June 8, 2007

Mailbag: The battle for second in Florida

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He will be working all summer to get you ready for the start of Fall practice.
Previous mailbags
June 1: Razorbacks turmoil
May 25: Why not us?
May 18: Sooner home cooking

Arizona State got hosed.

It was 1975 and the Sun Devils completed a 12-0 football season with a 17-14 victory over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. ASU was denied the national championship primarily because they played in the WAC, which was considered an inferior conference.

Instead, 11-1 Oklahoma was voted No. 1.

Oklahoma's loss that year was to 7-5 Kansas, which lost to Washington State, which lost to Washington, which lost to Arizona State.

The point is, strong teams from weaker conferences have rarely gotten a fair shake in college football. In the old days, voters would shun a good team from a lesser conference.

Now, computers exclude them.

Since 1998, Tulane, Marshall, Utah and Boise State finished undefeated and had absolutely no chance to play for the national championship. All likely would have lost against premier teams from power conferences, but they should at least get a chance.

However, it's not just teams from lesser conferences that have gotten hosed by the college football system. Is there any need to remind that unbeaten Auburn was left out of the national championship picture in 2004?

What will it take to determine the true national champion? Well, we all know the answer to that question.

Only two make it

I think that we may come into a problem this year in college football. In my mind, three or four college teams could go undefeated: LSU, USC, Michigan and West Virginia. Do you think that there could be a repeat where someone is left out like Auburn in 2004? What would happen if all of these teams or if three of these teams go undefeated? And if it were to happen to you think a playoff is needed?

Grady in Baton Rouge

Personally, I think a playoff is needed regardless of whether there are multiple undefeated teams. That was proven again last year when Florida, which was dangerously close to being left out of the national championship game, romped over Ohio State.

What if USC hadn't been upset by UCLA in the regular season finale? The Trojans probably would have gone to the championship game and Florida wouldn't have had a chance to win it all.

Also, shouldn't undefeated Boise State at least have had a chance to play for the championship? I don't think the Broncos would have beaten Florida or Ohio State, but I also didn't think they would beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Shouldn't they at least have an honest shot at a championship the way a small school like Gonzaga would in basketball?

That's why I hope the scenario you mentioned plays out and multiple teams from BCS conferences - you mentioned LSU, West Virginia, USC and Michigan - go undefeated and further muddy the waters. I doubt changed will be forced until more and more prominent programs that deserve a chance to play for the national championship are denied.

It was a disgrace in 2004 when Auburn was left out of the national championship picture. Its schedule, which included The Citadel, was used as the reason to omit the Tigers. It seems odd that a team that faced Tennessee (twice), LSU, Georgia and Alabama was penalized for playing a soft schedule.

Even if multiple teams from BCS conferences finish unbeaten, only two will be chosen to go to New Orleans to play for the championship this season. That's not going to change.

However, University of Florida President Bernie Machen has advocated a playoff. If two or more prominent undefeated teams are denied the opportunity to play for the championship, others will clamor for a playoff.

Coaching concerns in Mississippi

I know Mississippi State hasn't ever been a national powerhouse, and the position of head coach is not a dream job, but if (Sylvester) Croom doesn't show major strides this year do you think he will get fired? And then who would be a realistic replacement?

Josh in Starkville

I'm a Sylvester Croom advocate. He took over a program in disarray that had won just eight games in the three years before his arrival.

But you've also got to face facts. The Bulldogs have languished through three consecutive three-victory seasons under Croom, and that's not acceptable. I'm sure Croom would agree.

Last year the Bulldogs were hit with injuries at quarterback, and that hurt their progress. With another victory or two - anything that indicates improvement - Croom should be retained. Croom is a good coach, but getting that program on track is a big, big task.

The victory at Alabama last November might be a signal that the Bulldogs can make the strides that Mississippi State fans are seeking. I hope so.

If the Bulldogs have another poor record - and if Mississippi State officials opt for a coaching change - it would seem wise to look for a coach with a background in offense and a reputation as a good recruiter. A youthful, energetic personality would also be a plus.

Maybe Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips would be a good candidate, or Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.

LSU running backs coach Larry Porter, the Rivals.com recruiter of the year for 2007, is from Jackson, Miss.

Tennessee receivers coach Trooper Taylor is also a tremendous recruiter who has aspirations to be a head coach.

Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite could be an interesting choice if the Tide shows some offensive improvement this year.

How about Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe? What a story that would make for a coach: fired from Ole Miss after successful stint, going to Starkville to exact revenge. Who knows if he'd even be interested?

There will be no shortage of candidates. But the Bulldogs' best coaching candidate will remain Sylvester Croom. A program that's constantly changing coaches is constantly starting over. He needs adequate time to build.

Fight for second in Florida

Who will have a better record this year, Miami or Florida State?

Alex in Chicago

That's a tough call.

Florida State figures to have a better offense, while Miami should have a better defense.

So, let's look at the schedules.

Six of Miami's 12 opponents are coming off losing seasons. The Hurricanes also get seven home games. In non-conference play, Miami will travel to face Oklahoma, which will have a new quarterback, possibly a true freshman.

They also play Texas A&M on a Thursday night in Miami.

In contrast, Florida State's schedule appears much more challenging. FSU will face six opponents coming off seasons in which they posted at least eight victories. Also, the Seminoles must go on the road to face Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Florida - although they do get Miami in Tallahassee.

Still, I'd guess that Miami would post more victories because of a weaker schedule, a strong defense, players' reaction to new coach Randy Shannon and what should be a dangerous return game with newcomer Graig Cooper handling kicks.

Florida State's road appears a lot tougher. The Seminoles close with Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Florida - which combined for a 42-11 record in 2006 - and three of those games are on the road.

Arkansas will recover

How do you think the Arkansas Razorbacks will fare this upcoming season with all the recent turmoil on campus?

Lewis in Cordova, Tenn.

Maybe I'm delusional, but I don't think all the offseason controversy will negatively affect the football team. If anything, it might draw the players closer as they support coach Houston Nutt.

The e-mail controversy, Mitch Mustain's transfer to USC, Gus Malzahn taking a job at Tulsa and the accusations that Nutt was having an extramarital affair might have been a distraction to some this spring, but by August I believe the Razorbacks will be focused entirely on their goals on the field. They better be, because there is just too much at stake.

Arkansas won 10 games last year with its only losses coming to USC, LSU, Florida and Wisconsin. With six starters returning on each side of the ball, an advantageous schedule and a strong Heisman Trophy contender in Darren McFadden, the Razorbacks have to believe they have a chance to at least equal last year's victory total.

Detractors would point out the Razorbacks took heavy losses on defense with CB Chris Houston and DE Jamaal Anderson moving on to the NFL.

But defensive end Antwain Robinson is a potential first-round pick, and he heads an experienced defensive. Linebacker Freddie Fairchild is back from injury, so that's also a boost.

I think Arkansas will be very good again.

UCLA not lacking at QB

Do you see any incoming freshman contributing early for UCLA? Also, how do you see their quarterback situation in a couple of years?

Cheo in Pasadena

UCLA only signed 10 players in 2007, but all were rated at least three-star prospects by Rivals.com.

My contact in Lost Angeles says all of them will have a chance to show they can make significant contributions. If they're ready, they will get a chance to play.

Four-star RB Raymond Carter could make an immediate contribution if he stays healthy.

Cornerback Courtney Viney, rated a three-star prospect, could step in and help fill a need.

Four-star defensive tackle Brian Price is so highly regarded he could get some action even though the Bruins are talented and deep in the defensive front.

Don't worry too much about the future as far as quarterback is concerned. Four-star prospect Chris Forcier was part of the 2007 recruiting class, and Nick Crissman - a four-star prospect from Huntington Beach, Calif. - has given a commitment for 2008.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.


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