December 19, 2008

Mailbag: College greatness is just that

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There are no one-man teams in college football, but a great quarterback can mean the difference between a disappointing team and an excellent one.

Just reference Tennessee, Auburn, LSU or several other SEC teams for proof.

But what is used to define greatness for a college quarterback? Well, great statistics would be a start. Leading the way to victories is even more important. Supervising late drives is another.

For some, though, that's still not enough. Some skeptics demand a successful NFL career to define a quarterback's greatness. But should a pro career have any bearing on how a college quarterback is rated?

That's a topic in this week's mailbag.

From: Travon in Douglasville, S.C.: I'm a biased fan of the SEC. But I think objectively. My question is why is America infatuated with the Big 12 quarterbacks? Yes, they put up big numbers, and there is a reason for that − no defenses. Now, I know you're going to throw me some fancy statistics, but that doesn't mean anything. Games aren't won on paper. None of the Big 12 quarterbacks will have a pro career of any significance because they all throw from the shotgun. With the exception of Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, none of them hand the ball off and they don't throw the ball downfield. Texas Tech's Graham Harrell goes 41-of-50, but all he throws are slants and screens. My thoughts will be confirmed when NFL teams waste their draft picks on them and they become career backups like Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Alex Smith, Matt Leinart and Ryan Leaf. I could go on forever.

Yeah, you could make a long list of college quarterbacks who didn't make it big in the NFL. How about Heath Shuler, Tee Martin, Tim Couch, Quincy Carter and Danny Wuerffel? By the way, they all played in the SEC.

But that's really irrelevant. A lot of good college quarterbacks fade in the NFL. That doesn't lessen their greatness as collegians. Think Vince Young or Jason White or Eric Crouch.

Maybe the Big 12 quarterbacks look good because the conference's defenses are so weak. But maybe the defenses look so weak because the quarterbacks are so good. That's a debate that will be settled, to some degree, in the bowl games.

You don't think much of Harrell. Maybe you don't think much of Colt McCoy, Zac Robinson, Robert Griffin, Josh Freeman, Joe Ganz, Todd Reesing or Chase Daniel, either. But I'd bet every SEC coach with the exception of Florida's Urban Meyer, Georgia's Mark Richt and maybe Ole Miss' Houston Nutt would trade their starting quarterbacks with any of those seven from the Big 12.

From: Trey in New Orleans: Can you consider Ohio State's James Laurinaitis one of the best linebackers in college football history?

Laurinaitis certainly is one of the most decorated linebackers ever. He's a three-time All-American and a Butkus and Nagurski award recipient.

But he might not even be the best linebacker in Ohio State history. The school has produced the likes of Chris Spielman, A.J. Hawk, Randy Gradishar, Andy Katzenmoyer, Pepper Johnson and Tom Cousineau, to name a few.

I guess my question is what's the definition of "one of the best?" Is that top 10 all-time? Top 20? Top 50?

Any list of greatest college linebackers would have to include Illinois' Dick Butkus, Texas' Tommy Nobis, Michigan State's George Webster, Alabama's Lee Roy Jordan, Penn's Chuck Bednarik, Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth, Baylor's Mike Singletary, UCLA's Jerry Robinson, North Carolina's Lawrence Taylor and Gradishar. Maybe USC's Richard Wood, Alabama's Cornelius Bennett and any number of guys from Penn State, Texas A&M or Miami should be considered, too.

It's safe to say Laurinaitis is one of the best linebackers of his era. That should be enough.

From: Zach in Garland, Texas: Please explain how the Big Ten got two BCS teams this season? The league was terrible!

It's quite easy, really.

First and foremost, the BCS standings emphasize victories. There were 15 teams that posted double-digit victory totals this season. Eight of those Oklahoma, Texas, Penn State, Cincinnati, Utah, USC, Florida and Alabama are in the BCS.

BCS rules state that only two teams from a conference can go to BCS bowls, so that knocks out Texas Tech (11-1).

Fair or not, teams from non-"Big Six" conferences will acknowledge they must go undefeated to reach a BCS game. That eliminates Tulsa (10-3), TCU (10-2), BYU (10-2) and Ball State (12-1).

That leaves Boise State (12-0) and Ohio State (10-2). Let's face it, Ohio State has more national appeal than Boise State, but the reason to pick the Buckeyes goes beyond that.

Remember, strength of schedule is one of the reasons Oklahoma was chosen to go to the national championship game. So, if strength of schedule is a factor in that game, shouldn't it be a factor in all the BCS games?

The NCAA ranked Ohio State's schedule the seventh-toughest in the nation. Boise State's was rated 75th. Boise's opponents finished with a combined record of 57-59.

From: Willie in Arkport, N.Y.: With all the freedom players have to leave and go to the pros, is it possible that some colleges are over-recruiting? If you pick someone who has "too much" potential, is that smart?

You can never have too much talent, Willie. Consider college basketball. In recent seasons, Greg Oden, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose were among those who played one year of college ball and left, but only after their teams had good or even great seasons.

In football, under NFL rules, players aren't eligible to enter the draft until three years after they graduated from high school.

Those could be three great years. Do you think Oklahoma ever hesitated to recruit Adrian Peterson because he obviously had NFL potential? No way.

The bottom line is you want as many guys with NFL potential on your roster. If they leave early, well, the hope is there is another one ready to step in. I think you're seeing and will continue to see more guys with vast potential playing as true freshmen so they can get in three seasons before they leave.

From: David in Canton, Ohio: What is keeping Notre Dame from joining the Big Ten?

Well, Notre Dame is.

In 1999, Notre Dame had serious discussions with the Big Ten about joining, but ultimately chose to remain independent in football.

Why? Several reasons, but the bottom line is money. You'd be thrilled if you made $1 million. But what if you made $1 million, then had to share it with 11 others?

By remaining independent, Notre Dame keeps all the revenue it generates in football, while conferences share revenue.

I don't know if Notre Dame ever will change its stance. If the Irish football program remains stuck in mediocrity for another decade, loses some of its national appeal and loses its TV deal with NBC, then maybe it would look into conference affiliation.


Even then, there would be no guarantee the Irish would join the Big Ten. Perhaps in that scenario, they would join the Big East because Notre Dame already is a member in other sports.

From: Michael in Monticello, Iowa: Is it possible Iowa State could hire Tommy Tuberville? The Iowa State coaching job would be virtually stress-free compared to Auburn. I believe that if Tuberville really wanted to give Auburn and new coach Gene Chizik a slap in the face, then he would win with Chizik's players. The Big 12 North is going to have another down year next season and anything could happen. It would be interesting to see Tuberville to head-to-head with Kirk Ferentz every year in the Cy-Hawk rivalry game. I truly believe that if Tommy Tuberville wants revenge on Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, he should be Iowa State's next coach. This would be a no-lose situation for Tuberville, except for taking less money.

After Tuberville was ridiculously fired nothing surprises me anymore, so I wouldn't say anything is impossible. But Tuberville to Iowa State is something I doubt.

Tuberville will take the millions he'll get from the buyout and relax a year. Next year, I'd look for him to return to coaching if a high-profile job becomes available.

Coaching at Iowa State doesn't fit the description of a high-profile job. That much is proven by last sentence you wrote.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at
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