July 18, 2008

Cost of gas finds its way into football mailbag

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com.
Previous mailbags
July 11: Patience pays
July 4: Bigger Big Ten?
June 20: Another Reesing?
June 13: Line of defense

Tickets can get expensive, but that won't deter a true fan from going to a game.

Restaurants too pricey? Packing a cooler full of lunch meat will suffice, if necessary. Besides, there's always the possibility tailgaters will offer up some samples.

And so what if hotel rates get jacked up on game-day weekends? Just pile six or seven people into the same room to share expenses; that's why roll-away beds were invented. If that's not an attractive option, there's often an old college friend's couch just waiting to be crashed upon. And if that's not available, you can always sleep in the car.

Can anything prevent a die-hard fan from going to the game? Well, there might be one thing. We discuss that and other topics in this week's mailbag.

Gas got you down?

I was wondering with the economy in shambles, how will that affect college football's die-hard fans when they travel to games this season?

— Devin in Alabama

It would be naοve to think there would be no effect, but I don't think it will be that noticeable this season - especially for elite programs. Still, there figures to be some backlash with gas prices exceeding $4 a gallon. Perhaps the difference will be as subtle as more fans car-pooling to games to share expenses.

Frankly, I'd have a hard time believing die-hard fans won't find a way to get to the game. After all, college football survived the Great Depression. It will endure this economy, too.

At the same time, while a hard-core Tennessee fan living in Memphis won't hesitate to make the 400-mile trip to Knoxville to watch the Volunteers play Florida on Sept. 20, that same fan might not be as inclined to pay the same expense to see them play Northern Illinois on Oct. 4, especially if he can spend $39.95 to see the game on pay-per-view.

Mid-major schools and lesser programs in power conferences will feel the pinch more. Gas prices may become one more factor that separates the haves and have-nots of college football.

Hey, if prices keep rising, that eventually could lead to a playoff. In May, Florida State president T.K. Wetherell predicted as much. He speculated that fans won't be willing to drive long distances to watch games against grossly inferior competition and that, as a result, significant revenue will be lost. He predicted college football eventually would adopt a playoff system to make up for that lost revenue. Of course, that still would be several years away, if it happens at all.

Perhaps the economy will lead to better non-conference games. That way, at least something positive comes from the soaring prices.

Big Ten idea

I saw the mailbag item from July 4 postulating on Pitt joining the Big Ten. (Another possibility for the Big Ten?). I think it is doubtful because including an additional team in the east likely would force Indiana and Purdue into separate divisions. Neither school would stand for that, especially if it meant they would play only once a year in basketball. The Hoosier State would revolt. If the Big Ten expands, the 12th member would have to be in the west. Missouri seems to be the likeliest candidate that the Big Ten might want to pursue, but whether Missouri would want to leave the Big 12 is a question. Iowa State might accept an offer, but Iowa State doesn't add any media markets the Big 10 doesn't already have.

How about Memphis ? The Tigers would benefit greatly from getting out of C-USA, especially in basketball, and they're not going to the Big East unless that league splits in two (which is probably inevitable but doesn't appear to be happening in the near future). And the Big Ten would gain entry to a whole new media market.

If the Big Ten doesn't want Memphis, what about Vanderbilt? I think it's safe to say the Commodores' prospects (particularly in football) would be quite a bit better in the Big Ten than in the SEC. West Virginia, Louisville or Memphis could replace Vanderbilt in the SEC.

— C.L. in Alexandria, Va.

Vanderbilt would meet the Big Ten's academic standards – or, at least, the standards of the majority of Big Ten schools. Vandy also is good in men's and women's basketball and baseball. Hey, the Commodores probably would have made a bowl game last season if they had been in the Big Ten. And maybe Ohio State president Gordon Gee, formerly the Vanderbilt president, could put in a good word for the Commodores.

But it's highly unlikely the Big Ten would be interested in any private school other than Notre Dame. And while Vandy would theoretically put the Big Ten in the Nashville TV market, the majority of Nashville residents follow Tennessee. Besides, Vandy is cashing nice checks as part of the SEC. And the football team is getting more competitive. It's easy to overlook, but last season, a late fumble prevented the Commodores from upsetting Georgia and a potential game-winning field goal bounced off the upright against Tennessee. They also lost to Kentucky by seven points.

End of the Rainbows?

With the departure of Colt Brennan and the receiving corps and the arrival of a new coaching staff, Hawaii has lots of work to do. Which five games are the most challenging on Hawaii's schedule? What does Hawaii have to do to get to a bowl this season?

— Tim in Honolulu

Picking Hawaii's five most challenging games is no challenge at all. The Warriors play at Florida, Oregon State, Fresno State and Boise State and have a home game against Cincinnati. Those five were a combined 47-18 last year and all are in Rivals.com's preseason top 40.

Hawaii's regular-season opponents last season were a combined 54-94, and only Fresno State and Boise State posted winning seasons.

Though Hawaii expects improvement on defense, rebuilding the offense is obviously the key to any success. Quarterback Tyler Graunke passed for 358 yards in place of an injured Brennan in last year's 28-26 victory over Nevada. He needs to show he can play at a high level consistently, and with a new group of receivers.

If he does, the Warriors will make a run at another bowl, but it won't be easy. I'd take the opponents in the five games previously mentioned. Hawaii couldn't afford many more losses to become bowl-eligible, and games against Nevada, Louisiana Tech and Washington State won't be sure things.

Tide hopes

It seems as if most fans either love Alabama or hate Alabama. I know Tide fans always expect Alabama to win a national championship, but I am realistic. Do you believe it is too far-fetched to think Alabama will be a national championship contender in the next two or three years? Do you think Nick Saban will leave Alabama, as he has with other teams? I bleed Crimson and I strongly believe that if Saban stays long enough, the Tide will be back in national championship contention.

— Whit in Charlotte, N.C.

Every week, questions come in about Alabama. Two weeks ago, I speculated in the mailbag that the Crimson Tide would be back in the national championship picture in 2011. By then, I figure, Alabama likely will have an experienced quarterback, the top-ranked 2008 recruiting class will have matured and Saban will have had a chance to bring in a few more good recruiting classes.

As far as Saban goes, only he knows for sure. But I believe he stays at Alabama for the long haul. He already has scratched the NFL itch and decided he prefers college football over the pro game. Remember, he actually took a pay cut when he left the Miami Dolphins, and at Alabama, he's college football's highest-paid coach.

Coaching salaries are rising, but who's going to offer more than the $4 million he's paid at Alabama? So, I believe Saban finishes his career in Tuscaloosa. But, again, only he knows that for sure.

Palmetto power

Regarding South Carolina, never has a school put so much into football and gotten so little. Will South Carolina ever be a team to be reckoned with in the SEC East and the SEC overall?

— Charlie in South Carolina

South Carolina became a team to be reckoned with the day Steve Spurrier was hired.

Ask Georgia if South Carolina is a team to be reckoned with. South Carolina was one of two teams to beat the Bulldogs last season. Also, don't forget that two seasons ago, South Carolina was a blocked field goal away from knocking Florida out of the national championship picture.

Last season, the Gamecocks were ranked in the top 10 before they collapsed in the second half of the season. They could be much better this season. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley's return from injury will provide a big boost to the defense, which sorely needs one. And if the quarterback situation finally gets settled – will the starter be Chris Smelley, Tommy Beecher or Stephen Garcia? – the Gamecocks could be dangerous.

Now, if your question had been when the Gamecocks would be championship caliber rather than a team to be reckoned with, that would be another matter altogether. That probably would occur when Spurrier is satisfied with the quarterback play. Maybe that will be this season, but probably not.

I could see South Carolina every so often jumping up to win the SEC East – similar to what Arkansas has accomplished in the West. But in a division with Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, that's not going to happen often.

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


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