Commentary

Bud Wilkinson Conference: Rival heat

Originally Published: August 6, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Although the Bud Wilkinson Conference may appear geographically challenged, this conference is not so far-fetched. Take the three most powerful teams from the Southwest Conference, add four teams from the heart of the Big Eight and mix them with the three westernmost teams in the Southeastern Conference. Serve at a very hot temperature.

The "Bud" may not be built for Madison Avenue -- after Houston and Dallas, the size of the TV markets shrinks smaller than the holes in Oklahoma's defense -- but it's built for the road to No. 1. Four of the past nine BCS champions are members. Throw in Nebraska's three national championships from the mid-1990s, and you get seven No. 1s in the past 15 seasons.

The conference arrives with rivalries such as Texas-Oklahoma, LSU-Ole Miss and Kansas-Missouri. The latter features the Bud's last two teams in the draft. They also are two of the three teams in the conference that haven't won a national championship. (Oklahoma State is the third.) But the Border War will stand up to any rivalry in the emotion it generates.

Better yet, the Bud also revives one of the game's best hatefests. In 16 of 18 seasons from 1971 through 1988, Nebraska and Oklahoma came into their late-season game both ranked in the top 10. The Huskers-Sooners rivalry became the most prominent victim of the wave of mergers in the mid-'90s. It returns with the added spice of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini trying to defeat his former boss, the Sooners' Bob Stoops.

There's also the Texas-Arkansas rivalry, revived on the 40th anniversary of the No. 1 versus No. 2 game in Fayetteville, Ark. With President Richard Nixon in attendance, the No. 1 Longhorns came back in the fourth quarter to defeat the No. 2 Razorbacks 15-14.

In fact, Arkansas, a relatively late pick, will be the glue that binds the Bud together. Reynolds Stadium in Fayetteville is fewer than 200 miles from Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla. Not only that, but Arkansas also is closer to Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri than it is to any team in the SEC, and that includes Budmates LSU and Ole Miss.

[+] EnlargeBud Wilkinson
A. Y. Owen/Time Life Pictures/Getty ImagesBud Wilkinson coached Oklahoma to a record 47-game winning streak.

One other rivalry in the Bud bears watching, at least as long as Les Miles is walking along the sideline at LSU. The coach who took the Tigers to the 2007 BCS championship is the same one who brought Oklahoma State out of mediocrity from 2001 to 2004.

This league may be a fan's dream, but it's a coach's nightmare. Nine conference games -- Gekko members complete a round-robin, thank you -- mean that half the teams in the league will play five road games. Even if you made sure that no one played at Texas and at Oklahoma in the same season, it's easy to imagine a team having to play, say, at LSU, at Oklahoma and at Nebraska. Not to mention the nonconference road game against another Gekko team.

Nothing matters more in the Bud than the three-way tiebreaker to determine the conference champion. If each team has beaten one of the other two, the lowest team in the Associated Press rankings will be tossed. The Bud winner will be the head-to-head champion of the two remaining teams. This will be known as the Mack Brown Rule.

The Bud's last three picks (Missouri, Kansas and Texas A&M) come into the league from the Big 12. Colorado, TCU and Illinois will be watching how they fare with interest.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com