10 big-ticket programs and where they stand in college sports

After the revelation of the NCAA tournament brackets on Selection Sunday, the annual “who’s in or out” exercise offered a natural way to assess various college sports programs in basketball and football.

This won’t be an exhaustive deep-dive; it’s merely a collection of 10 observations about various programs in the two big-ticket sports, hoops and pigskin.

If you’ve read one football-basketball crossover article this time of year, you’ve read a million. Most of those kinds of pieces, however, focus on (or use) a rankings list, typically the strongest programs or the best coaching combinations. (Michigan State and Oklahoma are vying for that distinction solely within this college sports cycle. Broader answers can and will vary, with Ohio State, Oregon, and Louisville all having a case, among other programs.)

We’re not using a rankings list. These are simply 10 different (and unranked) observations that all seem noteworthy after Selection Sunday:

Chris Collins, Northwestern basketball head coach.

Chris Collins, Northwestern basketball head coach.


Another year, another Selection Sunday without the Wildcats’ name on the board. This was a season in which Northwestern had a legitimate chance to Dance… until Vic Law got injured. He has to be on the floor throughout next season for the Cats to make a push at Bracketville. Northwestern is simply one of the least accomplished Power 5 programs. Nebraska is the only other Power 5 basketball program without an NCAA tournament win, but the Huskers’ football legacy speaks for itself. Rutgers is currently a disaster, but the Scarlet Knights actually had a good basketball program from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s.

We’ll see if the hoops team can make the tourney, and if the football program can crack the New Year’s Six in the near future.


The Gamecocks — as we wrote last autumn — were wronged by the Bowl Championship Series more than almost any other Power 5 football program, and certainly more than any other SEC program. The BCS limit of two teams per conference locked Cocky out of the BCS. South Carolina would have made three straight New Year’s Six bowls under the system we currently have.

Now, South Carolina basketball has been jobbed as well. The Gamecocks might not have been the first team which ought to have been included in the NCAA tournament — Monmouth and Saint Mary’s had better cases — but Tulsa and Vanderbilt had worse arguments.

Northwestern might be the most inept Power 5 program of all time, combining solely football and men’s basketball. South Carolina? The Gamecocks are probably the unluckiest Power 5 program of them all, if pigskin and men’s hoops form the beginning and end of the discussion.


This should be a great year to be a Tar Heel, with the football team finally delivering on its potential and the basketball team winning the ACC regular season and tournament championships, heading into the Big Dance as a No. 1 seed.

Yet, the NCAA looms…


A huge football season once every three to six years enables Tiger fans to savor the good life, enough that the down seasons and the basketball program acquire a decreased place in the public memory. The 2016-2017 college sports cycle will be an important one on the Plains. Two extremely talented coaches need to bring their respective programs together, especially in the case of Gus Malzahn but also for Bruce Pearl. If forward movements don’t occur in the next 12 months, Auburn’s going to wonder why things aren’t working out.

Anxiety over Auburn football will almost always eclipse basketball solely on a cultural level, but it has to be said that Auburn owns the longest SEC bid drought in the NCAA tournament: The Tiger hoopsters have not Danced since 2003. Even South Carolina has been to the tournament more recently.



You can readily point to the various programs which excel at the highest level in football and men’s basketball.

Oregon has not been on that list… but the Ducks soon COULD be.

This is the first year Oregon basketball is a No. 1 seed. The Ducks won the very first NCAA tournament in 1939 and haven’t been back to the Final Four. Oregon has been to the Elite Eight only twice since 1960, both in the previous decade under then-coach Ernie Kent. Current bench boss Dana Altman, however, is approaching genuine national stardom in the coaching ranks. If Altman gets Oregon to the Final Four, the Ducks must begin to be discussed as an elite two-way program, not just a football factory.


The Aztecs had the Mountain West’s best football and basketball team this past sports cycle… when the Mountain West endured one of its worst years ever. The Aztecs can and should take pride in being the best in their league in both big-ticket sports. Yet, they’re kings in a weak kingdom.

A side note about two of SDSU’s rivals: Boise State is simultaneously overflowing with riches in football (despite a rough 2015 season), but the Broncos and Air Force are both winless in the NCAA tournament, a combined 0-10 (0-6 for Boise, 0-4 for the Academy). It’s not very easy to marry football and hoops success in the Mountain West.


Given the Boilermakers’ struggles on the gridiron, the athletic program can certainly use a Sweet 16 in men’s hoops this March. Basketball has almost always led the way in West Lafayette — it needs to be able to take a step forward in the coming days.


If you want to identify a program which might be roaring in 2020, this is it. Justin Fuente and Bud Foster in football, and then this guy in hoops:



When was the last time USC might have had a better hoops coach and a worse football coach than UCLA? You couldn’t really ask that question last year, because UCLA (albeit undeserving of an NCAA tournament berth) still made the Sweet 16 while Andy Enfield had not turned the corner.

Now, though, you can ask that question.


Contrast the Red Raiders’ basketball and football head coaches, both hired this decade. What would make a program entrust its hoops operation to a man in his 60s, near the end of the line (Tubby Smith), and put the football program in the hands of a man in his early 30s, without any prior head-coaching experience OR a trusted (and elite) defensive coordinator?

The results of each program in Lubbock appear to speak for themselves.



About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.