auburn at Minnesota
Illinois at Missouri
Vanderbilt at Purdue
Those are even better. There are some real enticing match-ups there.
Here are my own picks for what the match-ups could look like this year:
MICHIGAN AT ALABAMA; Michigan is pegged to be very good in Year 2 under Harbaugh and Bama is Bama -- even if they lose a dozen guys to the NFL, they have another two dozen 4-5* recruits just waiting in the wings to play. So the quality will be there. Add in the catfighting that Harbaugh and Saban have been doing over the offseason and you've got yourself one exciting throwdown. BONUS: Watch Harbaugh schedule a satellite camp for Birmingham the Friday before the game to really get Bama fans out of their minds.
FLORIDA AT OHIO STATE; Urban Meyer versus his old club? C'mon, that's a gimme. Putting the game in Ohio is good because it means that Florida would have to play a game north of the Mason-Dixon line for the first time in recorded history (or at least in the last several decades).
ARKANSAS AT WISCONSIN; "Former coach plays his old team" is a pretty irresistible storyline and it's even moreso here, given the success Bielema had at Wisconsin and the, ah, awkward circumstances surrounding his departure. Also, if you like BIG DANG MANBALL, then this is the game for you. This game will have #AllTheBeef.
MICHIGAN STATE AT LSU; This might have been a better match-up a year ago since Sparty figures to be in a bit of rebuilding mode, but this would still be a game between teams that regularly challenge for top honors in their respective conferences and feature nasty defenses. Their fans can trade stories about how much they miss Nick Saban, too.
TENNESSEE AT NEBRASKA; aka, the I Love the 90s Bowl. Both teams were at the peak of their college football relevance 20 years ago and have been scrambling to regain a smidgen of that respect and notoriety ever since. In defeat the losing team can provide its fans with the much-needed understanding that, once again, this is not The Year.
IOWA AT OLE MISS; Oxford is a beloved college town with strong literary roots and The Grove is a sacred tailgating locale; yeah, I think Iowa fans might enjoy a trip down there. It feels like a good fit competitively, too -- both teams were big winners a year ago and are tentatively expected to vie for spots high up the ladder in their leagues this year as well.
INDIANA AT TEXAS A&M; Sometimes you just want to see a lot of points scored, you know? Both teams feature branches of the Bob Stoops Coaching Tree -- Indiana's Kevin Wilson was there from 2002 to 2010, while A&M's Kevin Sumlin was there from 2003 to 2007 -- but, really, this game is just about the points. The glorious, glorious points. (If this game ends up 10-7 and decided by a late field goal, we should demand a refund.)
GEORGIA AT PENN STATE; Two enormously successful historical powerhouses that are often predicted for big things but fail to live up to those expectations? Yeah, this seems like a pretty good fit.
KENTUCKY AT MINNESOTA; Tubby Smith can flip the coin for the opening kickoff.
MARYLAND AT SOUTH CAROLINA; The Under Armour Bowl! The fashions in this game may be kooky, but the football will be... well, probably not that great.
MISSISSIPPI STATE AT NORTHWESTERN; Honestly, I just want to see how Mississippi State fans react to Evanston and the alleged tailgating "scene" there. Also, I want to see how many Northwestern students write to The Daily Northwestern the Monday after the game to complain about the cowbells making it impossible for them to get any quality reading in during the game.
ILLINOIS AT MISSOURI; Illinois-Missouri always seemed like a fiercer hoops rivalry than a football feud, but they are neighbors and there's no doubt some bad blood between the fanbases, so let's let them stoke that hatred with a game.
RUTGERS AT AUBURN; Both teams rode the struggle buss to disappointing finishes in the bottom of their respective divisions last year, so they can duke it out to see who's less terrible this year.
VANDERBILT AT PURDUE; Look, they can't all be winners. Something has to fill that 11 AM slot on ESPNEWS.
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Finally, in case you were wondering what Iowa's record is against every member of the SEC, we've got you covered:
ALABAMA (0-0): WHY'RE THEM HAWK-BOYS SCARED'A THA TIDE, PAAAWWWWWLLLLLL
ARKANSAS (1-0): Iowa mollywhopped the Razorbacks 26-0 back in 1925. Eat it, Hogs.
AUBURN (0-0): To the best of my knowledge, Iowa has never played ANY team from Alabama.
FLORIDA (1-2): Iowa outwitted and outplayed the Zook-led Gators in the 2004 Outback Bowl, but dropped a controversial loss to the Urban Meyer-led Gators in the 2006 Outback Bowl and also lost to them back at the 1983 Gator Bowl (although frankly playing Florida in the Gator Bowl seems like an unfair advantage for them).
GEORGIA (0-0): Another SEC team Iowa has never played.
KENTUCKY (0-0): Ditto.
LSU (1-1): Iowa recorded probably their most famous win over an SEC opponent with The Magic City Miracle/The Catch in the 2005 Capital One Bowl, though LSU got their win back in the 2014 Outback Bowl.
OLE MISS (0-0): Iowa's never played the Rebels.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (0-0): Much like teams from Alabama, it doesn't appear that Iowa has ever played a team from Mississippi.
MISSOURI (6-7): Iowa has played Missouri more times (13) than they've played other SEC teams combined (9), although that's certainly a cheat since all of those games against Missouri happened prior to the Tigers joining the SEC. Most of them happened over a century ago, too -- Iowa's only game against Missouri since 1910 was their 27-24 win in the 2010 Insight Bowl. The wounds of the Honey War run deep, yo.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0): Iowa's only game against the Gamecocks was Shonn Greene's Iowa swan song, a 31-10 shitkicking of the Cocks in the 2009 Outback Bowl. God, that was fun.
TEXAS A&M (0-1): Iowa's lone game against A&M came long before they joined the SEC -- and long before they joined the Big 12 Conference, too. They lost 29-0 to the Aggies in 1931.
TENNESSEE (1-2): The Vols are the most recent SEC opponent that Iowa has played, pantsing Iowa 45-28 in the 2015 Gator Bowl. Iowa beat them in the 1982 Peach Bowl and lost to them in the 1987 Kickoff Classic.
VANDERBILT (0-0): Maybe the Commodores have been too busy working the Nightshift, or maybe they've been Too Hot ta Trot; either way, they've never played Iowa.