May 16, 2008

Which conference is really the BCS weak link?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
May 9: Another crazy season?
May 2: Bad rap for Big East?
April 25: Sooner fans worried

The Lord only asks for 10 percent, but that's not nearly enough in college football. One out of 10 will get quarterbacks benched, coaches fired and – if some fans had their way – a "Big Six" conference stripped of its automatic bid into the BCS.

And get this: That conference is not the much-maligned Big East, whose teams actually have a three-game BCS winning streak. Rather, it's a conference that includes programs that have been among the nation's most successful. It's also a conference that has won just once in 10 BCS appearances.

Will such an unimpressive showing cost that conference its automatic bid? Not a prayer.

OLIN'S MAILBAG
ACC comeback

It's no secret that the BCS evaluation process that was put in place a few years ago was particularly directed at the Big East when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College jumped ship. The gap was filled with Conference USA teams Louisville, USF and Cincinnati. The prevalent skepticism was probably justified.

But fast-forward to the present. The Big East has won three consecutive BCS bowls against the champions of the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC – poetic justice, considering the ACC thought it would be the next SEC with the new additions. The ACC is 1-9 all-time in BCS bowl games. Their champion never beats anybody else's champion. The MAC could produce the same results. So at what point does the ACC start to officially be in the hot seat for keeping its automatic bowl? And please don't give me the annual predictions about how Miami and Florida State will bounce back. I'm sure the same things were said when the demise of Army and Navy was happening back in the 1950's and '60s.

— Kris in Hollidaysburg, Pa.
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The additions of Virginia Tech and Miami in 2004 and Boston College in '05 was supposed to make the ACC a "Super Conference," but as you pointed out, it hasn't happened that way. Obviously, the recent decline of Florida State and Miami is a major reason.

But the ACC isn't going to be stripped of its automatic tie-in. The league stretches from Boston to Miami and has ties to 10 of the nation's top 30 TV markets, which makes the ACC an extremely attractive conference.

Besides, the ACC won't struggle forever. There are too many good football players in  Florida, Georgia, Virginia, the Carolinas and in Catholic-school programs (Boston College) for that league to stay down.

And surely you're not predicting Florida State and Miami will fall into the same trap of mediocrity that Army and Navy did. That's not going to happen. Those programs still are  attractive to prospects, are located in fertile recruiting areas and don't require a commitment to serve in the military.

The ACC won't have to rely solely on them, either. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Maryland are solid programs, and I believe that in the near future, Butch Davis will build North Carolina into a powerful program. Tom O'Brien will make N.C. State better, too.  

Carolina contenders?

South Carolina fans still are anxiously awaiting a breakout season for the Steve Spurrier-led Gamecocks. Do you think, with so many athletes from Spurrier's first two recruiting classes now seeing the field, that this season could be the first time South Carolina contends for the SEC East crown? I don't expect us to make it to Atlanta, but I do expect major strides toward achieving that goal – eight or nine wins, including two major upsets.

— Ashley in Charleston, S.C.
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This doesn't look like the best year for a breakout season in the SEC East because Georgia and Florida project as top-10 teams (or better) and defending division champ Tennessee could be better than a year ago, particularly if quarterback Jonathan Crompton proves an adequate successor to Erik Ainge.

But I would never discount a Spurrier team. Last season, he had the Gamecocks off to a 6-1 start and ranked sixth in the nation before a five-game losing streak turned 2007 into such a huge disappointment.

The Gamecocks had trouble stopping the run throughout that skid, but they also didn't have linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game. If he's healthy – and all indications are that he is – South Carolina's defense, which returns 10 starters, will be adding an All-American talent.

On offense, the Gamecocks lost seven starters, but each is replaceable. Running back Cory Boyd was the only former offensive starter selected in the NFL Draft, and he was taken in the seventh round. Brian Maddox had a good spring and could step in at tailback.

Quarterback remains an issue, though. Spurrier clearly wasn't comfortable with the quarterback situation last season, and it might not be much better in '08. Redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia could make a difference, but he has had so many off-field issues that it's hard to count on him.

The schedule is advantageous early, so the Gamecocks could gain confidence from a fast start. Maybe this season they can avoid a second-half collapse.

Can Miami comeback?

Who will be the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes this season? I know there was controversy last season, but this year there are more people competing. Most are saying it will either be Robert Marve or Jacory Harris. But Cannon Smith had the longest plays during the spring, and everyone is forgetting about Taylor Cook, who's 6 feet 7 and fast. I know I'm looking forward to seeing him. Also, with one of these young quarterbacks starting, is there any chance that Miami wins the ACC? They have a new defensive coordinator that has never worked with athletes like this, and there are two star tailbacks on offense.

— Mike in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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The folks that matter down in Coral Gables – coach Randy Shannon and coordinator Patrick Nix – say the quarterback position remains open and the starter won't be decided until August, if not later. The guess here is that Marve, a redshirt freshman who showed a strong arm, good accuracy and decent mobility this spring, will win the job.

But no matter who emerges as the starting quarterback, the chances Miami will win the ACC championship seem unlikely.

The two favorites clearly have issues – Clemson's history of underachieving and Virginia Tech's uncertainty at tailback. Yet few teams have as many questions as Miami.

The Hurricanes have a quarterback with no college experience, no proven receiver and a suspect pass defense that lost its best pass rusher and best defensive back.

Miami did assemble a recruiting class ranked fifth in the country, so the Hurricanes should get a boost from some talented freshmen. But I think several freshmen would have to make an unbelievably huge impact for the Hurricanes to win a conference title this season.

Rock bottom

Can it get any worse for Florida State? And, more important, can it get any better? When you look into your crystal ball, what do you see for the Seminoles in the next two or three years?

— Tom in Fort Lauderdale
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Well, let's see. Several Seminoles are expected to be suspended for the first three games this season because of last season's academic scandal. Team MVP Preston Parker is facing felony charges and his status is in question. Starting offensive tackle Daron Rose is academically ineligible for the season. Quarterback Drew Weatherford missed most of the spring. And more than 40 percent of Florida State's signees from 2004-06 already have left the program for various reasons - early entry to the NFL draft, injuries, transfers, dismissals and academic issues.

So, no, it cannot get any worse.

But what you really want to know is if it's going to get better. Despite all that has happened, I expect Florida State to improve on last season's 7-6 finish because six offensive starters and eight defensive starters return.

Florida State's 2008 recruiting class was ranked ninth in the nation, and the Seminoles have gotten a great start on the '09 class with commitments from a five-star prospect and six four-star prospects. If they have better luck keeping those guys around for a few years, the Seminoles again could be among the ACC's best teams in two or three years – maybe even sooner if prized quarterback recruit E.J. Manuel develops quickly.

George bucks theory

I had to respond to Dave from last week. Ohio State Heisman Trophy winners seem not to do very well in the NFL? In the past 20 years, there have been two: Troy Smith, where the jury is still out, and Eddie George, who was All-Pro numerous times. Oh, well, I guess All-Pro is not that successful.

— Mark in Milwaukee
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In last week's mailbag ("Is another crazy season on the horizon?," May 9), a reader questioned the success of past Ohio State Heisman recipients in stating a case for Tennessee tailback Arian Foster over Ohio State tailback Chris Wells.

And I just knew Buckeyes would respond.

Actually, reader Dave had a point in that most of Ohio State's Heisman recipients had average pro careers. Les Horvath, the '44 recipient, played just three NFL seasons. Vic Janowicz, the '50 recipient, had his NFL career cut short by injury. Howard Cassady, the '55 winner, had a solid nine-year career with three teams. Two-time recipient Archie Griffin played seven years in the NFL but never rushed for more than 688 yards in a season.

But George, the '95 recipient, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and had seven 1,000-yard seasons in his nine-year career.

So, Mark has a point, too.

By the way, I expect Wells to have a brilliant pro career after he leaves Columbus.

Very early prediction

A relative was wondering who you think will win this season's Georgia-Florida football game. I repeat, my relative wants to know. Something I would like to know is how many pieces of mail do you get for your mailbag every week? A ballpark figure would be nice because don't you get a vast amount more some weeks than others?

— Al in North Carolina
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Picking in May the winner of a game played in November opens up the gates for all kinds of criticism and taunts. But, hey, if you don't have thick skin, you shouldn't be in this profession. Injuries, performance, chemistry, etc., could change the prediction, but as of now, I'll go with Georgia.

The Gators had all kinds of trouble containing Knowshon Moreno in last season's 42-30 loss to the Bulldogs. This season may not be any different, and Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford figures to be better than he was a year ago.

But Florida will add tailbacks Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody to its offense, so this season's game could feature as much scoring as last season's - maybe more.

As for volume of mail, that fluctuates depending on the time of year. I can get 20 or so questions in a given week during the season and even in the spring. The number dwindles significantly at other times of the year. That is, unless a hot-topic issue surfaces or I write something that make readers want to convey how stupid they think I am – like predicting a winner for the Georgia-Florida game.

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




 

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