August 3, 2007

Olin's mailbag: Immediate returns

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He will be working all summer to get you ready for the start of Fall practice.
Previous mailbags
July 27: August turns up the heat
July 20: The next star
July 13: Only time will tell
July 6: Serious fans dream big

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Florida's Urban Meyer ruined it for everybody.

College football fans across the country - often as delusional as they are demanding - can reference that trio when setting a timetable for winning a national championship.

Those three coaches won national titles in their second seasons, yet still were slackers compared to Larry Coker. The former Miami coach won a championship in his first year leading the Hurricanes.

Pete Carroll needed three seasons at Southern California to win a national championship (AP in 2003), and Lloyd Carr required the same to be voted a share in 1997.

Of course, LSU fans still contend Carroll didn't win a title until his fourth season. After all, it was LSU which won the BCS championship in 2003 - its fourth year under Nick Saban.

Mack Brown needed eight years to win a national championship at Texas. Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer took seven years. Steve Spurrier also needed seven years at Florida. Florida State's Bobby Bowden needed 18 years.

Obviously, the process takes longer at some places.

How long would it take in Chapel Hill, N.C. you might wonder? At least one Tar Heels fan does.

Not overnight

Butch Davis takes over a North Carolina team that has been atrocious the last decade, even though its state is loaded with talent. He's a great coach who was able to recruit arguably the greatest college football team of all time (Miami in '01). How long will it take for North Carolina to become a power in the ACC and compete for a national title? If they get really good do you think they would make a jump to the SEC?

CC in Orlando, Fla.

First, let's understand that no team with more than one loss will win the national championship.

Mack Brown took over at North Carolina in 1988, and his first two teams promptly finished 1-10 in consecutive seasons.

However, the Tar Heels steadily improved under Brown and grew into national championship contenders with an 11-1 record in 1997. That process took 10 years.

Davis, who succeeded Dennis Erickson as Miami's head coach in 1995, had to steer the Hurricanes through the mire of probation. However, he led them to an 11-1 finish in 2000. That process took six years.

Probation isn't an issue in Chapel Hill, but constructing a national championship contender at North Carolina should take longer than winning a title at Miami.

Davis' background at Miami and as a former NFL coach should be a great benefit. His experience may enable him to build North Carolina's program faster than Brown.

So, let's give Davis eight years to take North Carolina from lower-echelon ACC team to national championship contender.

Should North Carolina win a football national championship, the Tar Heels won't be joining the SEC.

They play hoops in Chapel Hill, too, and they're not going to end that historic rivalry with Duke.

Falling apart?

The Big East is only two schools away from becoming a superpower conference again: Boston College and Penn State. Now that BC has the money it was looking for when it joined the ACC, it is struggling to win the conference. Penn State wanted to form a Northeast Conference years ago, but Pitt screwed that up. With the Big East falling apart, do you think BC will load up and make a triumphant return to the Big East? Do you think Penn State will join them?

Chris in Boston

No. And no.

If the Big East is indeed falling apart - as you say - why would BC and Penn State leave strong conferences to leap onto a sinking ship?

I doubt Boston College is willing to give up the fight in the ACC just because it hasn't won a championship in its two years in the conference. The Eagles only shared one championship in their 14 seasons in the Big East, and this year they will challenge for the ACC crown.

Penn State doesn't figure to leave the powerful Big Ten, which in the near future may expand. In fact, the Big Ten could possibly annex another team from the Big East - Syracuse or Rutgers, perhaps.

Questions up front

I realize you can usually set your watch by the 'Poke Choke,' but don't forget our offense was ranked in the top 10 last year. Also, we lost four games on the final play last year. Is there any chance Oklahoma State can make some noise in the Big 12 this year?

Ben in Stillwater, Okla.

A fine line can separate a contending football team from a conquered one. In Oklahoma State's case, it will take two fine lines to contend.

The Cowboys are dangerous at the skill positions with the trio of QB Bobby Reid, RB Dantrell Savage and WR Adarius Bowman. The defense is solid at linebacker and in the secondary.

The questions for the Cowboys loom in the lines, where they lost All-Big 12 tackle Corey Hilliard and guard Kurt Seifried on offense. Oklahoma State must also replace its entire defensive front.

If those areas hold up, OSU could emerge as one of the biggest surprise teams in the nation. The Big 12 South appears more wide open than usual with Oklahoma's uncertainty at quarterback, Texas rebuilding its defense and Texas A&M still an enigma after its Holiday Bowl collapse last December.

The Cowboys made progress in their second season under coach Mike Gundy last year and came within a yard (from the Stillwater perspective) of upsetting Big 12 champion Oklahoma. OSU is not that far away from being a legitimate contender in the Big 12 South.

The season opener at Georgia should reveal a lot about the Cowboys. An upset of the Bulldogs will signal that Oklahoma State will have to be taken seriously in the Big 12 race.

Anything's possible

I know no one believes Notre Dame can win more than seven games this year, but is there a chance that the Irish shock the country and win nine or more?

Willie in New Jersey

There is always a chance, especially when a team has a good coach. Love him or hate him, Charlie Weis is a very good coach.

Besides, just look back five years to Tyrone Willingham's first season in South Bend. That team wasn't strong offensively - ranking 108th nationally. That Irish team played good defense and Vontez Duff seemed to turn in big plays on kick returns every week. Though failing to score an offensive touchdown until the third game, the Irish scratched out a 10-3 finish.

So, it is possible.

However, the fact remains Notre Dame lost its quarterback, top running back, two leading receivers and three starters in the offensive line. Its defense wasn't overpowering, either.

Also, Notre Dame's schedule - while light in at the end of the season - includes Penn State, Michigan, UCLA, Boston College and Southern California.

Nine victories would require the Irish beat at least two of those teams. Again, that's possible. But which two are the Irish going to beat?

Maybe not that easy

What do you think of Iowa's chances of winning the Big Ten? Their schedule is amazingly easy.

Jake in Iowa

Amazingly easy?

The Hawkeyes avoid Ohio State and Michigan, but they still have to go to Wisconsin and Penn State. There is nothing easy about that.

Remember the Purdue Boilermakers of 2005? Coming off a 7-4 finish in '04 and facing a schedule sans the Buckeyes and Wolverines, Purdue was being hailed as a national championship contender.

The Boilermakers went 5-6.

Iowa's championship aspirations will be boosted more by an experienced lineup than a perceived weak schedule. Six starters return on offense and eight on defense. Running back Albert Young and defensive end Kenny Iwebema were slowed by injuries last season, but are healthy now.

If Iowa can win on the road (the Hawkeyes also go to Purdue and Northwestern) then it will be in great position to win the Big Ten.

But I'm still taking Michigan.

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

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