We are still more than a week out from Big Ten football — Northwestern and Nebraska kick off at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 27 in Dublin, Ireland, despite toxic exports clearly being banned under European Union bylaws — and already chaos is reigning.
(There’s also Big Ten football, and we use those terms loosely, that afternoon in Champaign, as the Illini host Wyoming at 4 p.m. in potentially the least color-coordinated matchup — brown and gold vs. blue and orange, please won’t somebody think of the scorched retinas? — in recent Division I history. At least the Cowboys get a trip out of Laramie. We’re not sure what Bret Bielema and the Illini get.)
Just hours after the Big Ten struck a mega-deal Thursday for its TV rights on CBS, Fox and NBC beginning in 2023 (give or take a season), the University of California Regents realized they might have some say in what conference UCLA competes in, or at least some say over how many 9 a.m. Pacific time kickoffs they can stand.
Will UCLA pull out of its 2024 jump to the Midwest? Will the Big Ten be forced to look for another West Coast school to pair with USC? Will this spawn another 1,000 takes on how everyone is just waiting for Notre Dame to settle down with a conference, once and for all (as the forever-single Fighting Irish count their cash once more)?
No, no and yes, if we had to guess. But still, CHAOS! has reared up once again, and the Freep’s Big Ten Misery Index is here for it, even if we're still technically in the offseason.
There is, of course, one solution to all this mess: Let UCLA stay in the Conference of (Non-Revenue) Champions — and send San Diego State to the Big Ten-Plus-Six instead.
Yes, we know, the Aztecs weren’t even worthy of a Big 12 invite during the previous round of Conference Realignment Roulette, and they’re currently waiting on a Power Five Prom invite from that hunky third-string QB, the Pac-12.
And yet, we must make this humble observation: San Diego State is secretly a Big Ten program, hiding out on the West Coast — at least if you look at its moneymakers, football and men’s basketball.
On the court, they’re led by longtime Michigan assistant Brian Dutcher (who recruited the Fab Five, including Juwan Howard, a generation ago), the successor to honorary Michigan Man Steve Fisher after 18 seasons in San Diego. It’s not quite Jud-to-Izzo program memory, but it has lasted the entirety of SDSU’s time in the Mountain West Conference, so why not try something new? The Aztecs also haven’t advanced out of the first round of the NCAA tournament since 2015, so they’d fit right in with the rest of the Big Ten’s annual March Moroseness.
On the gridiron, they’re led by longtime Michigan Man Brady Hoke, who’s entering the third season of his second stint with the Aztecs. Year 2, Take 2 went pretty well for Hoke — a 12-2 record despite scoring 20 points or less five times. (Remember, going 9-4 in his second season at SDSU the first time around got him hired at Michigan.)
That 2021 run included wins over Power Five schools Arizona — yes, still — and Utah. The Aztecs’ most exciting player recently was punter Matt Araiza — the “Punt God” — who led the nation in booming kicks, then went in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL draft to Buffalo. If all that doesn’t scream “noon slot vs. Rutgers on the Big Ten Network,” we don’t know what does.
Plus, it would split up L.A.’s twin perennial underachievers, “Parent Trap”-style. We imagine this would end with a surprise reunion in the Rose Bowl 10 years from now, in which the Big Nineteen and the Pac-3.14159 discover they were always meant to be together (again), we all get sick of the two schools’ fight songs (again) and Lindsay Lohan somehow ends up in rehab (again). (At least, we think that’s how “The Parent Trap” went. It’s been a while.)
And because you’re already asking, USC is the Lohan “twin” headed to rehab. They employed Lane Kiffin as head coach for 2½ seasons; every day since has been “rehab” in some sense for the Trojans.
Besides, the Big Ten could do just fine with only one Los Angeles school. There’s no real fix for non-revenue scheduling, SDSU makes a fine basketball partner for USC, and either way, sportswriters will still get their once-a-year trip to In-N-Out so they can wax poetic on Twitter about how superior the California smash burger with Thousand Island dressing is to the Michigan, Minnesota or Iowa equivalent. Likewise, L.A.’s digitally-stained wretches can still sample a runza in Nebraska, a Jucy Lucy in Minnesota, open-face turkey sandwiches in Ohio, crabs with an unhealthy amount of Old Bay seasoning in Maryland and whatever the favorite food in New Jersey is … Sbarro's Pizzo, we guess.
(If the Big Ten was adding schools based on food, the ACTUAL best burger chain in the Pac-12 footprint is Oregon’s Burgerville, featuring Tillamook cheddar and Walla Walla Sweet onions on its burgers, skinny fries and marionberry shakes. You’re welcome.)
Will any of this happen? Almost certainly not.
There’s simply too much money involved in getting two LA schools into the Big Ten, and too much prestige in adding Chip Kelly, John Wooden, Lincoln Riley and half of Oklahoma’s best football players to the best of the Midwest. (Riley seems likely the only one to still be around by 2024, and even he’s no guarantee.)
But for now, at least until somebody in L.A. crunches the numbers (again), we can revel in the dream: Hoke, storming the field from the Big House sidelines after a 52-yard field goal into the driving rain gives San Diego State a stunning November afternoon upset: Aztecs 9, Wolverines 6 (2 OT).
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Big Ten football Misery Index has a fix for UCLA wobbles: Brady Hoke