Sunday, May 07, 2006

Well Allow Me To Retort!

Who Belongs in the Midwestern Conference
Miami of Ohio or Northwestern University

I laid down the guantlet last week and Kyle roared down it. Like Gabe Watson on his way to the buffet, Kyle took and devoured my arguments that Miami has no business in any incarnation of the Big Ten. Kyle's most recent retort lays out several great reasons why Miami is more deserving of a spot in his new Midwestern Conference than Northwestern.

I said, Northwestern Doesn't Belong in the Midwestern Conference!

At first glance, Kyle straight up Cobra-Kai'd my ass. Sweeping my leg with this little factoid: Miami has owned Northwestern over their last three meetings. 1995 - Miami (Ohio) 30, Northwestern 28; 1999 - Miami (Ohio) 28, Northwestern 3; 2003 - Miami (Ohio) 44, Northwestern 14.

Kyle, at left, lectures Mr. Miagi on the virtues of Red Hawks Football.

You'd think this crippling dojo move would weaken if not destroy my position, but I don't think Miami's head to head record against Northwestern is quite as fatal as it seems.

First, lets look at the head to head games in question: 1995, 1999, 2003.

1) The 1995 loss to Miami was analogous to the Chicago Bears 1994 loss to the Miami Dolphins. A hiccup. Taking the rest of the Wildcats schedule that year (10-2) including wins over Michigan, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Iowa. This sent the Cats to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949 where they fell to USC 41-32. Keep in mind that the 1995 USC team that beat Northwestern in the Rose Bowl had Keyshawn Johnson, who at the time was one of the most dominant forces in college football, and USC went 9-2-1 that year.

2) The 1999 Red Hawks team went 12-1 with 8 wins coming from MAC play. It was also Randy Walker's first year as head coach of Northwestern after taking over from Garry Barnett. Northwestern finished the year a dismal 3-8 (1-7). They did however go 2-1 in non-conference play.

3) The 2003 loss, well, this is from the Red Hawks press release after the game: "Ben Roethlisberger threw for 353 yards and Martin Nance caught pair of touchdown passes as Miami of Ohio beat Northwestern 44-14 on Saturday." A very good quarterback (Super Bowl winning quarterback) torched a questionable defense which gave up more than 20 point 6 times. No defense to this one. Miami beat the pants off NU. Northwestern has had its troubles with Miami recently. But a loss to a Super Bowl winning quarterback like Roethlisberger is nothing to hang you head about.

While Miami has gotten the better of the Wildcats over the last three meetings, the Redhawks cannot boast any success over the rest of the Big Ten. Their last win over a Big Ten Team other than Northwestern was in 1977, over Indiana!

The fact that Miami can only beat a single Big Ten team over the course of 30 years hardly qualifies them as belonging in a Big Ten like conference. Further, even though Northwestern has had its strugles with Miami (historically, 5 losses dating back to 1955), it has had success in conference against teams that have handled the Rehawks. (Just because I can, I'll mention that Miami's record book also lists a Tangerine Bowl victory over Georgia in 1974.)

Going back to 2000 Northwestern has beaten Ohio State (2004), Michigan (2000), Purdue (2005, 2004), Wisconsin (2005, 2003, 2000), Minnesota (2001, 2000), Michigan State (2005, 2001, 2000), Indiana (2004, 2003, 2002, 2000), Iowa (2005), Penn State (2004, 2003), and Illinois(2005, 2004, 2003, 2000).

With the exceptions of Indiana and Purdue, Miami cannot boast a victory against any of these teams prior to 1947. Since 2000, Miami's lone Big Ten victory is against Northwestern. During that time it has lost to Iowa (3 times), Michigan (2 times), and Ohio State (2 times). Had Miami possessed a few more victories over Big Ten teams, the way Iowa State does, I might have been persuaded. However, they do not. Therefore, I must protest.

Kyle also points out that Northwestern has had a less than stellar non-conference record (including bowl games) throughout its history. For a basis of comparison between the Cat's and their presumptive usurpers, I give you both school's out of conference records, wins and loses, since 1998 (ed note: Because Miami's athletic site only goes back to 1998, I only sited wins and losses from 1998 forward):

Northwestern Out of Conference Schedules
1995 - 2-2
1996 - 2-2
1997 - 2-2
1998 - 3-1 (Wins over UNLV, Rice and Hawaii, loss to Duke)
1999 - 2-1 (Wins over TCU and Duke, Loss to Miami)
2000 - 2-2 (Wins over Northern Illinois and Duke, Losses to TCU and Nebraska [Bowl])
2001 - 2-1 (Wins over UNLV and Duke, Loss to Bowling Green)
2002 - 2-2 (Wins over Duke and Navy, Losses to Air Force and TCU)
2003 - 2-3 (Wins over Kansas and Duke, Losses to Air Force, Miami, and Bowling Green [Bowl])
2004 - 1-3 (Win over Kansas, Loss to TCU, Arizona State, and Hawaii)
2005 - 2-2 (Wins over Ohio and Northern Illinois, Losses to Arizona State and UCLA)

Miami of Ohio Out of Coneference Schedules
1998: 2-0 (Wins over UNC and Navy)
1999: 1-2 (Win over Northwestern, Loss to West Virginia and Cincinnati)
2000: 1-2 (Win over Vanderbilt, Losses to Ohio State and Cincinnati)
2001: 1-2 (Win over Cincinnati, Losses to Michigan and Iowa)
2002: 2-2 (Win over UNC and Cincinnati, Losses to LSU and Iowa)
2003: 4-1 (Wins over Northwestern, Colorado State, Cincinnati, Louisville [Bowl], Loss to Iowa)
2004: 1-3 (Win over Indiana St., Losses to Michigan, Cincinnati and Iowa State [Bowl])
2005: 2-1 (Wins over Temple and Cincinnati, Loss to Ohio State)

Reviewing these records reveals an ugly sight. Neither of these teams are good against unfamiliar foes. The raw numbers are Northwestern: 31 games (16-15); Miami 27 games (14-13). Miami's record since 1998: Four 1-2 seasons, one 2-2 season, one 2-1 season, one 4-1 season. Northwestern's out of conference record since 1998: One 1-3 season, one 2-3 season, three 2-2 seasons, and two 2-1 seasons. Miami has four losing out of conference seasons since 1998, and Northwestern has two. They both have two winning out of conference seasons during that time frame, but Northwestern has maintained a .500 twice more than Miami. Finally, Northwestern only has one 1 win out of conference season, Miami has four. Take what you wish from this, but I maintain it gives Northwestern an edge.

I will also maintain that the 2003 season is a bit of an outlier based on the presence of Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was a special college athlete that helped his team to beat several good squads, including Louisville in a bowl game. Prior to his arrival, Miami was good, not great. Since his departure, Miami has been good not great. Miami's 2004 out of conference record helps to emphasize this point, as Miami dropped 3 out of conference games. You can point to the Red Hawks 2-1 record in 2005, but take Temple out of the schedule, and out of D1 football (please), and their schedule reads 1-1. (And yes, in that case you should also yank the Rice win from Northwestern's catalogue then too.)

Kyle does of course have a trump card. Duke. How in God's name did Northwestern lose to Duke? Well they did. But in that same vein, Michigan lost to Syracuse in 1998 and Georgia has lost to Southern Mississippi in 1996. The logic of winning 9 out of 10, well, that 10th game shows up every now and then. Still. Duke.

Even so, neither Northwestern nor Miami's out of conference victories are not particularly impressive. However, Northwestern has been more consistent out of conference than Miami. Edge, Northwestern.

On top of that, I still maintain you should not get equal credit for playing inferior opponents. A good record in the MAC (Miami 5-3 in 2005) is not worth a mediocre record in the ACC, SEC, or Big Ten. The talent and depth is simply not the same. Both Buffalo and Kent State went 1-10 this past year in MAC play. Miami plays in the same MAC division as both of those schools. So that's two freebie wins a year. A good record in a watered down conference doesn't warrant promotion.

Yes Miami has been playing good football of late. But in looking at their out of conference schedule I am less convinced than before this debate began that they belong. Miami's out of conference play is just as abysmal as Northwestern's. Following their patsy non-confs they get to beat up on their horrible in divisional rivals to pad their schedule. Miami's division in the MAC consists of Kent State (1-10 in 2005), Buffalo (1-10), Ohio (4-7), Bowling Green (6-5), and Akron (7-6). These are not powerhouses. Had Miami consistently gone 2-1, 3-0, or even 2-2 against quality opponents it is fairly pausible that their in conference success would not be a mirage. However, over the last eight years, four times they have a losing non-conference record. Yes their over all won loss record looks nice on paper, but looking at their schedule explains why. Northwestern has two wins over bowl teams last year (Wisconsin and Iowa). Northwestern plays in one of the toughest conferences in the country. In looking at the schedules and performances, I have to give the edge to Northwestern over Miami.

The question I have, for the basis of comparison, is where do we draw the line in the sand to compare the schools? Neither Northwestern nor Miami is what you would call a powerhouse program. Both seem to have enjoyed more recent success than past success. Northwestern was a bowl game loser this past year. Miami didn't go to one last year. What is our date line for comparison? The last 10 years, 20 years, or 30?

If we're saying 10 years, Northwestern by virtue of 3 Big Ten titles, has to be the winner. MAC success aside, every player invovled will tell you its harder to play at the Big Ten level.

Tomorrow I prove my point on how Northwestern would rule Conference U.S.A. with an Iron Fist!


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