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Pac-10 offers up a smart model

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Pac-10 is a pinata in college football these days -- its commissioner opposes any changes to the Bowl Championship Series, its best games start in the middle of the night, its football teams still hesitate to play defense. Bu...

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Pac-10 is a pinata in college football these days -- its commissioner opposes any changes to the Bowl Championship Series, its best games start in the middle of the night, its football teams still hesitate to play defense. But the Pac-10 is a pioneer in one positive way -- its nine-game conference schedule in football should serve as a model for other leagues around the country.

At its spring meetings this month, the Atlantic Coast Conference reportedly will consider adding a ninth conference football game to its schedule. And at the Bowl Championship Series meetings in Hollywood, Fla., last month, Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson in an interview predicted his league and the Mountain West Conference would expand to 10 football teams by 2020 and play nine-game league slates.

So the thought of keeping college football in the family is gaining steam around the country. But a nationwide nine-game conference schedule has no chance, and as usual, the reasons have more to do with bank accounts than blocking and tackling.

The nine-game conference schedule became possible when the NCAA went to a 12-game regular season in 2006. Only the Pac-10 made that new game a conference tilt, a logical move since it made the league schedule a full round-robin (each team plays the other nine once every year).

But most teams at the other five BCS conferences saw the new game as another opportunity to make a million bucks. The 12th game needed to be a home game to help fund the booming budgets for their oversized athletic departments. And a ninth conference game would make that added game a home game only half the time.

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Stripping a megapower of a home game is worse than taking some of its scholarships. And then there's the competitive change. While nine conference games wouldn't make for a full round robin in the Big Ten, imagine then telling Ohio State it had to play four home games and five on the road while Michigan got one more home game and one fewer away from the Big House.

It's great the ACC and some of its conference brethren will consider an extra conference game. We'd love to see such a measure pass -- more league games means more rivalries, which means more fun. But it's not happening, folks. Get ready for more Temple and Georgia Southern.

Recruiting

Head coaches can't evaluate juniors from April 15-May 31, but juniors can still call head coaches with verbal commitments (whatever they mean these days). Quarterbacks seem especially ready to make a call before their senior season; of the seven ranked among rivals.com's Top 50, six have announced their college choice. Here's a look at those six:

Matt Barkley, Southern Cal: The big guy from West Coast power Mater Dei threw for 3,560 yards and 35 TDs. Two Trojan quarterbacks have already won Heisman trophies this decade, and both have started in the NFL -- could Barkley be next?

Russell Shepard, LSU: This dual-threat from Houston spurned Michigan fans at the last minute and opted to stay closer to home. With the Tigers quarterback spot in shambles (thanks, Mr. Perrilloux), Shepard should see action in the fall of 2009.

Garrett Gilbert, Texas: Gilbert grew up down the road from UT's campus and has dominated for Lake Travis High in Austin. His 52 touchdown passes and 4,826 yards passing will make him a popular part of the Longhorns' QB backlog for next fall.

Kevin Newsome, Michigan: For now, he's coach Rich Rodriguez's consolation prize in lieu of Shepard. But Newsome's speed and throwing arm have drawn comparisons to a young Donovan McNabb. And he's from eastern Virginia, home of star football players named Vick, Harvin and FSU signee E.J. Manuel.

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Tom Savage, Rutgers: The positives are his size (6-3, 231 pounds) and strong arm. The negative is his health -- a broken foot limited him as a junior and scared off some recruiters. Greg Schiano is elated to snag this prospect out of Philadelphia's Cardinal O'Hara High.

Aaron Murray, Georgia: The Tampa Plant prospect broke Gators hearts by choosing the Bulldogs over UF. He followed likely Miami starter Robert Marve in high school; he's the favorite to succeed Matthew Stafford in college.

Number of the week

1, or a uniform number that means something for former Michigan Wolverine Braylon Edwards. A Wolverine receiver has worn the number since 1979, but new Coach Rich Rodrgiuez has given it to a freshman defensive back (as if Rich needed another headache). Edwards said on national radio he planned to call Rodriguez to protest the choice; maybe Braylon can help Rich with the $4 million he might owe West Virginia.

Summer reading

A lot of locals like to think of Florida's back-to-back national champions as a group that changed college basketball. But the last group that really altered the game, Michigan's teams from 1991-1993, are chronicled in Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, the American Dream. Mitch Albom examines the flamboyant players, their baggy shorts and black socks, and lays the groundwork for an NCAA investigation that would tarnish their on-court legacy.

Rudy Ruettiger -- still 5-foot-nothing, now a little heavier than 100-and-nothing -- is back. The former Notre Dame walk-on has given his name to a health drink called "Rudy," according to The (Fort Wayne, Ind.) Journal Gazette. Look for bottles soon in a local CVS, Walgreens or Albertsons.

Army can't decide on an offense. Option for ages, pass-happy under Todd Berry, plain inept under Bobby Ross. Now reports from the banks of the Hudson are that second-year Coach Stan Brock might be re-installing the wishbone. The Black Knights haven't played in a bowl since the 1996 Independence Bowl.

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We talked future quarterbacks earlier, but watch out for some guy named Boo Jackson behind center this year. The junior-college transfer with the fantastic name looks like the front-runner to start at Ohio - look for him on some Tuesday-night ESPN telecast.

Georgia Tech brought back former star quarterback Joe Hamilton to help mentor players. A week into his job as a player personnel assistant, he was arrested on drunk-driving, hit-and-run and marijuana possession charges and resigned.

This week's nonconference football marriage sees Notre Dame and Arizona State signing a deal to play in 2013 in the Dallas Cowboys' yet-to-be-finished new stadium. The Irish are scheduled to visit Orlando twice in the next six years; let's hope for a foe of a better caliber.

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