This is maaaaybe premature there, ESPN. Maryland #1 FWIW.
Currently the B1G and SEC are in a bit of a scheduling crisis as they transition from 10 team conferences to 16 team superconferences. One problem with this is many annual, traditional conference opponents play in a seperate division now, and many rivals go several years without facing each other, even though they belong to the same conference. Another problem is the scheduling of "gimmie games" that occasionally provide miraculous upsets, but are usually guaranteed to be uninspiring blowouts in the hosts favor. As Conferences expand from 8, to 10, to 12, 14, and even 16 teams, and the implimentation of a postseason playoff system is fast approaching, we could end up having no choice but to address these two problems.
Hypothetically: If the B1G expanded to 16 teams, and Michigan continued to play 4 out-of-conference games each year, plus it's 1 protected game against the Buckeyes, then we would never play another cross divisional opponent outside of a Conference Championship game again. We'd play 7 games in our Division, The Game, and 4 games against Western, Eastern, UConn, and Utah, and that makes 12.
It's possible to add another regular season game, maybe 2, to rotate in 7 of the B1G teams we'd otherwise never face on a semiannual basis, but it's highly impractical. Schools like Michigan, with postseason play in mind, look to play a Conference Championship game, and 2, or maybe 3 postseason games every year, if/when they expand it. This already already puts us at a 14-15 game season, adding 1 or 2 more and potentailly playing 17 games for the sake of keeping 4 realtively meaningless ones is just silly, and many B1G matchups would still be rare.
Eliminating out-of-conference play in favor of cross-Divisional play would be an easy solution. Even if we played 1 marquee O.O.C. matchup each year, plus our 1 protected game, we'd be able to rotate 3 of our 7 remaining B1G opponents each season. That'd mean even if we don't play in the B1G Championship Game we'd be guaranteed to face all our Conference members every 3 years, with the possibility of that happening every 2 years, sometimes replaying Cross Divisional opponents in the B1G Championship.
Another reason for eliminating creampuff scheduling in favor of cross-divisional scheduling is that the new playoff system takes strength of schedule into account when picking at-large teams to participate. Playing the likes of Wisconsin, and Penn State is much more prestigious, and would look much better on a postseason resume, than playing UNLV, and BYU instead, not to mention the revenue playing a B1G team generates compared to paying MAC schools a million dollars to come lose to us.
Say in a few seasons LSU has 2 quality losses, but the SEC West in general is having a down year, if they played 4 FCS schools, and only played Missouri and Kentucky, or Vanderbilt, and Tennessee from the SEC East, then their S.O.S. might prevent them from getting one of the few at-large births into the postseason in favor of a, say, 1 loss Georgia, who they could handily beat, but didn't play. Same goes for ND. If they lose to Stanford and USC in a year where they only play the 5 weak ACC teams, play Purdue and a few Big East teams over Michigan and Staee, and schedule Service Academies over the likes of Oklahoma (plus don't participate in any Conference Championship) then any 1 loss team, or 2 loss team with quality wins, will get taken over them for an at-large birth, and they'll be out of the postseason.
It would be in Michigans best interest to play as many of our cross-divisional opponents as possible, not only to enhace our S.O.S. by not playing non AQ teams, but to maintain our ties with all the B1G schools, enhance our S.O.S. over other schools with similar records, and to prevent an at-large spot from going to a cross divisional opponent we didn't play that year. We're already choosing to play Central, Akron, and ND over Penn State, Purdue, and Wisonsin next year, we should at the very least trade 1 of our OOC games for more B1G play, now. Very soon we could be choosing between them and any Leaders Division opponents at all.
[ed-S: this is totally a diary. Bump]
Looking at the 2012 preseason frontrunners for the Heisman trophy I've been trying to see who would reasonably be the best candidate for the award at seasons end, and have come up with a reasonable argument as to why Denard Robinson can win in 2012. The best case I made for this scenario is looking at recent winners for similar criteria that stand out, and then looking at this seasons favorites to see who might have the biggest year. I started breaking down those finalists performances from last season, looked at how this season projects, and have come up with the solution that: Of all the best candidates, Denard is most likely to have Heisman success in 2012.
Firstly: Past winners haven't necessarily been the best prospects for the NFL draft, or always played on the #1 overall team, or put up the gaudiest numbers, but had dynamic highlights, and the gaudiest numbers against top level opponents. For 2011, Andrew Luck would have been my personal pick as the "best" player to have future success in the NFL, but he didn't win the Heisman. Trent Richardson was the best offensive player on the #1 overall team but didn't win, and kids like Kellen Moore and Case Keenum put up by far the gaudiest numbers but were one dimensional players winning against mostly smaller programs, and neither was even drafted.
4 of the last 6 winners had multiple dimensions to their games, creating offense by throwing and running, played in AQ conferences, and scored an average of around 50 touchdowns (roughly 32 passing, and 18 rushing.) 10 of the last 12 winners were quarterbacks.
Note: Sam Bradford had numbers similar to Keenum and Moore (4721 yards, 50 TDs) but did so at Oklahoma. Troy Smith won scoring only 31 TDs (30 passing, 1 rushing) but had previously scored 11 short yardage rushing TDs in a season, and his only competition was RB Darren McFadden (21 TDs) and Brady Quinn (lol.)
Next: I broke down the preseason watchlist players 2011 season performance, and tried to chart whether they would improve or regress in 2012.
QB Matt Barkley. Last season Barkley was phenominal for USC, and the teams unusual losses and close wins were mostly due to a suspect defense and a lack of a running game, and certainly couldn't be put on Matts shoulders. He essentially had a Matt Stafford year: No running game? No problem. With Matt Kalil protecting his blindside he attempted almost 100 extra passes than the previous 2 seasons more balanced attacks, and put up around 1000 extra yards. His completion% went up a few ticks, his YPA went up slightly, but his TD/INT numbers drastically improved and he put 39 in the end zone through the air, 2 on the ground.
2012 production? Regress. He will improve and mature as a passer and a qb, and will likely be the #1 overall pick and be most likely to succeed in the NFL a-la Andrew Luck, but every analyst since his decision to return for his senior year has stated that without the stellar blindside protection of Kalil, and a new feature running back (in 1200 yard rusher/PSU transfer Silas Redd) added to the roster will reduce Barkleys attempts back to a previous average of around 360, as opposed to the 446 attempts in 2011. Thus the USC running game production will go up, and Barkleys production will go down, as will his TDs.
RB Montee Ball. In 2011 Ball rushed a staggering 307 times for 1,923 yards and 39 TDs (33 rushing.) He had the definition of a "breakout" year, catching many defenses by surprise as part of the new 2 headed monster of power rusher-meets-mobile quarterback Russel Wilson, almost doubling his attempts, more than doubling his total yards, and almost doubling his rushing TDs from 2010. He even tied Barry Sanders record for TDs in a single season by a running back, and set the B1G record for total TDs in one season by any player (Denard accounted for 36 in 2010.)
2012 production? Regress. He will be a better player in 2012 all around, but again, circumstances will limit his overall numerical production over his 2011 breakout year. He will be the major focus of every B1G defense he faces this season, he won't have the added push of recent 1st and 2nd round draft picks OG Kevin Zeitler, and C Peter Konz blocking for him. A new pro-style qb starting for the Badgers will also allow opposing Linebackers to focus on the one man rush attack, so while I can imagine his workload staying the same, or even increasing, I have to believe his numbers will be reduced from last years incredible output.
Other 2012 standouts:
QB Landry Jones. Pro: Threw for 4463 yards in 2011 and scored 29 TDs, threw for 4718 yards in 2010 and an incredible 38 TDs! Threw for 3198 yards in 2009 as a freshman, and 26 TDs.
Con: Threw 14 INTs in 2009, 12 INTs in 2010, and 15 INTs in 2011, and has been sacked 41 times in 3 years.
2012 production? Not good enough to win the Heisman. He will likely throw for another 4,000 yards this season, but probably fewer than 20 TDs, and has thrown more total INTs (including more on average) than Denard. This will mostly be due to the Sooners losing the most prolific WR in NCAA history in Ryan Broyles to the 2012 draft, so his INTs will likely increase. 2012 = QB OH NOOESSSS!!!!
QB Geno Smith. Against Big East competition in 2011 Smith put up ridiculous numbers, 4385 yards on an equally ridiculous 526! attempts. Against a suspect Clemson defense he did similarly well, accounting for an incredible 407 passing yards and 6 TDs (assisted by 4 Clemson turnovers.)
Pros: Smith finshed the season with 31 TDs, 7 INTs.
Con: He did so against mostly Big East competition, only managed 31 TDs on (again) 526! attempts, and has been sacked 54 (!) times in the last 2 seasons.
2012 production? Regress. Moving to the Big 12 he could be the best qb in the conference, but facing solid defensive teams such as Texas, and TCU he'll be sacked far more often than he already has, should pass for fewer yards, and even fewer touchdowns than last years 31.
CB? Tyrann Mattieu: Not playing football this year.
Lastly: QB Denard Robinson.
2011 was a transitional year for Denard, learning to play in a new offense that (for the first few games of the season) didn't really suit his strengths. He threw, and ran, for fewer yards than in his record breaking 2010 season, regularly ran out of bounds to avoid contact instead of cutting back for bigger gains, left many fans (and several analysts) wondering why he didn't tuck and run as his check down instead of throwing into double and triple coverage, and his INTs increased over his already high 2010 numbers. Yet, despite all of this, he made drastic strides as a QB as the season went on, the offensive scheme was adjusted to suit his strengths, his confidence as a passer grew, and he actually scored more passing and rushing TDs than in his (again) record breaking 2010 season, all despite substatially fewer attempts in both categories.
2012 production? Increase. The addition of a potent power running game in 2011, the #6 scoring defense in the nation, and plucky special teams play assisting in field position and turnovers helped Denard a lot in 2010. A 1000 yard rusher in Fitz Toussaint also gave opposing defenses a true double threat to account for (a la Montee Ball, Russell Wilson.) Last years transitional offense, and in-game RB tryout is now an established offense tailored to Denards strengths, and an established, and deep, power-rush attack. In 2012 many of the top defenses we will face also lost their top tacklers and pass rushers as well (Lavonte David, Whitney Merciless, Aaron Lynch, Jared Crick, Jerel Worthy, Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Wiscys entire DLine, ect) so despite losing Rimington Award winning Center David Molk, the pressure Robinson will face in 2012 should diminish slightly. Additionally, Fall and Spring reports from coaches have been universally positive about his decision making, mechanics, accuracy, and confidence improving.
His 2011 numbers were 2173 yards passing on 258 attempts, 1176 yards rushing on 221 attempts with 36 TDs (20 passing TDs to 15 INTs, and 16 TDs rushing.) If reports from camp translate onto the football field then his INTs should drop this year, giving him more chances for TDs through the air. Depth in the run game from returning feature back Toussaint, senior Smith, and sophomores Rawls and Hayes should set up shorter 3rd downs, and higher % passes. Plus new found WR depth from (more atttempts to) senior Roundtree, 6'4"+ Devin Gardener, 6'2"+ Amara Darboh, 6'5" Ricardo Miller a deep SR group, and a viable TE group should make the loss of jump ball specialist Hemmingway an easier transition. Lastly: New found confidence from Denard, and better decision making, should enable him to tuck-and-run successfully in 2012 when his receivers are covered, and unleash his dynamic playmaking ability. He and the coaches should be less worried about injury by now, and Denard should be ready to eat on Saturdays.
I can easily imagine him improving his rushing and passing yards in 2012 now, and pushing his TD total to over 40, setting a new record for B1G touchdowns in a season, possibly breaking the total-yards record for qbs, winning the B1G, and playing in a BCS bowl at seasons end. If so, the 3 year Heisman hype around Denard could finally come true this year.
Note: players like RB Marcus Lattimore and RB/WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas got a look, but as good an RB as Lattimore has been, he's put up only modest numbers to date, and against SEC defenses he's unlikely to eclipse Ball as the top RB in the nation this year. Thomas also has "electric" game, and can take it to the house regularly, but he also benefits from GREAT blocking, and while fast, isn't really as fast or as dynamic and elusive a runner as Denard is. Him also being a sophomore, and not playing qb will limit his total production in 2012 compared to others in consideration.
My guess for Heisman finalists by seasons end is Barkley, Ball, Smith, and Robinson. Strength of schedule, total production, versatile and "dynamic" production, possibly breaking multiple records, and final season record, I believe, give the edge to Denard.