Pendulum ready to swing in Monon Bell rivalry?

Monday, November 14, 2011

It hardly seems like the time for me to be making this argument.

For one thing, Wabash's 92 points in the last two Monon Bell Classics are the most either rival has posted in consecutive years in the game's 118-year history.

They've outscored DePauw 92-7 (+85) in two games, the most one-sided it's been since the Little Giants won by a combined 88-0 in 1952-53.

But during Wabash's 45-7 win at Blackstock Stadium on Saturday, all I could think was, what are the Tigers going to do to swing this series back their way?

There is no if in my mind, only when. What makes this one of the best rivalries in all of college football -- not just small schools -- is its competitiveness.

Sure, there's the proximity of the schools, the history of Bell heists (Oh, for those days to return), that song by the dude from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band -- but no one has ever dominated this series over the long haul, and that truly makes it great.

This is the 12th-most played rivalry in the history of college football, but it's far more competitive than most of the others. Wabash currently leads the series 56-53-9.

The only one closer is Kansas-Missouri, which is tied 55-55-9.

So all I can ask now is when will the worm turn?

I was a sophomore in the stands at Wabash (I know I'm brave to say that) 11 years ago when DePauw overcame a 17-9 third-quarter deficit to defeat Wabash 27-17.

It was more than just coughing up a lead, though. It was DePauw's fifth straight victory in the series. It meant that not one student on campus had been there for a Monon Bell victory. A second straight class would graduate having never heard the Bell ring for a Wabash win.

As far as we were concerned, the Monon Bell might as well be the Stanley Cup. None of us were ever going to hoist the thing. DePauw had our number. We were toast.

Then something big happened the next year, with Wabash winning on a Hail Mary at Blackstock as time expired. I'll spare the details. Everyone who was there knows the story and either loves it or hates it.

Wabash went on to win three straight, and has actually gone 8-3 in the years since.

But long-term success has never been the norm in this series. The best run either team has ever had was DePauw's 8-0-2 run from 1955-64, and even that run only tied the overall series, as Wabash had been dominant for the decade prior.

The stakes of the game could also be changing beginning in 2012. In recent years, the only thing really on the line has been the Bell. (As if that's not enough.) Conference schedules were over. This year was the fifth straight in which one team was bound for the playoffs and the other was basically playing for pride.

Next year, DePauw will step into the North Coast Athletic Conference, where Wabash is already a member. It will mark the first time the two have been conference rivals since 1997.

Compare that to Kansas-Missouri, which will no longer be a conference rivalry and may not even be played in a year or two -- at least not until they reunite in the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Pacific 37.

Do you think the possibility of the two teams playing for a conference title and a playoff berth -- or at least ruining the other side's chances -- won't ratchet things up a notch or two? It should make for another level of intensity.

Balancing my professionalism with my personal background doesn't allow me to officially have a rooting interest in this series anymore, I can only say I expect to see a rally from DePauw in the next few years.

I hope Wabash doesn't revoke my degree for saying so.