The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 5, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - Change in football powers

MORGANTOWN — Being a child of another era, there are things in this modern world which are hard to accept, especially in the world of sports.

Bad enough to accept baseball expansion and divisional play, where it came to pass that teams that could not win their own division could be world champions. Bad enough that the blight of the designated hitter was brought upon what had been the purist of all games.

It mattered not what sport, for none were immune to change. If the basket remained 10 feet high, the reward for getting to it was reduced by making long-range shots worth 50 percent more than layups that may be far easier to shoot but were far harder to set up.

But as you wake up in this 2010 world as visitor from yesterday, perhaps the most difficult thing to accept is the change in the power structure of college football. If you had told a child of the 1950s or ‘60s or ‘70s that the day would come when some school named Boise State would be the nation’s No. 4 team and TCU No. 5 while Texas, Penn State, Notre Dame and USC are unranked, he would have sent you off to have your head examined.

Right, you’d say, and next you’re going to tell me the New Orleans Saints are going the NFL champion.

Yet, if you pick up the newspaper — there are some of us that still do that — you will see that is just what has happened.

In fact, if you look at the Top 25, there are three Mountain West Conference teams and two Western Athletic Conference teams ranked while Texas, Penn State, Notre Dame, USC, Pitt and West Virginia are not.

In fact, the Big East Conference has hit such depths that it does not have a single team in the Top 25, which whether it wants to admit it or not is going to threaten its place in the college football power structure and, along with it, its place as BCS conference.

As difficult as it is to imagine, for the first time in five years the rankings came out without Pitt, West Virginia or Penn State included, a rather embarrassing situation for an area where college football is a way of life, if not life itself.

What has happened? Has the talent level in the area of Western Pennsylvania and its surrounding areas decayed that badly, driven out with the decline in mining in favor of high tech industry?

“I don’t think so,” Pitt Coach Dave Wannstedt, himself a product of the area and a player at Pitt back in the 1970s just before Tony Dorsett led the Panthers to a national championship, answered on Monday’s Big East Conference coaches call. “I can only go back five years, but I would say no. Things go in cycles.”

Wannstedt looked at the three local teams – Pitt, WVU and Penn State.

“West Virginia is playing with a new quarterback, Penn State is playing with a new quarterback, so are we,” he said. “We just happened to hit a cycle this year because there is turnover.”

The change, though, is deeper than just a cycle. What has happened is the NCAA has legislated a form of parity into its game through cutting scholarships to 85.

In the old days the top teams would take in 100 to 125 players to keep the other teams from getting them,” WVU Coach Bill Stewart noted.%

Now those other 15 to 40 players are finding places where they can play and you are seeing teams like Boise State and TCU and Nevada and even the Air Force Academy where Stewart coached pushing the Top 25 at the expense of traditional powers.

It once was like Texas, Notre Dame and USC had almost a New York Yankee-like aura and was able to get whomever they wanted, but that day now has passed.

Now, if you look, the talent has moved south and west. It is not found in the coal fields of Pennsylvania as it once was, but instead in the ghettos of Florida, in the heart of Alabama and Louisiana and on the plains of Texas.

Schools like Boise State, who commit to football above all else, benefit while the Rust Belt schools like Pitt, West Virginia and Penn State, to say nothing of the likes of a former national power like Syracuse now are scratching to keep the local talent and forced to mine foreign areas for its leftovers, for even those leftovers seem better than what they can get at home.

Asked how the Big East could regain its luster, Wannstedt was simplistic in his approach.

“It comes down to winning,” he said. “When we get opportunities to play non-conference games, we need to make a good showing.”

That is obvious, but it is getting tougher and tougher to make that good showing, especially with teams having expanded its schedules to 12 games and done so by adding patsies that can do nothing to improve the team or to add glamour to the program.

It just isn’t sexy to be beating Coastal Carolina or Florida International, as West Virginia and Pitt have done.

But don’t count teams like Penn State, Texas, USC, Pitt and WVU out yet.

“It’s a long season,” Stewart noted. “A long, long season.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

 

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