First of all, thank you for the nice compliments and recommendations on the first two weeks' editions. Even though Mizzou had a bye, I have a few thoughts for this week -- with no game, I'll focus a bit more generically in regards to Mizzou, and this week will give me the opportunity to address a couple of "off the field" issues, which you'll see below. And, per the first couple weeks, I'm also including a basketball thought, as well.
1. Indiana is for real, at least on offense. Wow, I did not expect that game to have that margin, given Indiana's previous struggles with Navy and how well Bowling Green had played. I expected Indiana to score, but I thought their defense would give up more than 10 points. On the offensive end, Sudfeld (QB), Latimer (WR), Coleman (RB) and Houston (RB) had outstanding games (interestingly, it was Hughes who led in receiving against Navy and Bolser against Indiana State) and I think it's fair to say at this point Indiana's offense has moved from "potential" to "real" with a number of offensive weapons that we'll have to defend. While Indiana State, Navy and Bowling Green may not be tests enough to judge whether Indiana can keep up that pace against tougher defenses, it is nonetheless consistently high production and something to be greatly concerned about.
2. Indiana is a season defining game for us. I know that seems rather strong terminology for our third game, but in this case I think it's appropriate. There are different kinds of seasons in college football. Awful seasons (think KU last year), bad seasons (think Mizzou last year), "okay" seasons (think 6-6ish, like 2005), good seasons (7-5 / 8-4), and then great seasons (9-3+) and beyond. If you lose this game, great is out the window and good is going to require some upsets, and you're really just fighting to salvage the possibility of an okay season against Vanderbilt. If you win, you're likely looking at 4-0 going into Vanderbilt, which means you're on your way to at least an "okay season" and have set yourself up for perhaps something better.
Overall, I'm still optimistic that we win in Bloomington. I concur with those who say an over/under of around 70 is appropriate, as I do think we're going to have to score 40 to be assured of a win. I'm going to stick with my 45-31 prediction.
3. Mizzou should be mindful of Truman's Landing & Fan Experience issues. I touched on this last week, and I've been thinking about this simmering issue quite a bit the past few weeks, ever since it presented itself this past summer when the good folks who bring RV's to games were forced to move from their previous locations in Lot N and C to their new location at Reactor. It's certainly raised its head more with the number of complaints I've read about on PowerMizzou. I also think this issue brings to light some of the challenges Mizzou is going to face in the brave new world of the SEC and the balances in trying to achieve consistent, fun atmospheres for different types of fans while still generating the revenue necessary to compete.
My perspective on this issue is from the point of view of someone who has attended all but one game since 1995 and yet is not a tailgater. My tradition is to usually arrive about 60-90 minutes before kickoffs and watch warmups. We usually eat before or after the game in town, and about once a season or so we create a bit of extra time, usually prior to a game, to walk around campus. I think I'm a good example of the fact that every group of fans has their own traditions and MU has to be cognizant of all of them. Some fans enjoy bringing an RV on Friday night and making a whole 24 hours out of it. Some fans enjoy arriving early the day of and simply tailgating with their car or SUV. Many others are like me...eating in town before or after, but not huge tailgaters, but arriving about an hour or so before the game. Some stay in a hotel, others don't.
With all that in mind, it strikes me that Mizzou has a very solid fan base, but that doesn't mean it's immune from breaking at places. I came to Mizzou in 1995, at the tail end of the horrible years of the mid 80's through mid 90's. At the time, we were drawing 40K or so. Frankly, that always struck me as pretty solid given how bad we were at the time, and I think that strong base has allowed to build up to where we are now, where the lowest crowd we see is 55,000 and we are consistently drawing in the 60's in terms of our average. I think it's fair to say our base fan base has gone from 35k to about 45K and then we get anywhere from 10K to 25K extra fans, depending on a number of factors - weather, record, atmosphere, fan experience, and opponent.
However, as I noted last week, though solid, I also think the relative newness of this increased attendance makes us vulnerable as well. Price and television availability have combined to give folks more reasons NOT to attend games -- or at least as frequently - than ever before. While I don't see us dropping below the 55K range, which would have been fine about 5 years ago, how will this look in a stadium that seats 75K or even 80K? Yes, games against LSU and Alabama will fill up the place, but I worry about the rest of the schedule.
Regarding the Truman's Landing issue specifically, it seems to me Mizzou would be wise not to ignore this and perhaps take a really careful look at whether the solution they've enacted is the right one for the long term. The last thing you want to do is start creating cracks in your base of fans that were there through thick and thin, as many RV'ers were. If you start messing with traditions, you mess with people attending games, period. People get attached to their "ways" -- whether it be their seat or their parking lot and certainly their friends who attend with them and certainly their RV and weekend set up 6 or 7 times a year. I think Mizzou is playing with fire by going down this road.
Again, I'm not even a tailgater, much less an RV'r, but I think that those folks are part of what makes the college atmosphere so special. They also make up the most passionate and most loyal among our fan base, given the ordeal they go through each and every year to attend games. These traditions should be rewarded, not discouraged. Moving them away from the stadium and what feels like miles away from all the other lots seems unwise to me. Just walking from my spot in Lot P to the stadium, I miss the sights and sounds of the RV's and I feel atmosphere has suffered as a result, now that they're buried down at Reactor. I get a passing glance when I turn my car from Providence onto Mick Deaver, and though I understand why Mizzou's parking planners thought the Truman's Landing idea was a good solution, I'm not sure it is in practice.
I understand the underlying reason is a need to find parking for the folks buying the new suites on the east side of the stadium, and the fact that the RV's occupied a large number of parking spots that will now be needed to accommodate the fans getting pushed out of J, K, and O. I get all that. I know an easy solution may not be out there, and perhaps some adjustments will be made as we go forward. I just would like to see the RV lot back up closer to the stadium. Interestingly, I think you could make a case for making the public "family friendly" lot (a good idea, I think, in itself, that I think shows Mizzou is trying) the RV lot and put the families down at Reactor. Or, perhaps make Lot X the RV lot and put the displaced Lot X fans down at Reactor. It is my understanding Lot X is a bit of a party lot anyway, and Reactor has that history -- so why not?
Whatever the solution, Mizzou's challenge is to ensure the fan experience is quality for all fans -- not just the suite holder, but the RV holder with 10 tickets in CC too; not just the donor with a guaranteed close parking spot, but the low and mid level donors as well, as they can become big donors later on. You want to make sure someone like myself has his car spot and can get in easily when he arrives 60 minutes before the game, but you also want to make sure the fan who arrives early is taken care of too.
My worry is as college sports becomes more and more of a business enterprise and as Mizzou dives in more and more to be part of that (a good thing), that some of these things will take a back seat and we'll end up "professionalizing" the gameday experience too much and price out even the fan with decent yet not unlimited income.. It is my view that would not be wise. You've seen the no shows around the country...college sports is not immune from the realities of the economy and economic choices. In fact, what drives its success -- television -- could also be a contributor to its issues, which increasingly will be attendance and fan experience and losing tradition.
I will likely expand on other areas of this in the future but I think this whole issue of "fan experience/attendance" is something the college sports world should pay attention to. Indeed, I think part of the "enterprise" IS the fan experience and the crowds, and that shouldn't be lost on those who make the decisions.
4. I'm skeptical about playing Kansas again in football. I noticed Pinkel was quoted as saying he would like to see the game against Kansas come back. I'm actually against this move, even though I'm a Kansas City-area guy and was probably among the most skeptical about moving to the SEC. First of all, as I will discuss later, the 9-game conference schedules limit your flexibility in the non-con and I don't want 1 of our 3, in the future, to be locked into playing Kansas. Secondly, while this might ruffle a few feathers (no pun intended), it's my view that we moved on from playing KU when we left the Big 12. There is no recreating old rivalries. I would rather schedule a game vs. Oklahoma State, K-State, or even Baylor than Kansas. Maybe in the future, perhaps even in basketball where the flexibility is a little more, but I see no compelling reason to play them in football in the near term, simply because we share a border.
5. I love the basketball schedule. I know it's not the most difficult thing in the world, but there is a huge difference between teams like Long Beach State and Western Michigan versus Arkansas Pine Bluff and Binghamton. Heck, just the fact we are playing Southern Illinois instead of Southern Illinois Edwardsville is a huge difference, to me. Add in UCLA and West Virginia, and you have a home schedule folks can get excited about. It's a definite step up - frankly, in the last few years, I felt the basketball ticket price for a season ($470 in my case for one slate) was a rip off given the non-con. Still a bit pricey but more in line with the quality of competition.
As for college football as a whole..
6. The Pac 12 is the second best conference. This could change, but the Pac 12 is, from top to bottom, becoming the kind of conference that can compete with the SEC in football and is certainly second best in my view. In past years, the Pac 12 was fielding 6-6 teams in decent bowl games, but that appears to have changed. Oregon and Stanford are true elite powers, with UCLA and Washington now emerging behind them to give the conference four legitimate Top 20 programs who have been impressing early on. Arizona State has cracked the rankings. Arizona is 3-0. Cal and Colorado are probably the bottom, but I'd put both of them against the bottom feeders of the other big five and I'd say the comparison is favorable. I'd urge folks to catch the late Pac 12 games, kind of a tradition for me...both the Utah/Oregon State and Wisconsin/ASU games last night were highly entertaining!
7. I'm against short non-conference schedules. I mentioned how much I like non-conference games last week and thought I would expand on that this week by talking about my opposition to 9-game conference schedules. Despite the fact we went 5-7, I really enjoyed last year's schedule. The games against Arizona State, Syracuse and Central Florida were compelling non conference matchups and should occur more often. The variety of teams was fun and certainly as interesting as say, Mississippi State.
Beyond that own personal preference, however, I think college football would be well served by more games between the SEC and the Pac 12, for instance. I don't see how a playoff selection committee can adequately compare teams with so few non conference matchups by which to compare them. What seems odd to me is that supposedly they'll pay more attention to schedule strength (a good thing in my view) -- and the 4th game has provided some flexibility to schedule another quality game...yet, the move towards 9 game conference schedules will limit this more, particularly with schools that have a pre-programmed non-con rivalry, like Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State, or even Colorado-Colorado State. This produces several consequences -- either you see less quality non conference matchups OR teams simply drop their tune up games, and schools who depend on the checks to build their football programs will be hurt.
I like the 8 - 4 model for that reason, because it allows the tune up game and then three "tough" games, which schools can schedule based on their needs. I also like it because it evens out the home/road in conference, like we see in basketball. I hope that conferences move back to that over time, as the playoff system emerges.
8. Texas, USC and Nebraska could all have vacancies. This is amazing to think about given the high profile nature of those jobs. But, the seat is definitely hot in all three locations, as it should be. Texas is just embarrassing, Kiffin has no wiggle room now, and it seems Pelini's seat is now warming up given how bad they looked vs. Wyoming and their crushing defeat to a solid but shouldn't-be-20-points-better UCLA squad. It will be interesting to see the speculation on who hires who....if you want a name for Nebraska, think Scott Frost.
9. Will Alabama just coast now? In a word, yes ,with one caveat. While anything can happen on any given Saturday, the fact is that due to the fact they do not play Georgia or South Carolina, the only real roadblock for the Tide between now and the SEC Title Game is LSU. Ole Miss is certainly emerging but not "win at Alabama" good yet. Alabama's road games are at Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi State. They play Colorado State, Georgia State and Chattanooga in the non-con. However, I do think LSU can beat them and certainly the SEC title game looms large. So while they seem to have a ready made 11 wins, 12 and 13 could be quite difficult.
10. There are so many awful teams. At this point in the season, it may seem a bit early to be speculating about the national title game and who will be in the hunt come November. Indeed, even though I think we can pinpoint about 7-10 teams who realistically can be in the discussion, 2007 taught us that things can radically change over the course of the season if the dominoes start falling. However, one thing we do seem to know is who is truly awful. And what is perhaps a little surprising is how many teams fit this category. Here is a list: Temple, South Florida, Memphis, UCONN, Wake Forest, FIU, Southern MIss, Idaho, New Mexico State, UMASS, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, Miami-Ohio, San Diego State, New Mexico, Georgia State, Iowa State, and Kansas. That's 20 - and frankly you could add about 10 more and not be unreasonable. Yikes -- and to think 70 of the remaining 100 or so teams will be in bowl games is frightening.
My Top 5: 1. Oregon; 2. Alabama; 3. Clemson; 4. LSU, 5. Stanford
That's it for this week.