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Downs and Distance

Seat fillers at title game a controversy in Big Ten

Four items of interest on the college football landscape

Coach Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State team are hoping to clinch the inaugural conference championship title game trophy on Saturday.Al Goldis/AP

Jim McBride surveys four items of interest on the college football landscape this weekend:

1. Imperfect Ten
If ever there was a conference that needed good news, it’s the Big Ten. Well, we don’t have any. In September, there was Tattoo Gate at Ohio State. The disturbing Jerry Sandusky allegations and subsequent firing of Penn State coach Joe Paterno dominated the headlines after that. Now comes an unconfirmed report that the league is willing to pay $75 to fans to show up to tomorrow’s inaugural title game between Michigan State and Wisconsin in Indianapolis. The Big Ten denies the report, which is based on a Craig’s List ad asking for red- and green-clad seat-fillers. There should be no shortage of takers. After all, there hasn’t been a decent game in Indy all season.


2. They'll like Mike
Kudos to Washington State athletic director Bill Moos for taking a chance and hiring Mike Leach to overhaul the Cougars’ moribund program, which has had four straight losing seasons. Leach was last seen stomping the sideline at Texas Tech before getting fired in 2009. He was either dismissed for mistreating Adam Jones after the receiver suffered a concussion or because he was due an $800,000 bonus, depending on whose version you believe. A brilliant offensive mind - his “Air Raid’’ attack was high-powered and entertaining - Leach had a lot of success at Tech, taking the Red Raiders to 10 bowl games in 10 seasons. He makes the Pac-12 better.

3. Early dismissal
It’s tough to disagree with the decision to can UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. After all, the former Bruins quarterback was 21-28 - including an abysmal 13-23 in Pac-10/Pac-12 play. What’s tough to understand is the timing. Surely the Bruins’ 50-0 loss to crosstown rival Southern Cal played a role in athletic director Dan Guerrero’s decision to pull the trigger. However, the Bruins (6-6, 5-4) will play for the conference title tonight against the Oregon Ducks with a lame duck coach. As unlikely as it may be (UCLA is a 30-point underdog), what if the Bruins pull the upset and earn a BCS bowl bid? That’s another month of practices under a coach bound for the unemployment line.


4. Postseason push
The Football Championship Subdivision (nee Division 1AA) playoffs resume tomorrow, with Maine and New Hampshire in action. The Black Bears will face perennial FCS power Appalachian State in West Virginia while the Wildcats will travel to Montana State, another FCS titan. Maine (8-3) is led by quarterback Warren Smith, who has thrown for 2,643 yards and 17 touchdowns, and tailback Pushaun Brown, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games. UNH (8-3), fresh off a win over Maine, is powered by quarterback Kevin Decker, who has passed for 3,072 yards and 20 TDs. Receiver R.J. Harris has 658 yards and 7 TDs.