Brown: Baylor, Purdue exemplify college football's cycle
Driving home from Iowa's football game at Purdue on Saturday, I found the Iowa State-Baylor game on the radio.
I listened as the Bears seemed to glide effortlessly up and down the field against the Cyclones and I wondered: How many points would they score against the Purdue defense I had just watched in person? I pictured the scoreboard as a pinball machine, bells ringing constantly.
Baylor leads the country in both scoring (56.8 points a game) and total offense (641 yards). This is a once-dead program that has found its mojo. Like Purdue once did.
There's no question that the Big 12 is a better conference than the Big Ten right now. But Baylor and Purdue, and their respective conferences, represent the cyclical nature of college football.
In 1999, Baylor won one game and averaged 12.5 points a game. The Bears were 2-10 in 2000 and averaged 12.6 points a game. That's about two possessions worth of offense out of coach Art Briles' team now.
The Bears used to be a laughingstock. No one is laughing now.
Purdue is on the other side of outhouse-penthouse discussion. The Boilermakers were 1-11 last season, and second-year coach Darrell Hazell is still looking for his first Big Ten Conference victory.
But remember 2000, when Baylor won two games? Purdue went to the Rose Bowl that season with Drew Brees at quarterback. Joe Tiller arrived as the Boilermakers' coach in 1997 with a pass-first offense that fans fell in love with.
Purdue led the Big Ten in passing offense the first five years Tiller was in West Lafayette. I can still remember former Boilermakers basketball coach Gene Keady holding court at a Big Ten media day in Chicago, raving about Tiller's offense and calling it basketball on grass.
As Baylor and Purdue have shown, it's hard to get to the top, but it can be harder to stay there.
Purdue, and that passing craze under Tiller? The Boilermakers are currently 105th nationally in passing offense at 177.8 yards a game. Tiller's teams threw for an average of 374.5 yards in 1998, 333.5 in 1999 and 305.5 in 2000.
Purdue has yet to have a crowd of 40,000 in Ross-Ade Stadium, capacity 62,500. Apathy reigns. Like it used to at Baylor.
The Bears play in a new stadium now. And they're favored by 16 points at Texas this Saturday. Can you imagine how absurd that would have sounded in 1999? The Longhorns handled Baylor 62-0 that season.
Texas, under first-year coach Charlie Strong, has fans yearning for the glory days. Even the strongest, tradition-rich programs hit a rough stretch on occasion. Can you say Michigan?
The Wolverines are in a free fall that many long-time Big Ten observers never thought they'd see. Coach Brady Hoke is a dead man walking on the sidelines. Losing back-to-back home games to Utah and Minnesota is something a Michigan man doesn't see every day.
The traditional Big Ten royalty of Michigan-Ohio State now has an empty seat. Just like the empty seats that grow with each home game in the Big House.
Maybe Jim Harbaugh or John Harbaugh will leave their NFL jobs and return to Ann Arbor. Maybe Michigan, still trying to escape the failed Rich Rodriguez experiment that preceded Hoke's tenure, can find its way again.
If you believe in the cyclical nature of college football, it's going to happen.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.