November 23, 2007

Does the SEC have something to prove?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. This week he heads to Texas to take in the Aggies and the Longhorns.
Previous mailbags
Nov. 16: What's the difference
Nov. 9: Ducks without Dixon
Nov. 2: Looking ahead
Oct. 26: WVU still in title race

Here I am, answering mail on Thanksgiving Day while enjoying the aroma of turkey roasting in the oven.

I'm pondering the question of whether all other college football conferences stink in comparison to the vaunted Southeastern Conference.

I'm looking forward to eating the drumstick while considering how Dennis Dixon's damaged leg will affect his Heisman candidacy, and why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have gotten the stuffing knocked out of them.

We have apple, pumpkin and pecan pies in the kitchen, and I'm wondering how many pounds I'll add. I'm also wondering if Kansas would have gotten pounded if they hadn't played a schedule that so far has been a cakewalk.

Lastly, I'm thinking about how thankful Mississippi State fans must be that the Bulldogs are going to a bowl game. Which bowl, you ask?

Check the mailbag.

OLIN'S MAILBAG
SEC slipping?

I know that you will get a massive amount of unflattering mail targeted at you if you publish this piece of mail, but hear me out. When/if in the event that Vanderbilt, Georgia and South Carolina fail to win against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Clemson, respectively, how would the SEC be justified as the "best" conference in the land. How about if only one of those teams win, what is the answer to the same question?

Al in North Carolina
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C'mon Al. Don't you know that the three strongest football conferences in America are the AFC, the NFC and the SEC? And which of those three is strongest is up for debate.

Seriously, the SEC is college football's best conference from top to bottom, but the chasm between it and other leagues like the Pac-10, Big 12 and even the Big Ten isn't as wide as many SEC advocates would want to believe.

The list of nonconference opponents with victories over SEC teams this year includes California, South Florida, Florida State, West Virginia, Missouri and Louisiana-Monroe. And all those losses weren't all mismatches of top teams from other conferences against the SEC bottom feeders.

Cal beat Tennessee, which will win the Eastern Division title if it can beat Kentucky this weekend. South Florida won at Auburn, which is second in the SEC West. West Virginia beat Mississippi State, which beat Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama. Florida State beat Alabama. And, of course, Louisiana-Monroe, which is tied for FOURTH place in the SUN BELT CONFERENCE, defeated Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Yeah, yeah playing in the SEC is such a grind that other teams just couldn't compete in it on a week-to-week basis. But wasn't Arkansas in a weak conference before moving to the SEC? And hasn't Arkansas won or tied for the top spot in the SEC West three times, including last year?

That's a lot of rebuttal fodder for other conferences at which the SEC (and LSU coach Les Miles) looks down their noses. And if Vandy, South Carolina and Georgia all lose to ACC teams or even fall in two out of three that would provide the rest of the country just one last chance to say "ney, ney, ney, ney, ney."

Heisman Hopes

There is no question in my mind that (Oregon quarterback) Dennis Dixon is the best and most important player to his team in the country after watching the Ducks' loss to Arizona. With him out for the season, could he still win the Heisman? When are the ballots for the award turned in?

Jason in Baltimore
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Because of his injury, I doubt Dixon can win the Heisman. That is unfortunate, because he might have had a slight lead over Florida's Tim Tebow in the Heisman race before tearing the ACL in his left knee.

Maybe it's unfair that an injury can derail a Heisman campaign, but that's the way it is. Michigan running back Mike Hart might have been the front-runner before spraining an ankle against Purdue.

The reason Dixon's injury is so costly is that it's important to finish strong, especially in a year when the contenders were so close. Two years ago, USC's Reggie Bush and Texas' Vince Young were in a close race. Bush had a big game late in the season against Fresno State, while Young had a pedestrian showing in the regular season finale against Texas A&M.

As a result, Bush took the trophy home. That home was apparently paid for by an agent, but that's another story.

Anyway, Dixon doesn't have a chance to match anything done by Tebow or Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel or Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing down the stretch, and that will keep him from receiving the trophy.

That is, unless Tebow, Daniel, Reesing, West Virginia quarterback Pat White - and even Arkansas running back Darren McFadden - play poorly in upcoming games and directly cause their teams to lose. Then maybe maybe Dixon could still win.

NFL prospects

Where do you see (Tennessee quarterback) Erik Ainge going in the NFL Draft?

Anonymous
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Man, I love the way Ainge plays. I covered the Volunteers' season-opener at Cal. Despite losing to the Bears, I thought Ainge was the most impressive offensive player on the field that night - much to the chagrin of several California grads that made a point to remind me just how stupid I am.

And that included my wife.

Ainge has thrown for 2,511 yards, completed 64.5 percent of his passes and has 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions despite having an average group of receivers and little help from the running game.

He's a big guy who has gotten better as his college career has progressed, and that shows me that he's able to learn and adapt.

By no means am I an expert on NFL Draft prospects, but I'd guess Ainge could be taken as high as the third round.

Bowling Bulldogs

What bowl will Mississippi State to go if the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss?

Travis in Starkville
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We at Rivals.com project Mississippi State to the Music City Bowl to face Florida State. (Check out our complete bowl projections here.) However, don't completely rule out the possibility of reaching the Cotton Bowl, which usually invites a team from the SEC West.

Weis opinion

What is your take on Charlie Weis? Is he a good coach having a terrible year, or did he look good with guys someone else taught all the fundamentals and had the benefit of NFL skill position players. Can he get it done at Notre Dame?

Chris in Chapel Hill, NC
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Weis, in my opinion, is a good coach that is having a terrible year.

Everyone was probably too quick to anoint Weis the next great college coach after leading the Irish to back-to-back BCS bowl games. By the same token, I think it's a mistake to label him as a failure because the Irish are struggling through a historically inept season.

He did, as mentioned, inherit some really good players like Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija. But Quinn and Samardzija without a doubt performed much better under Weis' supervision than they had previously in their careers. Whether that was a matter of them merely maturing or flourishing under Weis is subject to debate. It was probably both.

Weis bumbled the way he handled the quarterback situation early in the season, but he's not perfect. He is, though, a good football coach and he will prove that again in the future.

Gotta prove it

Why isn't Kansas No. 1?

Wayne in Brenham, Texas
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The simple answer to that one is the Jayhawks don't deserve to be No. 1 until they beat a really good team, which they might do Saturday night against Missouri.

Though they have looked impressive, the fact remains Kansas' 11-0 record has been accumulated against opponents with a combined 47-70. The Big 12 schedule did not require the Jayhawks to play Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech the top three teams in the Big 12 South Division and they have not defeated a team that has more than six victories this season. They beat 5-6 Kansas State by six points, 5-6 Colorado by five points and 6-5 Texas A&M by eight points.

True, No. 1 LSU has a loss, but at least that was in overtime on the road at Kentucky, which is 7-4. Indeed, LSU's 10 victories have come against teams that are a combined 59-52. LSU has victories over Virginia Tech, Florida and Auburn.

In comparison, LSU is more deserving. LSU would not have lost had it played Kansas' meager schedule.

In fact, Missouri and West Virginia have played more difficult schedules than Kansas. The Jayhawks still have to prove they deserve their high ranking.

Their chance is coming.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. Click hereTo send him a question or commentfor his Friday Mailbag.



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