Big Ten Football: Imagining Michigan in the SEC
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Michigan knocked off Notre Dame 41-30 on Saturday night to keep the home winning streak under Brady Hoke alive, but that will not be enough to save this rivalry game. Michigan is simply not a big enough deal for Notre Dame to keep playing on an annual basis.
Oh really, Fighting Irish? Maybe Michigan should make a move so bold that Notre Dame would beg to have the rivalry back on the schedule...
A move that nobody would see coming...
A move to the Southeastern Conference!
Also known as Jim Delany's Darkest Timeline, part 2 (see the first Darkest Timeline here from 2012).
But how would such a move work out for the Wolverines? Let's take a break from analyzing the hot start of the 2013 Michigan football team to take a look at an interesting dream for the SEC.
* Fair warning: if satire and hyperbole aren't a strong suit, it may be a good idea to stop right there. Also, if the meaning of those terms is unclear, it may also be a good idea to stop right there. Moving on...
NEWS CONFERENCE—Atlanta, Georgia, Early 2014
Mike Slive steps to the podium with a backdrop behind him nobody would have thought possible when the college football playoff was approved a few months ago and realignment died down: Michigan block M logos interspersed with the iconic SEC circle logo.
Even though the reporters know what is coming, they are flabbergasted and struggle to come up with questions. Slive begins:
The SEC is pleased to announce a historic set of additions to the conference. Following up on a bold addition of Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012, the conference will now become the nationwide leader by encompassing the best of the Midwest and the best of the Pacific coast.
A hush goes over the crowd of reporters for the moment.
"We welcome, with open arms," Slive continues. "The University of Michigan to the Southeastern Conference, as well as the University of Southern California, as we announced yesterday."
Just like that, everything would be changed forever. The SEC makes a power play by moving not just to any 16 teams, but 16 teams that span from coast to coast and include two more of the most powerful and historic programs in the sport.
"We are pleased to bring a crown jewel into the fold and prove once again that the best place to be is in the SEC!" Slive concludes.
Somewhere in a distant land of Chicago, Jim Delany breaks something very pretty.
The floor opens up to Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman and athletic director Dave Brandon to take questions.
The first reporter asks, "The obvious question has to be, why this move? Why now?" Coleman's response:
Put simply, we see the future and it is headed South. While we fit academically with our former peers in the Big Ten Conference, Michigan needs to move from its old roots to be nationally relevant again in a part of the country that many believe are fading. This move is a bold reversal from the trends we see in Detroit and all across our great state.
Brandon went along with Coleman's sentiments:
President Coleman has done a lot of great things, but this move on her way to retirement may be the greatest legacy she will leave us. Michigan will not be left behind athletically, academically, or monetarily. This move is all about the future, and Michigan's place in that future.
A second reporter follows up, "Do you really think Michigan can compete in the SEC?"
"Undoubtedly. The SEC is the new world order of college athletics," Brandon states. "And Michigan will stand among the greats like USC, Florida and Alabama to bring the NCAA into the future."
But could the Wolverines actually compete?
March 2014—The New SEC Organizes Itself
The university presidents and athletic directors wasted no time, realizing that the SEC needed new schedules and new policies right away.
The first thing the SEC did was decide to make itself much more like a professional sports league than anything the NCAA has seen before. The SEC mandated a nine-game conference schedule following a similar formula as professional football scheduling, but some allowance needed to be made for some non-conference play.
After all, USC and Michigan did not want to completely turn their backs on old rivals, like Missouri and Texas A&M had. Thus, the SEC voted to allow two additional regular season games, one before conference play and one after, for rivalry games against other major programs.
The SEC also added two "preseason" scrimmages as additional revenue-generating home games for all against local Sun Belt, MAC and FCS schools.
That left the new four division lineup as follows:
|South||LSU||Ole Miss||Mississippi State||Florida|
|West||Southern Cal||Arkansas||Texas A&M||Missouri|
Yes indeed, Michigan gets handed a nice little platter of Kentucky and the two Tennessee schools to feast upon while the traditional powerhouses of the SEC remain in different divisions. The conference wants the new schools to compete and succeed, and placing Michigan and the trio of USC/A&M/Mizzou in this manner will accomplish those goals.
Plus, the schedule works out so that every year, a team plays the three division opponents, the four teams in a rotating opposite division, and two teams from the other two divisions that finished in the same place a season ago. Those division "placements" are randomly drawn for the 2014 season.
Thus, Michigan ends up with a first conference schedule featuring division rivals Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt; the entire South Division (Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU); and randomly drawn Auburn and Missouri from the other divisions.
Adding a couple directional Michigan schools for "preseason" scrimmage paychecks is also easy enough. But when it comes to scheduling rivals, Michigan is caught in a conundrum: Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Debate rages in Ann Arbor and across the Great Lakes region for weeks as Michigan negotiates with these three programs. While Michigan State and Ohio State are miffed at the Wolverines' departure from the Big Ten, they fight alongside Notre Dame to keep relevance in a college football landscape shifting away from that part of the country.
Ironically, Michigan ends up rebuffing Notre Dame for two reasons: (1) Notre Dame decided that Michigan was not good enough to keep in 2012, so turnabout is fair play, and (2) the other two schools deserved a leg up, for different reasons.
Michigan keeps Michigan State to keep the state strong rather than divided, and Michigan keeps OSU because the Buckeyes cannot beat the SEC.
The 2014 Season
Michigan comes in confident and ready to compete, and why not, considering the relatively easy schedule provided in year one of the new SEC world order. After handling a couple local MAC schools, Michigan opens the season with a win over Michigan State, which still cannot find an offense.
The regular-season conference schedule provides some ups and downs, with losses coming against Florida and LSU. However, seven wins is more than enough to win a division consisting of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt, especially with victories against all three head-to-head.
Devin Gardner earns serious Heisman hype as the leader of a dynamic pro-style offense.
Before tackling the four-team divisional playoff that would likely become the de facto National Championship of the future, Michigan takes on Ohio State in Columbus. Urban Meyer studied all year and worked his Buckeyes hard for 11 months to prepare for this SEC showdown.
That preparation pays off with an upset victory, one that the NCAA cannot take away against the SEC.
But ironically, Michigan does not much care as there are bigger concerns coming up in the SEC championship playoff. Brady Hoke draws a favorable game against Texas A&M in the semifinal, but Kevin Sumlin opens the playbook and surprises Michigan for a second straight crushing defeat to close the season.
While Michigan watches Alabama trounce A&M for the title, the university decides to move swiftly and bring in new leadership to better thrive in this new era. Brady Hoke is fired, and his 0-1 record as an SEC coach against OSU is cited as the reasoning for the termination.
The 2015 Offseason
Michigan goes a step farther than just firing Hoke: the university decides to unilaterally cancel the rivalry series with Ohio State, deeming it a no-win scenario. Ohio State players riot in response, some with joy at winning the last ever game against Michigan, others with frustration at being left in the dust of college football history.
The Buckeye football program spirals out of control faster than a scheme on Breaking Bad, and Urban Meyer decides to cut and run before getting burned again. There just happens to be a top-level SEC job waiting for him...
In a move that will live in infamy, Michigan introduces the next head coach: Urban Meyer. Ohio State is so shocked by the turn of events that the football program is temporarily discontinued.
Michigan keeps on winning, even as the turmoil continues. Notre Dame is added back to the schedule, and Michigan State becomes the end-season rival.
With Urban Meyer swearing off family in the pursuit to defeat his old rivals Nick Saban and Bret Bielema again, Michigan football becomes an instant factory. The top recruiting classes brought in during the Big Ten days and Brady Hoke pale in comparison to the hand-picked classes Meyer gets in Ann Arbor.
Meyer preaches "three yards and a cloud of dust," an approach he learned from his mentor Earle Bruce. That fools most of the SEC coaches who don't understand the spread led by a power-rushing attack, and it leads to Michigan easily dominating most SEC opponents on an annual basis.
SEC football proves to be much more of a draw than anticipated, and Michigan benefits greatly just like USC thanks to the unique setting compared to the Southern schools. Alabama, Southern Cal and Michigan go on to win their respective divisions most of the time over the next two decades, while LSU and Florida keep the other division up for grabs.
The next ten years of the SEC era are referred to as the "Second Ten-Year War" as Meyer and Saban meet each other on the field 15 times. Meyer comes out with a 8-7 record in these battles with Alabama, and both teams end up with four conference titles and national titles during this decade.
The College Football Playoff breaks off as a second division because the Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 are sick of losing every year to the SEC, leaving the SEC champion as the true national champion. All of a sudden, the world revolves around the 16 teams in the Southeastern Conference.
Meyer then takes his career to even new levels, winning seven more national (SEC) championships in his final 10 years of coaching. He retires with a lucky 13 national titles, the most decorated man in college football history.
Even in the Michigan history books, that ranks him above Bo Schembechler. Ohio State bans football forever as a result of the best two coaches in Michigan history both coming from the OSU coaching staff in earlier days.
The BCS era is fondly remembered across the country as "the good old days" when it was fair for 120 or more teams to have a chance at a national championship. Of course, the BCS era is also remembered fondly in SEC country, where the era of dominance leading to that conference breaking off from college football began.
Nobody will ever be able to match the 18 consecutive national championships the SEC won, and it all started in the BCS with a man named Urban Meyer against (who else?), the Ohio State Buckeyes.
So there you have it: Michigan would fit in just fine in the SEC.
In fact, with a crazy set of circumstances, the Wolverines might just dominate college football again for the first time since the 1800s. Wouldn't that be quite the story for the grandkids.
Jim Delany's Darkest Timeline part 2 may not be as grim as 5-8 Indiana in a Rose Bowl game, but it is pretty apocalyptic. Before the College Football Playoff occurred, it seemed as though one or more of these 16-team superconferences were the wave of the future.
Perhaps it still will be. For now, we can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the conferences and rivalries (for the most part, anyway, Notre Dame) that make this game great. Even if our favorite conferences are a bit bloated with 14 teams.
But now, having shaken the slumber leading to this interesting dream, it is time to get back to college football and next week's slate of 12 Big Ten games. And perhaps more importantly, to the conclusion of a climactic Breaking Bad episode that led to this amazing (and accurate) tweet:
Some Stormtrooper-level aim from everyone there. #BreakingBad— Adam Jacobi (@Adam_Jacobi) September 9, 2013
Wait, what? The weekend is not here for another four days? WANT MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND BREAKING BAD NOW!
To heck with it, let's go back to sleep and dream of more Michigan domination.
Thanks for reading! When not dreaming up plans for Michigan and SEC world domination, I can be found on Twitter (@DA_Fitzgerald for sports only and article links, @BuckeyeFitzy for personal and game-day commentary purposes). Yes, Michigan fans, I graduated from tOSU, judge as you will.
Please comment below with how you think Michigan would do in a new-look SEC.
See you later this week with analysis of how schedules could be a major road block for some Big Ten teams looking for a conference championship, and then again on Saturday, as I grade the real Michigan football team against the team from Ohio*.
* - Not "that Ohio." Instead, it will be Akron, where the sweater-vest is enjoying his retirement from football teaching more young minds about ethics and good character. After all, what else could a class entitled "Principles of Coaching" be about?
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