Hello, Dabo. Goodbye, Columbus. What's up, Irish? A season in review

I know that many of my modern media friends already have posted their ``way-too early, you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me’’ 2017 pre-season football top 25s.

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Which is fine. I’ve done that in the past. And have no problem with it. It’s fun.

But indulge me. I prefer to look back on 2016 for a moment.

My favorite quote occurred in one of the first game broadcasts of the season. . . from ESPN’s Jesse Palmer: ``Hindsight is 50-50.’’

I mention that not simply because I find it amusing. But also because, in its own convoluted way, it’s so true. And because it just seems appropriate to this year-end review.


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Plenty of people were quick to jump on the Big Ten because of its lousy 3-7 bowl record.

Yup. It was lousy.

That said, the Big Ten had a really good year.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

If you follow college football because it’s entertaining and enjoyable, look at all the Big Ten teams that had really nice years, even if there were a few bumps in the road, especially at the end.

Penn State. Michigan. Ohio State. Wisconsin. Northwestern. Minnesota. Nebraska.

If you root for one of those teams and can’t say that overall, that was pretty good stuff, you’re in the wrong line of play.

I would also include Maryland, Indiana and Iowa, which provided some nice on-the-field moments.

Were there some bad finishes on the field? Especially at Ohio State? Yes.

Were there some unseemly and bizarre coaching storylines? At Indiana and Minnesota? Yes. But it appears that both schools have made promising changes.


I’m not going to get into which conference was the nation’s best. The ACC certainly has a right to that claim.

But then, you're consigned to watching Clemson-North Carolina, and Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech.

We’re not doing that in the heartland.

And by the way, if you’re going to be the best conference in the nation, you have to get rid of the worst division names in the nation.

Atlantic and Coastal? Really? Does anybody know which schools are in those divisions?

How about Legends and Leaders? That’s available. Century and Capital? Smythe and Norris? Or simply A and B?


Hats off to Clemson. Dabo Swinney is right about a lot of things.

If Texas or USC or Ohio State or Notre Dame had done to Alabama what the Tigers did, we would be anointing them with much more love.

That’s especially true with Swinney. If he had worked his magic at a Major Power, we would be pondering the end of the Crimson Tide Era, and wondering how many national championships a Swinney-led Major Power would gobble up.

Instead, the question is: Can Swinney keep it going? Or is Clemson’s success tied to waiting for the next streetcar named Deshaun Watson?

My guess is, Alabama wins another title before Clemson does. But that’s just me.


Here’s one Big Ten takeaway from a season in which it was legit to think (for a big chunk of the season) that Ohio State and Michigan could be national champion—or at least earn the right to face Alabama in the championship game. . .

Many years ago, when I was a features writer at the Chicago Sun-Times, I did a story on an ad-exec friend of mine, Bill Werme, who flew high-tech kites.

He would spend his lunch-hour next to Lake Michigan, near Navy Pier, flying these very cool Delta Wing kites. They looked like the parachutes that the U.S. Army Black Knights team uses.

For fun, this friend would try to have airborne duels with seagulls. Like World War I dogfights. He would dart and bob his kite, trying to befuddle a seagull. And lose.

His kites were no match for the seagulls.

``They do it for a living,’’ Werme said with a bemused shrug.

That sort of sums up my thoughts about Big Ten teams trying to beat Deep South teams for college football’s national championship.

They do it for a living.


Imagine a table for three. . . with dyed-in-the-wool supporters of Notre Dame, Texas and Michigan State. . . arguing about who was the most deserving of National Flop of the Year.

``We had the worst season.’’

``No. We did.’’

``Nobody can touch us for rock bottom.’’

To be fair, they all had a slew of shocking and disappointing performances.

To calculate who was worst, though, you need to calculate their prospects for moving forward.

@ Texas, because it hired the Next Great Coach, finishes third. (Although Charlie Strong was the Next Great Coach not so long ago. So we’ll see how that turns out.)

@ Michigan State, because it had a really impressive run of excellence before disaster struck this fall, finishes second. Because Mark Dantonio (although he misses Pat Narduzzi) and his staff are proven and solid. Life in the Big Ten East (with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State) is going to be, um, difficult. But it’s not as if there’s anybody out there who’s better qualified to try than Dantonio.

@ And the winner/loser is. . . Notre Dame. I suspect that the turmoil will continue at ND. The way Brian Kelly is shuffling his coaching deck, he can always find a job in Vegas. But we’ll see how far that gets the Irish.

There are so many personnel questions to go with the coaching questions. There was that nasty NCAA academic smackdown, which hurts more at ND because it prides itself on no longer being a South Side institution of higher learning.

And most of all, Kelly seemed so uncomfortable—so flappable—last fall. That’s a tough deal under the Golden Dome, where you’re never supposed to let them see you sweat.[/membership]