July 30, 2010

Mailbag: Searching for the biggest game

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Rivalry games always are intense and fun.

Who wouldn't want to see the Backyard Brawl matching West Virginia and Pittsburgh, or the Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma?

And there's Michigan-Ohio State, USC-Notre Dame and Florida-Georgia?

Big inter-conference games are great. Boise State-Virginia Tech, LSU-North Carolina, Miami-Ohio State and Alabama-Penn State are some of the more intriguing ones this year.

And in-state clashes such as Clemson-South Carolina, Alabama-Auburn and Florida-Florida State are deliciously intense.

But what if you could only attend one game this season and personal allegiance wasn't a factor.

What game would it be?

We'll answer that in this week's mailbag.


The big game

When looking at the 2010 season, what is the best game to go to when you take all things into consideration (atmosphere, competition, etc.)?
Steven
Boston

That's a tough call.

It would be easy to select Florida at Alabama on Oct. 2. That game matches the past two national champions, perhaps the nation's premier coaches in Florida's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban and could be a preview of the SEC championship game. It will be crazy.

But if it's a crazy atmosphere you want, could anything be crazier than the one-day Mardi Gras that looms when Alabama visits LSU on Nov. 6? Any Alabama-LSU clash figures to be key in determining the SEC West winner. Add in how much LSU's rabid fans want to see Saban, their former coach, lose to the Tigers and Death Valley will be even more electric than usual.

Then there is a matchup of potential national championship contenders facing off - with the Big Ten championship possibly at stake - when Ohio State travels to Iowa on Nov. 20. The atmosphere always is great in Iowa City, but it will be ratcheted up with the Buckeyes coming to town, especially after Ohio State prevailed 27-24 in overtime last season in Columbus.

Boise State could be set up for another undefeated run if it gets by ACC championship contender Virginia Tech on Labor Day night in Landover, Md.

But if you can only attend one game all season and you're not blinded by allegiance to any particular team, the game to circle is the Oct. 16 grudge match between Texas and Nebraska in Lincoln.

Nebraska fans have a reputation for being friendly to their guests, but in this game, the Huskers' faithful figure to be as rude, nasty and inhospitable as, say, West Virginians when Pitt comes to town.

Since the Big 12 was formed, Texas and Nebraska have been at odds over everything from accepting partial qualifiers to where the Big 12 offices would be located to the sites for conference championship games.

But what really irks the corn masses is that Texas is 8-1 against Nebraska in Big 12 play. Furthermore, the Longhorns have a five-game winning against the Huskers, with four of those wins by three or fewer points.

The last time Texas visited Lincoln, a late fumble allowed the Longhorns to kick a final-play field goal for a 22-20 victory in '06. In last season's Big 12 championship game, the Huskers appeared to have pulled off a shocking upset until a second was put back on the clock (the correct call, by the way), allowing Texas to again win on a last-play field goal.

Both teams will be strong contenders for the Big 12 championship, and could meet again in the conference title game. But that's not assured.

What is assured is that Nebraska is leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten after this season. And the state's entire populace is counting on the Huskers, on their way out the door, giving Texas an old-fashioned butt kicking.

Imagine the taunting Texas fans could deliver if they post another win over the Huskers.

Rarely can another Big 12 game match the intensity of the annual Red River Rivalry (that one is Oct. 2 this season), but this one just might exceed it.


Casting blame

Do you agree or disagree with Alabama coach Nick Saban when he referred to some NFL agents as pimps during SEC Media Days last week?
Don
Long Beach

I was at the SEC media event when Saban made that comparison. At the very least, it's a colorful quote. It's also hypocritical.

Saban is angry that there is a rogue element willing to break rules by offering under-the-table benefits to young football players in hopes of signing them. He was talking about agents. He could have been talking about college coaches, too.

It's not like coaches haven't ever fractured NCAA rules in recruiting. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley even made that comparison.

Saban's anger is justified. We all wish agents would adhere to rules and stay away until a college player's eligibility is completed or until he's announced his intentions of turning pro.

Most agents do stay away. Those that do not are unethical and sleazy. I'm absolutely not defending those sleazy agents, but calling them pimps is a bit over the top. Besides, if they're pimps, aren't the players who accept their under-the-table gifts prostitutes?

Saban is saying that agents are trying to use these young guys to make money. But colleges - and college coaches - do the same thing.

Last year, each of the 12 SEC schools received $18 million in the league's profit-sharing plan, most of which comes from football. The players' share? Zero, of course.

They do get a free education, books, room and board and an avenue to reach the NFL. That's a good deal. But a strong argument can be made that players deserve to share in the money they produce for their schools.

Think about it. Colleges send players out to perform, and the players' performances generate revenue. But all of the money goes to the colleges. Sounds kind of pimp-ish, doesn't it?


Terp trouble

Will Ralph Friedgen get the boot this season regardless of how Maryland finishes?
James
Baltimore

Maryland has posted at least eight victories in five of Friedgen's nine seasons. If the Terps have another season like that, I'd anticipate Friedgen remaining as coach unless he chooses to retire and hand over the reins to coach-in-waiting James Franklin.

But posting eight victories may be a pipe dream for the Terps, who suffered through a 2-10 disaster in '09 that included losses to Middle Tennessee State and Duke. To make matters even more uncertain, Maryland has a new starting quarterback (Jamarr Robinson), a demanding schedule and a new athletic director.

The proverbial "hot seat" couldn't get much hotter in College Park.

Few may realize that Friedgen's record at Maryland is 66-46. The problem is that he went 31-8 in his first three seasons; since then, the Terps are 35-38 and have had losing records in two of the past three seasons.

The Terps have a lot of starters returning and get some key players back from injury, so there is a chance they could rebound and have a good season.

The guess here, though, is Maryland will struggle just to post the six victories required for bowl eligibility.

Another eight-win season would be good enough to buy Friedgen more time. But if the Terps fall short of that mark, I'd anticipate Maryland severing ties with Friedgen and Franklin, and looking elsewhere for a coach.


Blue hopes

Will Michigan make a bowl game with Rich Rodriguez at the helm? I believe that it is bowl or bust for him going into his third season. And who would be a good replacement if Rodriguez is fired?
Keith
Detroit

Tate Forcier showed enough as a true freshman quarterback to raise expectations that Michigan's offense will be even more productive than it was last season.

But offense isn't the problem for the Wolverines. What's really a concern is the defense, The Wolverines ranked 81st in total defense last season, and with Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren gone, there aren't a whole lot of reasons to anticipate the Wolverines will be significantly better this season.

Still, the bet here is Michigan reaches the requisite six victories for bowl eligibility. In part, that depends on the Wolverines getting a good start. That won't be easy with Connecticut and Notre Dame as the first two opponents.

But six or seven wins might not be enough for Rodriguez to get another season. Michigan has a new athletic director, and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh would be an attractive coaching candidate.

Honestly, I feel that given time, Rodriguez will win at Michigan. But he probably won't be given any more time if the Wolverines have another lackluster season.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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