Lions and Tigers and Cavs, oh my! With Michigan-Notre Dame back in business, which non-conference series should be revived next?
Schedule strength matters to high-rollers, but so do home dates. And ne’er the twain.
Take this week, for instance. Michigan adds a Notre Dame (good) to the schedule but drops an Arkansas (less good), and welcome to the corner a nine-game conference schedule eventually paints everybody into.
Every other year, Big Ten schools are probably shooting for three non-conference home games to try to balance out the league slate in years when five of those intraleague tests are away.
Which means even if you want to schedule up — and based on the lip service coming from the College Football Playoff selection committee, you should — you need a dance partner willing to come to your place in a way that keeps your calendar air-tight and your bean-counters happy.
To put it another way: Pac-12 athletic directors have bills to pay, too.
So with the Irish and Wolverines finally resuming pleasantries, that got us thinking: What other Big Ten non-conference series involving pairs of old rivals — several of them grudge matches from former leagues — could use a few kicks up the cornhole?
Last meeting: 2010.
First meeting: 1912.
Series record: Sooners lead, 45-38-3.
Why it matters: Because for two generations, it was the best damn thing going on Thanksgiving weekend. Grandma brought gravy. Huskers-Sooners brought the gravitas.
The longtime Big Six/Big Eight/Big 12 rivals faced each other for 71 straight seasons until the Big 12’s scheduling carousel broke up the streak in 1998. From 1971 through 1988, nearly every meeting was for massive stakes. In 17 of 19 tussles, both teams were ranked among the Top 11 of the Associated Press poll.
Huskers-Sooners was a clash of Top 10 teams on 18 different occasions and featured, since the onset of the AP poll, at least one ranked squad in 60 out of 70 meetings. The pair haven’t met since the 2010 Big 12 title game, which Oklahoma won, 23-20. The Huskers took the last regular-season meeting, a 10-3 victory at Memorial Stadium in 2009.
The formation of the Big 12 two decades ago blew the whole thing up, but thankfully, not for good. They’ll play again in 2021 and ‘22, a home-and-home series. The 2021 contest in Norman will honor the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century, when the top-ranked Huskers beat the second-ranked Sooners en route to a second straight national title.
Even better, the series between old conference neighbors Nebraska and Colorado, which picked up steam during the latter’s rise in ’89-’90, is back on the table as well. The two schools in 2013 agreed to a four-game, two-and-two series, with contests in Lincoln in 2018 and 2024 and at Boulder in 2019 and 2023.
And, hey, while we’re up …
2. Nebraska-Notre Dame
Last meeting: 2001.
First meeting: 1915.
Series record: Cornhuskers lead, 8-7-1.
Why it matters: If we have to explain it, you haven’t been paying attention. The last time the two storied programs met in South Bend — September of 2000 — the Huskers’ ticket office reportedly received 28,000 requests for an allotment of 4,000. By kickoff, Notre Dame Stadium was a sea of red.
The series dates back to 1915, when an 11-game stretch between the two Midwestern giants amounted to a 5-5-1 deadlock. In 1947 and ’48, the Irish clobbered the Huskers by a combined margin of 75-13. In ’73, at the Orange Bowl, the Big Red returned the favor with a 40-6 thrashing.
3. Penn State-West Virginia
Last meeting: 1992.
First meeting: 1904.
Series record: Nittany Lions lead, 48-9-2.
Why it matters: Penn State is the Mountaineers’ third-most-frequent opponent all-time, after Pitt (104 meetings) and Syracuse (60). West Virginia is the Lions’ third-most familiar foe after the aforementioned Panthers (96) and Orange (71).
Once one of the flagship tilts of the northeast, the Nits and ‘Neers met every season from 1947 through 1992, before the former took the Big Ten plunge. And like Nebraska-Oklahoma, the old war horse is getting another lap next decade, thanks to a home-and-home series slated for 2023 and ’24. Bonus: Penn State-Pitt resumes in September after a 16-year hiatus.
Last meeting: 2010.
First meeting: 1896.
Series record: Tigers lead, 17-7.
Why it matters: Because after the Rams cut town for Los Angeles, somebody’s got to throw St. Louis a football bone.
Last meeting: 2013
First meeting: 1919.
Series record: Terrapins lead, 44-32-2.
Why it matters: Beltway Braggin’, baby. Or as Eric Hoover so eloquently explained in a 2014 op-ed piece for The Washington Post:
“If all politics is local, the best rivalries are, too. The Washington area is loaded with Maryland and Virginia graduates who’ve long trash-talked one another at dinner parties and bars. Although Maryland will bring in the big bucks in its new conference, Terps fans will soon have to trek to Midwestern campuses, such as Iowa and Minnesota, to support their teams on the road. No more trips to Charlottesville, less than three hours away.”
The Terps picked up the baton with old West Virginia for a two-game series last fall (a 45-6 Mountaineers laugher in Morgantown) that’s slated to finish up at College Park in 2020. All well and good, but the Cavs? The Cavs were a different kind of hate. Hoover, again:
“In my experience, Maryland fans are the most obnoxious in the region. Their slogan — ‘Fear the turtle’ — is good advice; the turtle’s been known to riot, spew F-bombs and vandalize the cars of rival fans. I’ve witnessed such nastiness at dozens of Maryland-Virginia games over the past 30 years. At U-Md.’s Byrd Stadium in 2003, my friends and I encountered a scowling, red-clad toddler giving the finger — with both hands — to passing Virginia fans. This little charmer’s parents cheered him on.”
Do it, then. Do it for the children.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler