May 18, 2007

Olin's Mailbag: Home cooking

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.

No matter where we go, ultimately we always want to go home.

Home sweet home. Home is where the heart is. There's no place like home.

But nowhere does home seem more sacred than in college football, where big-time teams try to schedule as many home games as possible.

Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Arizona State, Stanford and Arkansas are among several teams across the country that will play eight home games in 2007. Rutgers plays its first five games at home and won't leave New Jersey until Oct. 13.

The top 10 teams in last season's final poll were a combined 66-3 at home.

The lesson here is to never forget the huge advantage good football teams have at home.

OLIN'S MAILBAG
Sooners safe at home

Why is everyone saying Oklahoma will be so good? I think they will go 8-5 or maybe 9-4. I don't think they will make the Big 12 championship game. I bet it will be Texas and Nebraska. What do you think?

Austin in Austin
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What do I think? I think your bias is running hotter than the Hill Country in July. I can hardly wait for a rebuttal from Norman in Norman.

I've pored over Oklahoma's schedule and still don't see four losses - and definitely not five. OU's road games are at Tulsa, Colorado, Iowa State, Texas (neutral site) and Texas Tech, so you must be counting on the Sooners losing multiple games at home.

In that case, you should demand a recount. In eight seasons under Bob Stoops, the Sooners are 47-2 at home with one loss coming to Oklahoma State in 2001 and the other to TCU in 2005.

The over/under on victories for Oklahoma is 10 and probably always will be as long as Stoops continues to resist overtures from the NFL.

The 2007 Sooners will be good defensively, as Stoops' teams always are. The last seven OU teams ranked No. 16 or better nationally in total defense.

Also, the OU offense is loaded everywhere except quarterback. Joey Halzle, Sam Bradford and Keith Nichol are vying for the starting job.

But remember, the Sooners posted 11 victories with newcomer Nate Hybl at quarterback in 2001. Last year they won the Big 12 championship with Paul Thompson, who went into August expecting to be a receiver.

The quarterback situation is the reason I'd pick Texas over Oklahoma in the Big 12 South. But I won't be surprised if Oklahoma wins that game in Dallas and the division championship.

However, I will agree with you that Nebraska will probably represent the North Division in the Big 12 championship game.

Late losses hurt more

This is an old issue, but it never seemed to add up to me. How did Auburn get knocked out of the BCS and get replaced by LSU? Auburn beat LSU and beat Florida, which also beat LSU. LSU edged Arkansas, but it never played Georgia - so you never know. Me and my buddies have decided it was a conspiracy to put JaMarcus Russell on the big stage so the SEC could have another first overall pick. How did it end up like this?

WW in Dallas
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Leave it to a guy in Dallas to bring up the conspiracy theory, but I'm not buying this one.

True, Auburn defeated LSU and Florida. But history shows that when you lose is just as important as who you beat.

Auburn was ranked No. 5 in the nation when it was blown out by Georgia 37-15 on November 11. In contrast, LSU lost both its games in the first half of the season and defeated No. 8 Tennessee and No. 5 Arkansas in the second half.

Hey, some teams improve as the season progresses and some decline. The rankings try to illustrate that.

Consider Oregon State, which lost to Boise State, California and Washington State in the first five weeks of last season. The Beavers went 8-1 the rest of the way with a victory over Southern California.

That's why LSU went to the Sugar Bowl and Auburn went to the Cotton Bowl. I don't believe JaMarcus Russell's draft status influenced the bowl pairings.

However, it should be noted that Russell was the fourth SEC quarterback to be taken with the first selection of the NFL Draft in the last 10 years. The others were Mississippi's Eli Manning in 2004, Kentucky's Tim Couch in 1999 and Tennessee's Peyton Manning in 1998.

Don't doubt Meyer quarterbacks

Do you think Tim Tebow will be able to fill Chris Leak's place at quarterback? And could he possibly be one of the top five quarterbacks in the nation?

Robert in Orlando
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At this time last year, Chris Leak seemed to have as many antagonists as advocates in Florida. Now, Gator fans are hoping Tim Tebow can be as good.

Nothing changes perspective like a national championship.

Will anything less than a national championship be required of Tebow to successfully fill Leak's shoes? That will probably be the case in the eyes of some Floridians, but that would be as unjust as much of the criticism Leak took throughout his career in Gainesville.

There is no doubt Tebow is a tremendous running threat, but he must prove he is also a capable passer. He threw only 33 times a year ago, and some of his passes were less-than-artistic.

However, he is more physically suited to run Urban Meyer's spread offense than Leak. That should concern Florida's opponents, especially when considering how Meyer's quarterbacks have performed in the past. Leak quarterbacked a national championship team and Alex Smith led an undefeated Utah team.

The prediction here is Tebow will be an effective successor to Leak, even if he isn't as adept a passer. Putting a guy with his ability on the field for every play can only be an advantage.

Also, it would come as no surprise if Tebow becomes one of the top five quarterbacks in the nation, but it probably won't happen in 2007.

Our picks for next year's top five are Hawaii's Colt Brennan, Louisville's Brian Brohm, USC's John David Booty, Michigan's Chad Henne and West Virginia's Pat White.

How about a little respect?

Your Big East love fest (last week's mailbag) mentioned a ton of stats and opponents which support your argument. Yet, when you dig deeper into each of those arguments they get exposed. The Big East went 5-0 in bowl games, but no opponent finished in the top 25 (Wake Forest, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Western Michigan).

So my question is: Do you really think West Virginia, Louisville or Rutgers could stay within three touchdowns in a national championship game? USC would put up 80 on West Virginia's defense, a Big Ten team would stop Ray Rice and force Mike Teel to beat them (see Cincinnati game for indication of how that would go), and I would love to see Louisville's "explosive" offense against a fast, nasty SEC defense like that of LSU's.

John in State College, Pa.
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Actually, Wake Forest was ranked 18th in the final Associated Press poll and 17th in the final coaches' poll.

True, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Kansas State and Western Michigan were not ranked. But did you consider if those teams had beaten their Big East opponents in bowl games that they might have finished in the Top 25?

Anyway, I'm supposed to answer questions here, not ask them. So, we'll move on to your inquiry and address your statements.

Do I really think West Virginia, Louisville or Rutgers could stay within three touchdowns in a national championship game? Well, Ohio State didn't, so I guess not.

Would USC put up 80 points on West Virginia? I don't know. But what I do know is that USC put up 50 on Arkansas and 44 on Notre Dame.

A Big Ten team would stop Ray Rice? Illinois didn't. Rice rushed for 108 yards in a 33-0 victory.

You'd love to see Louisville's "explosive" offense against a fast, nasty SEC defense. OK, I'll admit Kentucky's defense - against which Louisville scored 59 points - didn't fit the fast, nasty description, but that was the only SEC team the Cardinals played.

However, Louisville did score 31 points against Miami, which ranked seventh nationally in total defense, held 10 opponents to fewer than 20 points and had four players selected in the NFL Draft including two in the first round (Brandon Meriweather and Jon Beason).

That fits the fast and nasty description, doesn't it?

Can Ducks really bite?

I'm really anticipating next season's matchup between Michigan and Oregon. I'm a huge Oregon fan, but I don't think they will win because Michigan is just too good. Who do you think will win?

Joanne in Tempe, Ariz.
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Michigan would also be my pick because the game is in Ann Arbor and Michigan's offense will be among the best in the country. Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham and Jake Long are very talented players.

But your Ducks have a chance, especially if tailback Jonathan Stewart is healthy and at his best. Michigan lost five players from its 2006 defense, including a first-round draft choice and three taken in the second round. The Wolverines don't figure to be as stingy as they were a year ago.

Also, the Wolverines play Notre Dame the following week. The best time to play a good team is the week before or the week after they face a traditional rival.

Not enough Hart

Do you think that Mike Hart will be one of the top Heisman candidates this year?

Scott in Ann Arbor
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Mike Hart will be listed among the candidates, and rightly so. Last season he rushed for 1,562 yards. He gained at least 91 yards in every regular season game, he seemingly always falls forward and he almost never fumbles.

He'll be a key figure on a national championship contender, which will only enhance his candidacy.

However, Hart will be a long shot because winning the Heisman usually requires equal parts image and substance.

Hart is relentlessly productive, but doesn't make the highlight-reel plays that get shown over and over on television. Last year he had only three games in which he had a run of 30 yards or more, and his longest run of the season covered just 54 yards.

Arkansas' Darren McFadden and West Virginia's Steve Slaton are more electrifying, and that will probably sway voters who write down running backs on their ballots. Hart, who averaged almost five yards per carry in 2006, is more consistent than spectacular.

Spartan future

Do you think my boys from East Lansing with all their coaching changes can beat some of the elite teams in the Big Ten like Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin?

Kyle in Michigan
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I believe Mark Dantonio's influence will be positive and immediate. I don't think the Spartans will blow big leads in the fourth quarter.

Of course, the question is whether they can get leads in the fourth quarter without QB Drew Stanton and all of last year's starting receivers.

MSU's running backs are solid with Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick, and I expect the defense to be better. I'd say the Spartans will have a shot at six or seven victories, but I wouldn't anticipate victories over Michigan, Ohio State or Wisconsin.

After last year's 4-8 debacle the Spartans should set their sights on beating Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue.

Baby steps.

Not so fast Gamecocks

Does South Carolina have the most talented defensive line in the SEC?

Travis in Charleston
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Jordin Lindsey and Nathan Pepper definitely give the Gamecocks some active linemen, and there are some good young players in the mix. But if we're rating the SEC defensive lines, the list starts with LSU - which was second in the SEC in rush defense last year.

Glenn Dorsey is arguably the best defensive tackle in the nation, Tyson Jackson is a fantastic pass rusher and the Tigers have no shortage of talented players. Guys like Tremaine Johnson, Charles Alexander, Ricky Jean-Francois and Marlon Favorite will fill in at the other spots.

I'd also rate Auburn - with Quentin Groves, Sen'Derrick Marks and Josh Thompson returning - one of the best defensive fronts. Arkansas also returns three starters up front.

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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