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Sunday, September 13, 2009

My new theory on the Big 10

I've always opposed the idea that the stature of the Big 10 has fallen because Yankees are slower on average than their southern counterparts. No one has ever provided me evidence to that effect. After Ohio State lost to LSU, I showed that speed was not the issue. Instead, I have argued that the South is benefiting from a growing talent pool (in terms of athletes, students, and donors) while the Midwest is hunting for minnows in a shallow, stagnant, and shrinking pond-its demography, not genetics, weather, or proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.

But Ohio State consistently gets the best talent from the Midwest and also pulls five star recruits from Florida. Their classes are as good, and as fast, as the classes that USC, Texas and Florida are grabbing. Ohio State was every bit as physically talented as USC but lost anyway. Why do they fold against top caliber teams?

The answer came to me while I was watching Ohio State's otherwise dominant defense collapse at the end of each half against USC. The Big 10, and especially its elite, do not condition the same way they do in the South. Its happened with the Buckeyes before. Texas went to a no-huddle hurry-up offense a year ago and the Ohio State D was barely staying upright by the end of the drive. Lack of conditioning, and perhaps even a lack of practice, make you look slow.

If Exhibit A is a fatigued Buckeye, Exhibit B is the Rich Rodriguez experience at Michigan. Rodriguez expects his players to practice and condition like everyone else and players start to rebel. Why? They haven't done it before. And now that they have taken on a big league conditioning regiment, Michigan is quickly looking like a contender again-they are faster at every position, even at positions that are still filled by Lloyd Carr guys.

Exhibit C: Notre Dame is in the Big 10 culturally if not physically. Notre Dame also recruits nationally, so the slowness of Yankees should not be a problem. But the knock on Notre Dame is their teams have been slow, right? But the real problem has not been raw speed-if you look at the Notre Dame recruiting classes for the last 8 years their classes have not been slower than, say, Navy or Syracuse. But they've looked slow recently because they haven't trained hard enough. They have suffered from both the Big 10 culture and Charlie Weis' self-constructed image as a super genius whose teams can outsmart others even if they are not as physically prepared.

This does not rule out depth as a possibility. While Big 10 teams can have some very good players, and Ohio State and Michigan can even field an entire first team of very good players, it is harder to get the depth of talent that a USC or Florida has (demography again). Lack of depth can make you look slow and can cause you to tire early.

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