May 11, 2007

Mailbag: Does the Big East belong?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He will be working all summer to get you ready for the start of Fall practice.

Those stuck in the past may still argue the world is flat, the sun revolves around the Earth and the Big East isn't a legitimate football conference.

Don't worry, though. Living in the present is a good thing.

Of course, there are stubborn ones out there that maintain that when Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech jumped ship for the ACC, the Big East became a sinking ship.

Admittedly, that appeared the case when Utah blasted Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2004 season. Big East detractors will still reference that as proof the Big East doesn't belong among the NCAA power conferences.

Yeah, and the horse-and-buggy will never be replaced.

Anyone who doubts the legitimacy of Big East football has obviously had their heads in the sand. West Virginia and Louisville are firmly established as national powers, Rutgers is close and South Florida is also an emerging program. Pittsburgh is usually respectable, too.

Still not convinced? That's OK. Some skeptics still doubt the moon landing, too.

But this isn't meant to chastise anyone. If this debate causes bad blood among any Big East detractors then sit back, apply some leeches and continue to read.

OLIN'S MAILBAG
Big East really big

Do you think the Big East should be a BCS conference? I don't. I just can't see Louisville and West Virginia beating teams like Michigan or USC or Florida. I think that the best teams in the Big East would have a hard time beating only decent teams in other BCS conferences. What do you think?

Jack in Tulsa
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Gotta disagree, Jack.

Big East teams were 11-7 against BCS conference opponents in the regular season in 2006, and went 5-0 in bowl games.

By comparison, the Big 12 was 3-8 in the regular season against BCS conference opponents and went 3-5 in bowl games. But no one is suggesting the Big 12 should lose its status as a BCS bowl.

The bottom of the Big East isn't great, but Syracuse did defeat Illinois and Connecticut did beat Indiana. No one is suggesting the Big Ten is a freeloader.

Big East detractors might argue that its regular season success was due to playing inferior BCS teams. But Louisville defeated Kentucky (bowl winner) and Miami (bowl winner). West Virginia defeated Maryland (bowl winner).

Also, consider Oklahoma State's non-conference schedule included Missouri State, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic and Houston - which beat the Cowboys.

Don't forget the Big East champion has won its last two BCS bowl games. Louisville defeated ACC champion Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl last season and West Virginia knocked off SEC champion Georgia two years ago.

By the way, the Big East has three teams - West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers - among the Rivals.com preseason Top 25. The Pac-10 has two. Nobody says the Pac-10 should lose its BCS status.

Hokies back on top

How do you think Virginia Tech will do this season? Also, who do you think will start more games at QB, (Sean) Glennon or Tyrod Taylor?

Woody in Richmond
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In an effort to promote better on-field decisions, Sean Glennon faced live action often this spring. Virginia Tech coaches like the way he responded.

Barring any drastic new developments, Glennon will be the Hokies' starting quarterback and Tyrod Taylor - the five-star prospect out of Hampton, Va. - figures to redshirt.

Glennon had some problems last year, but he was still good enough to throw for more than 2,000 yards and help the Hokies to 10 victories.

He'll again have Branden Ore in the backfield and the Virginia Tech defense will be among the best in the nation, so the Hokies - who get Miami in Blacksburg this season - are my pick to win the Coastal Division and face Boston College for the ACC championship.

Another double-digit victory total is a real possibility even though the ACC should be - check that, has to be, better than it was a year ago.

Stronger Tide

What do you think the Alabama Crimson Tide will do this year with Nick Saban as the coach?

Mel in Birmingham
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New coaches often make an immediate difference. Texas went from 4-7 to 9-3 in its first season under Mack Brown. Oklahoma went from 5-6 to 7-5 in its first season under Bob Stoops. Ohio State went from 8-4 to 7-5 in Jim Tressel's first season, but the Buckeyes beat Michigan.

It can go the other way, too. However, Nick Saban's track record would suggest Alabama should expect to improve on last season's 6-7 finish. In Saban's first season at Michigan State the Spartans improved by a victory and went to a bowl game. In his first season at LSU the Tigers improved from 3-8 to 8-4. The Miami Dolphins? That's irrelevant, it's a different game.

The Tide appears to have some defensive concerns, but Saban has a background as an effective defensive coach. The bet here is he'll have a respectable defense.

I'd expect Alabama to post victories over Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, Houston, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe and pick up at least two more victories along the way. Remember, they lost close games on the road at Tennessee and Arkansas last season and those teams must travel to Tuscaloosa this time.

Still A blue state

Alright man. I want your honest opinion. Who do you think will win the Iron Bowl, and why?

Chase in Dothan, Ala.
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I've received so much correspondence from Crimson Tide fans that I felt compelled to include two this week.

Predicting in May the outcome of a game played in November isn't really prudent. There are always so many factors that come into play: injuries, some players don't perform as expected, some are better than expected, etc.

But since you asked, I'll answer this way.

Dad always told me if you're betting at the roulette wheel stay with the hot color until it loses. So, I'm staying away from red.

Auburn has won five consecutive in the series, QB Brandon Cox will be healthier than last season, the Tigers should be stingy on defense and Alabama never blocked Quentin Groves in last year's Auburn victory. Besides, the game is in Auburn this season.

All those factors tell me to bet on black (on in this case Navy Blue). But that doesn't mean I can't change my opinion later.

Questions at Notre Dame

Who do you see starting at wide receiver, tailback and quarterback for Notre Dame? Also, who do you see winning the national title?

Mario in San Pedro Sula, Honduras
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Hola, Mario.

Expect Travis Thomas to start the season as the No. 1 tailback, but look for James Aldridge and Armando Allen to get considerable action. Aldridge had surgery in the spring of '06 and wore a brace last season, but that's off now. Also, a lot of observers in South Bend said Allen was one of the most impressive players this spring.

David Grimes and George West are the likely starters at wide receiver, but West only had two catches last season. Rob Parris, who will push for playing time, only had one catch. Incoming freshman Duval Kamara, a 6-foot-5 four-star prospect, may need to make a significant contribution right away or this could be a problem area.

As far as the starting quarterback who knows? Charlie Weis never gave any indication who among Jimmy Clausen, Demetrius Jones, Zach Frazer and Evan Sharpley had an advantage this spring. He's indicated he'll soon announce two that will get the majority of work in August. The guess here - and it's just a guess - is that he'll pick Clausen and Jones.

No matter who is starting at quarterback, I expect the Irish will fall on Oct. 20 to Southern California, which I predict will defeat West Virginia for the national championship.

Running the table

Can LSU go undefeated?

David in Baton Rouge
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That's very possible.

David Fox, our talented writer and crack researcher, pointed out that in the 15 years since the Southeastern Conference added an annual championship game in 1992 that three SEC teams - Auburn in '04, Tennessee in '98 and Alabama in '92 - have finished the year undefeated. Two more - Florida in '95 and '96 - were undefeated in conference play.

What that tells us is that while the SEC is generally regarded as the strongest conference in Division I-A football, it's not that uncommon for a team to finish unbeaten.

The 2007 Tigers will return seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters from last season's 11-2 team, which lost on the road to Auburn and Florida.

But this season Auburn and Florida have to go to Baton Rouge - so do Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Arkansas. The Tigers' most difficult road games would appear to be at Kentucky, which LSU defeated 49-0 last season, and at Alabama, which LSU beat 28-14.

However, losing four first-round NFL Draft choices from the roster, including QB JaMarcus Russell, is reason for apprehension. Matt Flynn, Russell's replacement, was excellent in a 40-3 victory over Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl. However, he has to show he can play at a high level every game.

Can he? Probably. But it's still a legitimate concern.

LSU fans are justified to enter the season with high optimism. After all - as I've written before - when you're on the road to a national championship you want to take the road with Les Miles.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Most sunshine

Do you think with all the coaching changes and all the hype that my 'Noles could get to a BCS game next year or maybe beat Florida?

Brian in Tampa
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I wouldn't discount Florida State's BCS chances, although if I had to make a wager I wouldn't put money on the Seminoles.

There is a lot to like about Florida State. Five of its six losses last year were by seven or fewer points - and that includes a 21-14 loss to Florida. Seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters return for the Seminoles. Running back Antone Smith - I believe - will be a star if he gets any blocking at all. The receivers are solid, and new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has an excellent track record.

But poor offensive line play and the inconsistency of quarterbacks Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee in the past leaves an uneasy feeling. The prediction here is that Florida State improves on last year's seven victories by one or two.

As of today, I'd still take Florida.

Bears still hibernate

What is the outlook for Baylor football in your point of view? What needs to change for the Bears to win at least six games and possibly make a bowl game next season?

Chase in Waco, Texas
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Frankly, I anticipate the Bears to be very similar to last season's 4-8 team. I think Baylor could win three of their first four - against Rice, Texas State and Buffalo - but after that the going will be tough. Maybe they could get a win at home against Colorado and then hope to pull off an upset along the way, but I doubt they can get six victories.

Even though Baylor changed to a pass-oriented offense last season, it still needs to upgrade its running game. The Bears were the worst rushing team in the nation in 2006. They might be able to improve with three returning starters on the offensive line and J.D. Walton, a transfer from Arizona State, moving in at center.

The Bears will have a new starting quarterback in transfer Michael Machen, who threw for more than 2,000 yards as Kent State's starter in 2005. They also must replace a pretty good group of receivers - and all their cornerbacks - from last season.

The bottom line is Baylor must raise its talent level. That has been difficult because Baylor has lagged woefully behind other Big 12 programs in 'wow factor' facilities that attract high-profile recruits.

However, on Thursday Baylor broke ground on a $34 million on-campus facility that will include a practice field, weight room, training room and academic center. That is a good indicator the folks in Waco are finally getting serious about being competitive in football.

Of course, it will take a few years before the benefits of that project show up on the field.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.




 

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