As I sit at my desk trying to come up with new and innovative ways to procrastinate (and because nobody cool is on Facebook Chat at 2:30am), I keep thinking back to an article I got to read today. In it, the author compares different possible Big Ten expansion schools with Super Mario Power-Ups. This combines two of my favorite passions: rambling on sport hypothetical and platforming stereotypes. However, the article only touched on three power-up from the original Super Mario Bros. It's 2010; Mario's more than a three-item plumber now.
So, taking McGuire's idea and beating it into the ground, and in honor of Mario Day (MARch 10), here's the FULL list of possible expansion teams. (Note: Last time I talked a lot about the financial side of what the schools had to offer. We're not dealing with coins here though; this is all power-ups, so it's all about what the schools will bring to the Big Ten.)
Super Mushroom: Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Red Mushroom, red team; good start. In Mario, the Mushroom helps you grow to twice your size and allows you to have one extra hit before dying. Likewise, Rutgers would allow the Big Ten to grow in size and gives you one extra game: a Big Ten Championship game. The biggest drawback to the Super Mushroom is that it doesn't grant any special ability. Don't expect Rutgers to bring anything special to the conference either.
Fire Flower: Pittsburgh Panthers. It's always about moving up to a better power-up in the Mario universe, and the Fire Flower follows the Mushroom in secession. Pitt boasts a little more fire power coming out of the Big East with a better football and basketball program. And we get an in-state rival for Penn State. In the Mario world, the Fire Flower is better than the Mushroom in every way. The same applies to Pitt and Rutgers here.
Star: Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Ah, the last of the original three power-ups. The star grants Mario invincibility, letting him destroy anything on the screen with a single touch. Adding Notre Dame would be a lot like this, except that untouchable aura would last a little longer than a few seconds. Notre Dame would bring hoards of money, power, tradition and fame to a conference looking to move up in the college football world. The only problem Mario has when he's got star power are bottomless pits. Not saying Notre Dame is going to kill the Big Ten, but it's not COMPLETELY invincible.
Raccoon Suit: Army Black Knights. At first glance, it's unorthodox. And comparing the raccoon suit to some of the newer power-ups with similar abilities (Cape, Wing Cap, etc.) it seems old and outdated. But it's got something very unique: tradition. It appeared in one game, but most Mario fans see the leaf and think it is iconic. Army is an iconic program that really lacks in the athletic department, but bringing them in would be less about boasting the strength of the conference and bringing in tradition. Back in your grandfather's day, Army won national championships and Heismans. It's not the best option by far, but seeing the Black Knight's name among the Big Ten would be just really cool.
Tanooki Suit: Navy Midshipmen. So if Army is the Raccoon Suit, Navy is the Tanooki Suit. The only differences in these two suits is this one allows Mario to turn to stone and becomes momentarily invulnerable to enemies. It's not a huge difference, but it's slightly better. The same goes for Navy. In comparison, it's not too much better than Army, but it does boast a better football and basketball program over the last few decades. Both classics, both have their roles, neither you will ever see in a new Mario game or in the Big Ten.
Frog Suit: Cincinnati Bearcats. So you get a Frog Suit and you use it on the first level of World 3. It's great! You can swim so much faster than rapidly tapping A, you dart in and out of bubble jets and you make it to the end of the level with almost no effort! And then you come out of the pipe and you can't do shit. You can't run, jumping is unorthodox, and you're so slow. Cincinnati is not a great football program traditionally, but they're awesome right now. They'd likely be a flash in the pan, and as soon as they came on dry land in the Big Ten they would turn slow and weak. Basketball would be another story, but Big Ten is a basketball conference as much as Mario games are about exploring oceans.
Hammer Suit: Nebraska Cornhuskers. Even mentioning this one is where my geekness shines. This was the rarest item in the game, but totally worth finding. You could duck and be protected from fireballs or enemy projectiles, and you could throw hammers capable of annihilating anything: Boos, Thwomps, you name it! Nebraska isn't as much of a powerhouse now as they were in the 90's, but they were an unstoppable, impenetrable school of destruction (and not just to corn fields). Then along comes the Big 8 expansion to the Big XII and Texas' four schools takes all competitive balance away from Nebraska. A move to the Big Ten could restore this old Buzzy Beetle shell into a hammer-flinging monster.
Cape: Missouri Tigers. When Super Mario World came around, it was hot and trendy. New console, stellar graphics, sweet music, and the Cape was envisioned as the ultimate power-up. Alongside the Mushroom, it was to be a staple for Mario. Missouri thinks it can be a staple in the Big Ten, claiming that the state is in the heart of Big Ten country. But while the Cape was cool, it was difficult to master. Flying was not done in the same style as the Raccoon Suit (or any other power-up to date), and the spin attack offered only limited range as an attack. Missouri has some to offer, but it's anybody's guess as to what they would do in the Big Ten. They've been rather underwhelming as a football school. Yoshi would emerge from the game as the best power-up, much like there are other options from the Big XII that would be better than the Tigers.
Wing Cap: Syracuse Orange. The power of flight was again difficult to hone, this time in 3D. You could be shot out of a canon or try a triple jump, but odd camera angles and depth perception made precision tricky. (Anybody else remember the Red Coin challenge where you looked up at the sun in the main room? I HATED THAT!!!) If Syracuse entered the Big Ten, their basketball program would be one shot out a canon, and the conference would become equally important on both major sports. However, the football program would feel just awkward to have in. The cap didn't last long before it disappeared and sent Mario (usually for me) plummeting towards the Earth at a cost of 3 to 6 pieces of Health Pie. Syracuse would enjoy a nice stint in the conference, but in the end it wouldn't really bring in what a football-focused conference wants.
Metal Cap: Boston College Eagles. The Metal Cap is a unique addition to the Mario game because it hinders as much as it helps. Mario becomes slow, his jumping is limited and he sinks in water, but he can navigate poisonous corridors and hit switches beneath the waves. Its usage is in flashes, but necessary to advance. Boston College is a bit unorthodox as well. They have flashes of greatness and are a big-name school, but they don't do a whole lot to help. Certainly the Eagles' addition would be more advantageous than the negatives presented with the green box, but you wouldn't want Mario to be wearing the Metal Cap 24/7.
Mega Mushroom: Texas Longhorns. The biggest 'Shroom of them all grants Mario the ability to grow to an enormous size and obliterate everything and anything in his way. Not even a bottomless pit is a threat to this guy as all he does is run and kill. This includes pipes, blocks, enemies, stairs and the flagpole itself. Texas would be a wrecking ball in the Big Ten, bringing in loads of money and excellent football and basketball programs. Problem is, the Mega Mushrooms are hard to come by. Texas would be incredibly difficult to lasso in to a Midwestern league. But if they could somehow join, the Big Ten sends all other conferences cowering in fear.
Mini Mushroom: Buffalo Bulls.The Mini Mushroom doesn't seem like it does a whole lot of good. It makes Mario smaller, he still dies in one hit, and he's not any faster. But it counters the effect of the Mega Mushroom, and belongs in the games for its effect. Buffalo (or any team from the MAC for that matter) would fit in geographically with the Big Ten, but it doesn't help the 11 get any better on most fronts. Mario's smaller stature did provide a few perks when looked into a little further, like accessing tiny pipes and running across water. Likewise, there is a perk to Buffalo: they are a surprisingly-good academic school for being in such a bad football conference. No NSMB player wants to go through the entire game tiny, but it does offer something that would otherwise be overlooked.
Ice Flower: Kentucky Wildcats. This cool blue flower was one often speculated but never really considered as possible until it showed up nearly two decades after its fiery counterpart appeared. Likewise, a school leaving the SEC and joining the Big Ten, especially with what happened in this last five years, would be insane. But give it two decades and see which conference is the more preferable one. In Galaxy, the Ice Flower was a defensive booster than an offensive one. Mario could turn water and lava to ice and skate on it. Kentucky football seems to skate on thin ice yearly, as bowl games are even rare in this age of a billion bowl games. The Ice Flower was reworked in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, however, and it became a powerful offensive destroyer. There's no hiding that UK basketball is one of the best in the nation, and like Syracuse the Big Ten becomes a basketball conference if the Wildcats join ranks.
Spring Suit: Iowa State Cyclones. I can only remember a handful of levels where you used Spring Mario in Super Mario Galaxy, but they SUCKED. Every step/hop was possibly through a moving hole in the ground, and super bounces had to be timed precisely in succession to climb impossibly high and unstable cliffs of silverware and pastries. This is a dumb power-up, and it would be dumb to add Iowa State. Not a good enough comparison? Cyclones look like springs.
Penguin Suit: Maryland Terrapins. Last but not least, it's the newest power-up from the latest Mario platformer.The suit looks ridiculous as first, much akin to a school with a Terrapin as a mascot (says the Buckeye), but the Penguin suit adds the abilities of the Ice Flower and throws in some new tricks. Maryland is in a better location than Kentucky and hosts a better football program. And while it's a fun novelty use, most people would rather stick with the Ice Flower and avoid the bulky suit and silly noises made by Mario whenever he runs or jumps.
And there you have it, the second-ever, first-extensive comparison of Big Ten expansion teams to Mario power-ups. I missed out on a good chunk of power-ups: Carrot (SML2), Invisible Cap (SM64), Blue Shell (NSMB), Bee Mario (SMG), Propeller Cap (NSMBW)
and I probably could have included more schools at that: Louisville, Central Michigan, West Virginia
Many more possibilities. Who knows which school will become the Big Ten's 1-Up Mushroom. It doesn't matter what suit we're wearing so long as we reach the next level.