NCAA Football: Michigan at Iowa

Indiana's decision to fire coach Tom Allen after finishing the 2023 season with a third straight loss to Purdue and a 3-9 record likely didn't cause much of a fuss nationally, nor did it surprise anybody who doesn't pay close attention to Indiana football. A coach getting fired after a 3-9 season isn't exactly a rare occurrence. However, it did raise my eyebrows ever so slightly. 

After Allen fired offensive coordinator Walt Bell, I wrote in this column that I wouldn't be surprised if Allen were the next Big Ten coach to lose his job after Michigan State fired Mel Tucker. It was a suggestion that was met with some pushback from Indiana fans.

For Indiana to fire Allen after this season, it would have to pay a $20 million buyout. Of course, a lot of Hoosiers were skeptical the school would be willing to foot that bill. As it turns out, the school was willing. Or, mostly willing, as Allen and Indiana agreed to reduce the buyout to $15 million.

I see this as good news for Indiana fans. While it may not seem like it, the truth is that Indiana has spent money on football in recent years. It's upgraded Memorial Stadium, and Allen made more money coaching Indiana football than either Archie Miller or Mike Woodson have been paid to coach Indiana basketball. Now Indiana is paying more than $20 million for Allen and his assistants to go away, so they can likely pay his replacement something similar if not more.

Perhaps Indiana is aware of an uncomfortable truth in college football right now. Yes, the Big Ten recently signed a new television deal that will bring it $1 billion per year in TV revenue, and part of that money is due to expansion and adding four teams from the Pac-12 next season. What isn't talked about much, however, is that while we've lived through the era of conference expansion (we often call it realignment, but what's the last conference that willingly got smaller?), we might one day come face-to-face with conference contraction.

Right now, programs like Indiana, which haven't always pulled their weight in the world of college football, have benefitted from expansion. But what happens one day when there's no expansion left, and the only way to increase revenue is to eliminate the "dead weight?" We're seeing glimpses of this already in the ACC, where programs like Clemson and Florida State -- who invest heavily into their football programs -- don't believe other ACC programs that don't spend as much deserve the same returns.

While winning games will always be the goal for every program, spending money could be far more critical to an athletic department's budget than success on the field soon enough. It looks as though Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson has the foresight to understand this.

Now, will he make the hire that brings wins, too? Nobody knows for sure.

Big Ten Championship Game gut read

Every week I pick every Big Ten game against the spread based on nothing but my gut reaction to the number. No digging into numbers, just vibes, baby. I even track my record to embarrass myself publicly. Odds via SportsLine consensus.

2023 Big Ten Championship Game -- Michigan vs. Iowa: I know that anything is possible in football, but Iowa isn't going to win this game. Here's the real question: Can Iowa cover the spread? That's not easy to answer because we must wonder what Michigan's motivation will be here. If the Wolverines build a lead behind J.J. McCarthy, Blake Corum and the rest of the offense, they have no motivation to go for the kill. If they beat Iowa by 100 points, would that realistically be enough to get the No. 1 seed assuming Georgia defats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game earlier in the day. So let's imagine the Wolverines take a two-score lead. Do they just sit on it and start preparing for the College Football Playoff? How many points can we realistically expect Iowa to score? I don't know! I'm taking Iowa to cover, but I don't feel good about it! The Pick: Iowa +23

Last Week: 3-4
OveraLOL: 29-34-1

Smith hire a coup for Michigan State

Speaking of conference expansion changing the college football landscape and coaching carousel, Michigan State hired Jonathan Smith on Saturday. Would it have been possible to lure Smith across the country from Corvallis, Oregon, to East Lansing, Michigan, if the Pac-12 hadn't been torn asunder by the Big Ten? Maybe, but not likely.

But West Coast football's loss is Michigan State's gain because Smith is precisely the hire the Spartans needed to make. I was worried Michigan State would go the same route it did with Mel Tucker, thinking they could recruit their way to success. No matter how good Tucker was at recruiting, Michigan State would never surpass Michigan or Ohio State in that department, so it needed to find a different path to beating them.

It landed on Smith, who spent years at a school in the shadow of a much larger state school with a lot of financial power behind it yet figured out a way to compete at the same level despite the uneven playing field. Gee, that doesn't sound anything like the situation in which Michigan State finds itself at all. 

Seriously, the comparison isn't perfect, but what makes it inaccurate only plays to Michigan State's advantage here. Smith had likely taken Oregon State to the peak of its possibilities, and Michigan State has a higher ceiling. We've already seen what the Spartans can do when things are going well. This program has made the College Football Playoff before, and Smith is the kind of coach who can help them get there again.

Going out with a thud

I wrote last week that the Big Ten had three programs with the chance to win a sixth game and how, if all three won, it would set a new conference record for bowl-eligible teams in a season (11).

None of them won.

Minnesota fell to Wisconsin 28-14, Nebraska lost to Iowa 13-10 on Black Friday in familiar heartbreaking fashion and Illinois fell to Northwestern 45-43 in an insane football game. It was a painful way to end the year for all three, though Minnesota does have the chance to go to a bowl game at 5-7 since there aren't enough eligible teams.

The Golden Gophers are likely to accept the bid, and they should. Those 15 extra practices are something both Illinois and Nebraska would love to have right now.