Big Ten/Irish Playbook: Michigan lurking if Washington stumbles. Thinking outside of the Irish box.

I’m not a huge fan of committees, but I think they've got it right. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are the correct Final Four choices at this point.

Gould Headshot square

I also think Michigan at No. 5 is a good call. The Wolverines would have a fine case for moving up to No. 4 if Washington loses. If Clemson loses, it might stay in the Final Four. But the Tigers ought not to risk putting their fate in the committee’s hands.

Also lurking is Wisconsin, which could play the Big Ten champion card in a way that Penn State, which was crushed by Michigan, could not.

Alabama and Ohio State are bullet-proof. The Crimson Tide might not be No. 1 if they lose to Florida, but there's no question that they should remain in the top four. And the Buckeyes can't drop if they don't play. Which they don't.


If there were an eight-team playoff, here’s how it might look, barring upsets:[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Western Michigan

Battle of last two unbeatens! Little guys with the right resumes deserve a slot.

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Wisconsin-Penn State winner

Rematch not ideal, but unavoidable. Pitting Ohio State vs. Oklahoma also would be a rematch.

No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 6 Oklahoma

Defensive coordinators won’t sleep well before this game.

No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 Michigan

What better way to settle the 4 vs. 5 question?


Don’t get me wrong. I have tremendous respect for Mark Dantonio. But I also think his Spartans benefitted at times from Ohio State and Michigan not hitting on all cylinders.

And now that the Buckeyes and Wolverines are at their best, I wonder if Michigan State’s outstanding run is over. And watch out for Penn State, too.

Put it this way: If there were a draft of Big Ten Eastern Division coaches, where would Dantonio go?

Would you pick Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh first? If they’re one-two, and I think they are, would you pick Dantonio or James Franklin third?

Based on past performance, Dantonio, of course, is third. Moving forward, that’s a tougher call.

Clip and save. We’ll see who accomplishes more in the next five years.


I really don’t know what to make of the Big Ten championship game.

Full disclosure: In my four years at Wisconsin, in the early ‘70s, the Badgers pounded out exactly four victories every season, like clockwork, compiling a record of 16-25-2.

So this business of making a record fourth appearance in the sixth Big Ten title game is new and heady stuff. The only thing they led the league in when I was there was running-back names. Grape Juice Johnson. A-Train Thompson. Lancelot Moon. And there was nothing better than hearing the Camp Randall crowd roar, ``Roof! Roof! Roof!'' after a big Rufus Ferguson run.

Going into the season, one thing I was certain of was that the Badgers would not win their opener vs. LSU at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Given more opportunities, I would pick that wrong every time.

But this matchup with Penn State is even knottier. Because it sure looks too close to call.

Key injuries could play a role. Wisconsin's left-handed freshman quarterback whiz, Alex Hornibrook, who left last week’s Minnesota game with a concussion, may not play. But fifth-year geezer Bart Houston always seems to get the job done.

Meanwhile, there’s uncertainty about the injured right foot, or ankle, of Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who has averaged only 54.7 yards in the last three games after averaging 168.7 yards in the four games before that.

That could be a tough deal against a Wisconsin defense that leads the Big Ten against the run and is fifth in pass defense.

That said, the Nittany Lions have had a magical year. I expect a very tight battle, with a very slight edge to the Badgers' broader shoulders.


Franklin (media) and Paul Chryst (coaches) split the Big Ten coach-of-the-year honors.

If I’d had a vote, it would have gone to Franklin.

Chryst did a marvelous job against a treacherous schedule, but Wisconsin has had a solid foundation for a long time, and it would have been understandable if the Badgers had stumbled more often than they did. Chryst made all the right moves, but he didn't walk a tightrope.

Franklin produced an incredible result in a season where he was under intense pressure to produce. And he did it at a program that is just emerging from one of the ugliest scandals a college football team has had to endure.


Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that Brian Kelly’s ``representatives’’ can find him an acceptable new coaching position. Maybe Oregon, which had success with another Kelly not long ago. If the UCLA job opens up. . . if Sonny Dykes takes the Baylor job and Cal needs a coach. . .

Who knows which scenarios will develop, and which might intrigue Kelly? But it appears that he is looking around. And a change of scenery would do him and Notre Dame some good.

They’re not going to fire him, not with the six-year extension he received in January. And yet, with all the unrest over ND’s 4-8 record, and with the NCAA hammering the Irish for an academic scandal, and with Kelly again showing a wandering eye, if the right opportunity arose, it’s possible the embattled coach and the legendary program would shake hands and wish each other well.

Which brings us to the question: Who should/could/would ND hire?

How about P.J. Fleck? The guy has worked wonders at nearby Western Michigan. He’s a bundle of positive energy. He has personal/family reasons for wanting to stay in the Midwest. Notre Dame has a history of thinking outside the box when hiring football coaches. And Fleck knows the Chicago territory that is huge for ND’s recruiting as well as its fan base.

Yeah, he's young and it's a much bigger stage, yada yada. But Fleck would be a much more logical hire than Gerry Faust, straight from high school, or Charlie Weis, from an NFL video room.

No question, there are lot of dominoes involved there.

But if Kelly and Notre Dame can make that happen, they ought to sign up pronto.

Unless Kelly can pull double-digit wins out of his shillelagh next fall, life at Notre Dame won’t be fun for anybody.

To be clear, though, take the under on Kelly leaving Notre Dame. The way under.[/membership]