College Football: Big Ten to keep FCS teams off schedule
By Jack McCarthy
CHICAGO — The Big Ten’s expansion to nine conference games in 2016 will enable each school to face every Big Ten team at least once in a four-year span.
But it will also phase out nonconference matchups with Football Championship Series programs.
“What we’ve tried to do is structure our conference schedule and our scheduling to deliver an opportunity for our teams if they’re successful,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said at this week’s media days. “We make no predictions. We make no excuses. We will play one major intersectional game, nine conference games, a championship game and all games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.”
Past visits by lower division programs to a Big Ten school — frequently early in the season — would result in nice paydays and typically a loss.
But there was also the occasional surprise, notably Appalachian State’s stunning 34-32 upset of Michigan in 2007.
“That was the first game broadcast by BTN (Big Ten Network) — that was quite a shocker and reflected well on Appalachian State,” Delany said. “I know that Furman has won big games, Georgia Southern, (but) these are selective teams.
“The college playoff entity has signaled to us in a policy statement that they are looking for the four best teams in the country and that they’re going to make that determination on the basis of the quality of your schedule, the strength of your schedule, winning championships head-to-head, and games against comparable opponents.”
FCS teams still dot several Big Ten schedules and are often smaller in-state or next-door opponents.
For example, Northwestern hosts Western Illinois this season and in 2017, and Eastern Illinois (2015) and Illinois State (2016) are also schedule. Iowa entertains Northern Iowa this season and Illinois State in 2015.
Purdue schedules include Southern Illinois this season, Indiana State (2015) and Eastern Kentucky (2016). Indiana opens this season against Indiana State.
TOP OF THE HEAP: Ohio State is favored to beat Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten title game, at least according to a poll of 29 conference writers conducted by cleveland.com. The Buckeyes were picked over defending champion Michigan State for the East Division title. The teams were in separate divisions last year and the Spartans topped the Buckeyes 34-24 for the championship and a Rose Bowl berth. The Badgers were given the edge over Iowa in the West.
URBAN TALES: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he’s concerned about the team’s offensive line and pass rush entering the fall. “(I’m) a little disappointed what happened in spring. We just didn’t see the growth (in the offensive line) that we would like to see,” he said. “(Secondary coach) Chris Ash has done an admirable job of installing a brand-new pass defense that we’re going to test and see how it goes during training camp.” At least Meyer doesn’t have to worry about returning quarterback Braxton Miller, saying the senior is healthy and “ready to go” after recovering from a shoulder injury in a 40-35 Orange Bowl loss to Clemson. “He’s full speed, in the best shape of his life,” Meyer said. Miller completed 162 of 255 passes for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns last season.
SOLIDARITY BUT NO UNION: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the so-far unsuccessful efforts by former quarterback Kain Colter and others to unionize players has served to unify the Wildcats entering 2014. “We’ve been through more since probably January than most, and it’s been nothing but a positive and nothing more than unifying in our locker room and throughout our entire football program,” said Fitzgerald, now the second-longest serving Big Ten coach behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (16 seasons). “So I think we’re a leg up from that standpoint.”
BTN GOES EAST: Viewers of cable systems in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C. will get their fill of new conference members Rutgers and Maryland along with the league’s other 12 members after carriage agreements for the league-operated Big Ten Network were finalized last month. Deals with Comcast for distribution in New Jersey and Maryland were in place before the official entries of Rutgers and Maryland on July 1. Deals with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision were concluded in May for service in New York and Washington D.C. and other northeast markets. “We’ve been very busy over the last year in the television area to go from a 12-university conference to 14 and to make that seamless from a television perspective,” Commissioner Jim Delany said. “(We’re) very pleased to get the distribution out East.” The network, which offers more than 1,000 athletic events, is now available in 60 millions homes.
KILL, GOPHERS HEALTHY: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill says he’s feeling healthier and his football program reflects the improvement. The fourth-year coach missed two games last year because of epileptic seizures — a condition he has had since 2005 — but reportedly has had none since October. “I’m feeling fine, thanks for asking,” was Kill’s brief response when asked about his health during this week’s Big Ten football media days. Minnesota went 8-5 last year — the Gophers’ first winning season since 2005 — and reached a bowl game for a second straight year.