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SEC dominance unlikely to end, NC State's gamble; more Mailbag

Nearly 11 months have passed since Conference Realignment Armageddon, and people are still talking about it. They're still waiting for the next shoe to drop, even though recent mega-TV deals probably have settled the landscape for the near future. Many can't accept that the Big 12 is content to stay at 10 teams, or that the SEC isn't still harboring crushes for Texas A&M or Oklahoma.

Time to turn the page, people. Time to focus on the very real ramifications of realignment that begin taking hold this fall, highlighted by two new conference championship games that could radically alter the BCS race. Thankfully, at least one of you was kind enough to show interest.

Stewart, for five years now, the SEC has dominated the BCS championship games. But winning those games is (arguably) the easy part. With six major conferences vying for the two spots, just getting into the top game would seem to be the bigger challenge. With the Big Ten and Pac-12 both adding conference championship games, might this be the small tweak in the system that cracks the recent SEC dominance?-- Brian, Bay City, Mich.

Thank you for the question, Brian. However, I regret to inform you the answer is: No. In fact, it's the opposite.

The SEC's path remains exactly the same, but the Big Ten and Pac-12 just made theirs that much harder. That's not to suggest commissioners Scott and Delany were wrong to add the new events, which should prove exciting and lucrative and give their teams one last opportunity to shine their resumes. But five straight championships has earned the SEC so much mileage with voters that it's hard to envision a scenario where the SEC's champ would not win a tiebreaker with any other league's champion for a No. 1 or 2 ranking (presuming the contenders both carry the same record).

Meanwhile, Big Ten teams will enjoy far fewer unintentional scheduling breaks, like last year's, when 11-1 Ohio State and Michigan State did not play each other. And the Pac-12, quite frankly, is now murderer's row. The teams already play nine-game conference schedules; now they've got to win a 10th. And neither conference currently employs the common SEC tactic of scheduling an FCS or Sun Belt foe for a mid-November breather. By the time they get to their respective title games, Big Ten and Pac-12 teams could be pretty beaten down, increasing the chance of, say, 12-0 Ohio State -- coming off an emotional win over Michigan -- falling to 9-3 Iowa in Indianapolis. (Though Auburn faced a very similar situation last year and promptly beat South Carolina 56-17.)

The SEC's string of dominance will end when either A) No elite team emerges from that league in a given year (technically that happened in 2007 with 11-2 LSU, but every other league was stricken by parity that year, too); or B) Someone beats them. I'm not saying that's necessarily fair. For instance, Oregon's schedule this season -- opening with LSU and Nevada; playing nine conference games plus a possible championship game -- may be tougher than any SEC team's this season, but if Alabama and Oregon are both 12-1 on Dec. 4, and only one can go to New Orleans, it's probably going to be the Crimson Tide. Conference perceptions have always played a factor in the polls, but right now the SEC's reputation is so much stronger than everyone else's it's as if each of their teams goes into the season having already won an extra game.

NC State released Russell Wilson? I know this is a family web site, but still ... what the ? I don't care if he's a two-sport athlete, the guy's a great QB. This seems like a very dumb decision by Tom O'Brien. Any ideas of where he might land?-- Matt Mashburn, Atlanta

It's a bold move, but O'Brien decided that no player -- not even a guy that racked up nearly 4,000 yards of offense last season -- is bigger than the program, and Wilson was essentially holding the program hostage. I don't think it's unreasonable for a coach to want a more firm indication of his quarterback's intentions by the end of spring practices, so that he plan for the season ahead, and so that successor Mike Glennon can lead offseason workouts knowing definitively he's the Wolfpack's man. But by all indications the Rockies' Class-A farmhand has no idea whether he can or will play football this fall (his baseball season runs through Sept. 5), so O'Brien moved on.

It's risky for O'Brien seeing as he's not exactly the Frank Beamer of NC State football, he's had one winning season in four years, and if Glennon and the Wolfpack tank this fall, the backlash will not be pretty -- especially if Wilson is by then a starting quarterback somewhere else. (Wilson has his degree, so he can enroll in grad school and be immediately eligible, a la Jeremiah Masoli last season.) But Wilson himself doesn't know whether that's going to happen. If he truly wants a future in pro baseball, bailing on his first minor-league team is probably not a wise move. And while there's this assumption that some high-profile SEC team (namely Auburn) will snap him up if he does return this fall, who's to say that Gene Chizik isn't in the same camp as O'Brien? Knowing this will be a rebuilding season regardless, he may want to reward that worked all offseason to play this fall, one of whom could be his QB beyond this season.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there's been contact between Wilson and Wisconsin, which is extremely young at quarterback. In theory, the pairing makes sense, but Wilson is hardly a natural fit for the Badgers' pro-style offense, and it's hard to imagine him parachuting in smoothly right at the start of the season. As talented as Wilson is, if he doesn't decide until, say, Aug. 1, that he wants back in somewhere, the kind of coach most likely to take him will be someone in desperation mode. Chizik, coming off a national title, doesn't fall in that boat. Steve Spurrier might if Stephen Garcia doesn't come back. And we know well Houston Nutt operates in a constant state of desperation, so perhaps Wilson could follow in Masoli's footsteps -- parks and recs major optional.

Why the kid gloves approach to Boise State? The improper benefits were knowingly arranged and orchestrated by the university and coaches several years in a row. Then they lied year after year, knowingly filing a false annual NCAA compliance report. The Vest did not dole out any improper benefits and filed a false report only one time.-- Brent, Atlanta

Shh -- this is a Vest Free Zone.

I do regret writing last week's tongue-in-cheek entry about Boise State's CouchGate before getting to read the full NCAA Notice of Allegations. In retrospect, yes, there was plenty of shadiness going on throughout that athletic department -- most notably in tennis and track -- to merit lack of institutional control charge.

But the football part came off no less trivial, and any attempts to try to equate it to the current situation in Columbus are entirely off base. By the strictest possible letter of the law, yes, Chris Petersen and Co. orchestrated improper benefits, but sleeping on someone's futon has got to be the crappiest improper benefit in the history of improper benefits. And there's no indication they knowingly violated rules. Whether the coaches fault or the compliance department's fault, they seemed genuinely oblivious they were violating any rules, and in fact, when initially informed of the charge, thought they were correcting it by making sure all entering students paid for their lodging. Much to their surprise, they then learned that merely arranging their lodging still constituted a violation, so they stopped.

If someone wants to insinuate, as Brent did, that this is somehow more egregious than what that He Who Shall Go Unnamed did, I'm going to assume that someone is a desperate Ohio Sate fan, to whom I'd advise: Be careful what you wish for. You never know when the next suspicious Columbus car dealer will be uncovered.

What happened to LSU in your assessment of what you learned in the spring? They have returned most of their players and are loaded with young talent!!-- Luther Ward, New Orleans

Just because I didn't include an item on the Tigers doesn't mean I don't consider them a contender. I absolutely do. But the most revelatory thing we learned about LSU this spring is that Jordan Jefferson is still the quarterback, and that didn't seem particularly noteworthy -- or encouraging.

The Justice Department sent the NCAA a letter asking why college football doesn't have a playoff (Wouldn't we all love to know). True to form, Bill Hancock replied: "Goodness gracious, with all that's going on in the world right now and with national and state budgets being what they are, it seems like a waste of taxpayers' money to have the government looking into how college football games are played. Is he delusional or does he really think people are stupid enough to buy this baloney response?-- Abel, Los Angeles

The Department of Justice/political push for a playoff system is something else -- how on earth can you stay silent on this issue? A playoff system is wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong for the college players. There is absolutely no benefit to the player in making his season longer or having more high-pressure games. Common sense tells you that a longer/harder season will cause more injuries and poorer classroom performance.

The Department of Justice is not looking out for them. Are you going to do the right thing?-- Alan C Brown, Baton Rouge, La.

Here we have two very impassioned people with two diametrically opposite views on a subject. In response, will I "do the right thing" and demonize the playoff advocates, or will I call baloney on Bill Hancock? I think I'll do both.

Starting with the latter, yes, his statement was textbook BCS propaganda drivel (with help from Ari Fleischer, whose firm is still actively consulting Hancock and Co. on their talking points.) First of all, if the government shows interest in investigating your organization, you should probably have a better defense than, "Really? Don't you have something better to do?" And second, I have no problem with the federal government looking into college football's most visible product after so many people have asked them to do so. The BCS involves many of the nation's most prominent universities -- most of them state-funded institutions -- engaged in a system that generates several hundred million dollars annually. I'm sure the DOJ has spent considerable time investigating far less lucrative businesses affecting far fewer people.

Having said that, you can tell that the people doing the investigating --- and most of the people asking them to do so (economists, senators, etc.) -- haven't devoted much attention to the type of ground-floor details Alan raised. The letter from Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney to Mark Emmert consisted of vague, seemingly entry-level questions, directed to the wrong party no less. Don't ask Emmert why we don't have a playoff; ask Jim Delany (he'll gladly tell you). Meanwhile, the two most common Orrin Hatch-variety complaints about the BCS are the inequality in revenue distribution among conferences and the notion that the "Cartel" is leaving unrealized playoff revenue on the table that could be aiding cash-strapped schools. As Alan notes, their proposed solution consists of forcing unpaid students at Florida or Oklahoma to play three or four extra games so that San Diego State and New Mexico can balance their budgets.

Who knows where this thing is headed, if it's headed anywhere at all. But as Delany, Dan Beebe and others have pointed out, no judge, jury or attorney general can order the nation's FBS schools to start a playoff -- and there's no predicting what the next step would be if the BCS dissolved, other than mass chaos. A successful Hatch-DOJ crusade doesn't guarantee any specific result, which means it can't guarantee that the non-AQ schools will be any better off than they are today. Maybe Hancock should have said that instead?

This isn't quite Xs and Os but it's far from the NCAA/BCS BS that the Mailbag has become. In this year's draft there was an obvious lack of talent and depth at the middle linebacker and inside linebacker positions. Was this simply a result of the cyclical nature of talent by position, or is the evolution of spread offenses going to make elite college middle linebackers obsolete?-- Kyle, Kennewick, Wash.

Interesting point. I think there are several factors involved. Part of it is cyclical. Just a year ago, Alabama's Rolando McClain -- the prototype NFL middle linebacker -- went eighth overall. There wasn't a guy like that this year. But from what I've been told by people that follow the NFL much closer than I do, teams simply aren't putting much of a premium on traditional linebackers in the draft as they did a decade ago. They place much more value on quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lineman and defensive backs because of how much the NFL has become a passing league -- hence the need for linebackers that can rush the passer (like Texas A&M's Von Miller this year) and DBs that excel at pass coverage.

While it's true the rise of the spread has caused college defenses to play much more nickel coverage, meaning less reps for one linebacker, it's not like there was a shortage of standout college linebackers this year. Michigan State's Greg Jones did pretty much everything you'd ever want from a college middle linebacker, yet he wasn't drafted until the sixth round, presumably in part because he's more of a run-stopper. NC State's Nate Irving may have dropped a bit due to concerns over residual effects from the injuries he suffered in a major car crash two years ago, but I still would have thought he'd go higher than the third round. It may be that the middle linebacker -- once one of the most glamorous positions in football -- has fallen to the same level of status as fullbacks and tight ends.

Notre Dame is only a "contender" in Notre Dame's eyes. They haven't been relevant for over a decade now. We've heard a million stories how they're finally back and ready to make a splash. They can't win games even though their schedule is soft every single year. ENOUGH! PLEASE! NO MORE NOTRE DAME STUFF! I HATE NOTRE DAME! (Just like everyone else in the country outside of Indiana.)-- Tyler, Eden Prairie, Minn.

Tyler: You seem to be suffering from two misconceptions. One, Notre Dame isn't particularly loved in the state of Indiana, either. They have far more fans in Manhattan than Muncie. But second, whether or not you believe the Irish will ever be "back," can we stop with the outdated soft schedule nonsense? Unlike most FBS teams, they don't play FCS opponents. They play USC and Michigan every year. Two of their other annual opponents, Stanford and Michigan State, won 12 and 11 games, respectively, last season. In fact, their 2010 opponents had the highest combined FBS winning percentage (.653) in the country during the regular season, and nine of their 12 foes this season played in a bowl game last year. (And ineligible USC would have made for 10).

In other news, Oklahoma no longer runs the wishbone.

Stewart: With the NFL in stalemate currently and the season in jeopardy, I have read some reports that college football may try to move some of their games to the spots occupied by NFL time slots. Do you see this happening? Also, with rich TV contracts and college football being more popular now than it ever has been, should colleges consider doing it anyway? Why not have LSU/Oregon during Monday night prime time, or Bama/Florida on a Sunday?-- David Parry, Pittsburgh

Larry Scott mentioned it passing a while back, but I don't see any of the major conferences doing it. Logistically, the teams involved would need some lead time in changing the date, and in the meantime, no one knows how long the lockout will last. Realistically speaking (and using a random game as an example), Washington could not move its Sept. 17 game against Texas to Sept. 18 on three days' notice. It would need to announce that change well in advance, and in the meantime, the lockout might end, and you're stuck playing what should be a highly watched game opposite an NFL slate.

Mandel you are full of it or of yourself. Texas is loaded and they are off your top 10. What a yokel.-- John, San Antonio

I must not be doing a very good job cleaning out the inbox every week. This one's apparently been sitting there since 2009.

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