December 21, 2007

December brings wish lists to the mailbag

Bowl season's greetings.

The mailbag overflows in December as fans, some with visions of Sugar Bowls dancing in their heads, look for answers from the past, present and future.

And we'll try to deliver those answers: about recruiting coordinators of the past, present BCS controversy and underachieving teams, and national championship and Heisman Trophy contenders of the future.

OLIN'S MAILBAG
Bear market

Cal started off great this year, got up to No. 2, but then went downhill from there. Do you think the Golden Bears can bounce back next season?

— Mike in San Carlos, Calif.
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Cal's season reminds me of a scene from one of the great motion pictures of 1988. I'm referring, of course, to "I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka."

In the scene, a beautiful woman reveals that her eyes aren't really green, but only tinted contact lenses. And then she removes fake fingernails, false teeth, a push-up bra, a wig and even a prosthetic leg.

Likewise, Cal was sitting pretty after defeating Oregon to start 5-0. But then quarterback Nate Longshore got hurt, and backup Kevin Riley opted not to throw the ball away and instead made a disastrous decision to run with the ball. That false move prevented the Bears from attempting a game-tying field goal in a 31-28 loss to Oregon State. The next week, Longshore threw a fourth-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown in a 30-21 loss to UCLA, and more pieces kept falling off as the Bears finished 6-6.

Frankly, there is not a whole lot of reason for optimism next year. Leading rusher Justin Forsett is a senior, as are receivers Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan. Also, junior receiver and return specialist DeSean Jackson may enter the NFL Draft.

On the positive side, if every player that can return does come back, the Bears will return six offensive and nine defensive starters. Still, the Bears are just losing too many talented players to expect too much in an improving Pac-10, especially because they're developing the reputation of losing at least one or two games they're expected to win.

Take heart, though. As long as coach Jeff Tedford is there, the Bears should be competitive. Cal has posted a winning record every season since he arrived in Berkeley in 2002. And don't forget, Cal was 1-10 the season before Tedford got there.

All Wells

I kind of like Chris Wells for the Heisman next season if he stays healthy.

— Steve in Ohio
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There are a lot of reasons to like Wells – about 1,463 of them, to be exact. That's how many yards he has rushed for this season, and 821 of those have come in the past five games.

Wells has great speed and power and certainly should be one of the best running backs in the country – if not the best – next season.

But his offensive line may take a hit, and lessens the enthusiasm just a bit. Kirk Barton, the Buckeyes' best blocker, is a senior and a possible NFL first-round pick. In addition, tackle Alex Boone and guards Steve Rehring and Ben Person are juniors and eligible to enter the draft. If any leave, the going could be a little more difficult for Wells next season.

Still, Wells is the kind of back who can make his own holes - and he doesn't need gaping holes to be productive. Barring injury, he figures to have similar stats next season.

Remember, Wells only had 46 yards against Youngstown State, just 85 against Purdue and only 17 on four carries against Kent State. Therefore, it's not outlandish to suggest he could make a run at 2,000 yards, especially if he has four returning linemen. And if he does that, he'll definitely be among the top Heisman candidates.

Let's slow down

How do you see the Big Ten unfolding in 2008? Wisconsin is going to have a dangerous backfield (four capable and diverse tailbacks and a mobile quarterback), a huge and talented offensive line and a more experienced, quick defense. Will they play to their full potential or just slide by like this season? They could be a scary team if they come together.

— Ty in Madison, Wis.
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Don't mean to duck your question, but it's so hard to project 2008 when 2007 isn't complete. After all, we don't yet know who will enter the draft early. A few departures could make a huge difference.

In fact, if all of Ohio State's juniors return –specifically, quarterback Todd Boeckman, defensive end Vernon Gholston, linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins – the Buckeyes might be the favorite to win the national championship.

If Ohio State loses several juniors, Wisconsin and Illinois figure to be the top teams in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin should have one of the best offensive lines in the nation, and almost the entire defense could return. But there's also the concern that tight end Travis Beckum and cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu could leave early for the draft. If that happens, that will leave some big holes.

P.J. Hill will lead an impressive stable of running backs, but starting quarterback Tyler Donovan is a senior. Allan Evridge has previous experience as a starter at Kansas State, but if he were better than Donovan, he would have been the starter this year.

If (Florida quarterback Tim) Tebow was voted the Heisman based on his 51 total touchdowns, then why wasn't (Hawaii quarterback) Colt Brennan a finalist last year when he had more touchdowns throwing than Tebow had total this season? Even if you're in a weaker conference, it still takes a good quarterback to be that consistent. – Ryan in Maple Grove, Cal.

No one is disputing that Brennan is an excellent quarterback. That's obvious. The question is whether he's the most outstanding player in college football.

Brennan faces questions about his caliber of competition, especially this season when Hawaii's schedule was one of the easiest in the country. If we're going to award the Heisman based on solely on stats, then perhaps it should have gone to Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, who passed for more yardage and more touchdowns than Brennan.

Last year, Troy Smith of Ohio State clearly was the most outstanding player, even though Arkansas' Darren McFadden made a big move in the second half of the season to challenge him.

This season, I felt Tebow was most outstanding because he was such a threat to run and pass and because he didn't have a bad game. I believe Florida would have gone undefeated had it faced Hawaii's schedule. And Tebow would have posted even more gaudy stats.

Call it winners bias

USC and Oklahoma fans should be upset (about being held out of the BCS championship game)? What about Georgia fans? There is no question that the sports media favors the teams out west over teams from around the country. This is why we need at least an eight-team playoff system.

— David in Marietta, Ga.
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I've heard for years about an East Coast media bias, but this is a first for West Coast bias.

I guess Gulf Coast bias is next. I can see it now: "How can you justify putting LSU and Texas in BCS games? It's the Gulf Coast bias."

Anyway, I'm with you on the need for some kind of a playoff. Georgia definitely has a right to complain after going 10-2 and winning its last six, including three against ranked opponents.

But teams that do not win their conference championship shouldn't be playing for the national title. And teams that don't even win their division surely don't belong in the championship game.

That's nothing against Georgia. That's just my take on the subject. I didn't think Nebraska belonged in the 2001 championship game.. And judging from the result that season, Miami didn't think so, either.

Future bright at Georgia

What do you think about Georgia's chances at making a run at an SEC title in 2008? The Bulldogs started clicking as the season progressed with a young offensive line and some hard-nosed running backs. Knowshon Moreno is a good back, but will a loaded backfield limit his Heisman status? And where would you rank Matthew Stafford in the quarterback ranks?

— James in Atlanta
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Let me take these in the order of which you asked.

1. Assuming nobody leaves early for the NFL draft, I anticipate that Georgia and Florida will be the top contenders in the SEC East. Whichever team wins in Jacksonville, Fla., will win the SEC championship. Any team that returns about 20 starters, including its quarterback and top rusher, after a 10-win season (and maybe 11) has to be considered a championship contender.

2. Moreno is an excellent, exciting back. With enough carries, he could be a serious Heisman contender. But will he get sufficient carries? Folks in Athens like highly touted freshman Caleb King. If King is as good as advertised, he could take some carries away from Moreno. And you can ask two-time Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden, who shared carries with Felix Jones, about that type of scenario.

3. Stafford was respectable as a freshman and good as a sophomore. As a junior, he figures to be very good. Although he hasn't put up staggering numbers in the Bulldogs' offense, he's still effective. I think he'll be among the country's top 10 quarterbacks next year and may prove even better than that.

Not the same playing field

The biggest story in coaching in the Big 12 was Texas A&M hiring Tim Cassidy (as recruiting coordinator). He will own recruiting in the state of Texas. (Head coach) Mike Sherman with Cassidy is a perfect hire. This goes under the radar, but I looked at a paper from 1996 and there were 30 players on that (A&M) team's two-deep who played in the NFL. That is unmatched by any (Bob) Stoops or (Mack) Brown team.

— Robert in San Antonio
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Slow down, Robert.

Tim Cassidy has without doubt distinguished himself as an accomplished recruiting coordinator. That cannot be denied.

I'll have to take your word for it that 30 players from that A&M roster played in the NFL. That numbers seems a little high to me, though I do recall about 20 on that team who played pro football, including Dat Nguyen, Warrick Holman, Rich Caody, Calvin Collins, Steve McKinney, Albert Connell, Dan Campbell, Ed Jasper, Brandon Mitchell and Pat Williams.

A&M had tremendous talent in the '90s, and Cassidy was a key reason. But let's also understand that at that time the Aggies were recruiting against John Blake at Oklahoma, not Bob Stoops. They were recruiting against John Mackovic at Texas, not Mack Brown. They were recruiting against Gerry DiNardo at LSU, not Les Miles.

Aggies should be encouraged by the return of Cassidy, who has been at Nebraska since 2004, but don't take it for granted that his presence ensures that A&M again will dominate recruiting in Texas. The recruiting landscape in that state has changed significantly since '96.

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




 

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