Cory Mccartney
Wednesday May 6th, 2009

I know Mandel is off on a sabbatical, but doesn't anyone over there answer questions? -- Derek Stevenson, Mobile, Ala.

Ask and ye shall receive.

Ever seen Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, Derek? With Burt Reynolds lurking in the shadows, Jerry Reed dons the Bandit's hat, slaps on a fake mustache and climbs behind the wheel of a Trans Am. Well, with Stewart Mandel on sabbatical and spring football in the books, someone has to (try to) don the mailbag cap. Like the third Smokey film, the template of this mailbag will seem awfully familiar, but it's going to be a slightly different ride. Also, there won't be any mustaches.

My pieces on 10 stars poised to break out in 2009 and spring winners and losers sparked so many questions, my inbox appears more crowded than the Ole Miss bandwagon. So let's get to it.

Apparently you haven't been paying attention to the Northwest. Jamere Holland, WR, Oregon. He has been having a terrific spring. By October the whole nation will know who he is. -- Bruce, Portland, Ore.

Cory, no mention of the Ducks on the winners? What the frack? -- Andy, Eugene, Ore.

I never see any [Oregon State] players get preseason hype, yet we had the second most players drafted this year and had a few All-Americas. Watch out for Stephen Paea, he is a lock for a first-round choice and I doubt he stays after this year; also Darrell Catchings will have a breakout year since he moved into Sammie Stroughter's spot and is having a huge spring. -- T.J. Hyde, Lorane, Ore.

I'll acknowledge a lack of Beaver State coverage, but there's a reason: If I'm handing out grades for spring game performances, I'm giving Oregon and Oregon State incompletes.

That's not to say the Ducks and Beavers won't contend in the Pac-10 this fall -- in fact, the teams checked in at No. 8 and No. 18, respectively, in Andy Staples' post-spring Top 25. But it's hard to get excited about these teams when their situations make it hard to know what's real and what's fake (in stark contrast to the Rock of Love cast).

Oregon State's defense, which returns just three starters, looked great in the spring game, picking off five passes and recovering two fumbles. Junior tackle Stephen Paea and senior linebacker Keaton Kristick could vie for all-conference honors. But even with those two plugging up the middle, the defense's spring domination loses much of its cachet because coach Mike Riley held his most potent offensive weapons, brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers, out of contact drills.

With the Rodgers brothers out, Darrell Catchings starred for the Beavers this spring, catching 16 balls for 454 yards and four touchdowns in the scrimmages and erasing any doubts about which receiver will line up opposite James Rodgers this season. He could break out, but it's still too soon to put him in Sammie Stroughter's class. At the very least, Catchings should serve the Beavers well as a downfield threat who will open up the middle of the field for Jacquizz, the reigning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, and take pressure off James on his trademark fly sweeps.

We just didn't get to see any of that this spring.

The Ducks, meanwhile, are a serious work-in-progress. The offensive line must replace NFL-bound center Max Unger, guard Mark Lewis and left tackle Fenuki Tupou. Whoever fills those sizeable shoes will block for LeGarrette Blount, the Ducks' top returning rusher, whose weight ballooned to nearly 250 pounds this offseason after a suspension and ankle injury. It's no wonder the first-team defense dominated the first-team offense in the spring finale and held the bloated Blount to 14 yards on nine carries.

Admittedly, receiver Jamere Holland could have cracked the breakout players list. The USC transfer displayed his game-changing speed on a 47-yard flea flicker catch in the Holiday Bowl and drew rave reviews from new head coach Chip Kelly this spring. Holland will prove a threat in Kelly's spread-option offense, but let's take his spring success with a grain of salt. With Patrick Chung and Jarius Byrd gone, the secondary has as many holes to fill as the offensive line. When Holland locked up with Walter Thurmond, Oregon's best remaining corner, he managed only three catches for eight yards.

These are two intriguing, but hard-to-read teams. It'll take some time, as Brett Michaels would say, to figure out who wants to stay and rock our world.

Did you even watch Mizzou's spring game? Our top two receivers didn't play because of injury and we obviously ran a very vanilla version of our play book. Good lord, journalism at it's best. -- Elliott, Kansas City

You can't base your opinion of Mizzou football's entire spring off one scrimmage. That's just poor reporting. I'm not arguing that Missouri didn't lose a lot of players, but to say the Tigers looked "abysmal this spring," is inaccurate. -- Michael Gaio, Minneapolis, Minn.

Granted, receivers Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, both coming off injuries, didn't play in the spring-ending scrimmage, and new offensive coordinator Dave Yost may have played things close to the vest. But let's not kid ourselves here, folks; the Tigers were underwhelming.

Without Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Washington and fellow tailback De'Vion Moore will be responsible for taking pressure off sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert. In the spring scrimmage, however, Washington and Moore combined for a paltry 17 yards on seven carries. The offense could only muster one score (a one-yard TD set up by a fumble) against a defense that ranked 98th in total defense and 69th in points allowed in 2008 and is replacing seven starters. That tells me there's a problem.

It's unlikely we'll see that level of ineptitude this season, but these Tigers still resemble a Saturday Night Live crew that just lost Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell in one offseason. The stars left for bigger paydays, and Gary Pinkel and Co. will experience some growing pains while searching for their new identity in a conference defined by passing attacks.

The question for Tigers fans is: Will Gabbert end up more closely resembling John Belushi, who became a star after Chevy Chase left, or the appalling Charles Rocket? His 9-of-17, 97-yard, one interception performance in the Black and Gold game wasn't great, but it doesn't mean he'll fail as Daniel's successor, either. Could have been jitters. Regardless, Gabbert's development will likely decide whether Missouri factors in the Big 12 North race, or simply concerns itself with performing respectably against Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier and Kansas.

By the way, before you branded me as hypocritical or a Mizzou hater, remember the Tigers' spring differed greatly from Oregon's and Oregon State's because the Ducks and Beaves have well-defined cores, while we simply don't know what to expect from the Tigers. They could go 4-8, they could go 8-4.

Do you think Ryan Mallet and the Razorbacks can win at least 11 games next season and go to a BCS bowl game? -- Gary, Paragould, Ark.

Not a hog fan, but Bobby can turn them around quickly. I personally think he will challenge LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss for the West title. Someone better be able to guard the Razorback offense. They will be tough to beat. DARK HORSE. -- Joseph Barr, Simmesport, La.

Ryan Mallett should give Bobby Petrino's offense everything it needs. He's big (6-foot-7), strong-armed and understands the offense (he sat out last year, but this will be his second season in the power-spread, a luxury predecessor Casey Dick didn't have). Plus, let's not forget Mallett gained invaluable game experience by appearing in 11 games as a freshman at Michigan.

Petrino hasn't formally named Mallett the starter over Tyler Wilson, who himself made a compelling case to be the starter this spring, but it'd be a surprise if anyone but Mallett took the first snap on Sept. 5 against Missouri State.

As for whether Mallett can lead the Razorbacks to a BCS game, however ...

Running back Michael Smith's return will benefit Mallett, but there's the matter of replacing Rimington Trophy winner Jonathan Luigs at center and shoring up a defense that returns all 11 starters but gave up 375 yards and 31 points per game in '08. Oh, and the schedule includes trips to Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU. And though Petrino gave the Hogs something to build off of by leading them to a win over LSU in the final game of '08, it's premature to assume he'll turn them into a true SEC West threat in '09. The Hogs should return to a bowl game this season, but it won't be of the BCS variety.

Hey Cory, just wondering what your take is on Dan Hawkins' latest at Colorado? HELMET CAMS for the quarterbacks??? There is even a blog on the subject! -- Jeff Granger, Boulder, Co.

Thanks for the tip, Jeff. I really can't believe more teams aren't using these. Helmet cams give coaches an invaluable first-hand look at exactly what the QB sees as he goes through his progressions and at what he sees developing down field. It's a pretty simple concept and I wouldn't be surprised to see other teams implement it.

It is, however, a little ironic that Hawkins is using technology to aid his program, but closed practices 10 days into spring after ripping fans for posting too much information on blogs and message boards. It's the nature of the beast because after all ... It's Division I football. ... It's the Big 12. ... It's not intramurals. Sorry, couldn't resist.

As far as those QB tapes go, you have to think there's at least one Hawkins rant on there that could find its way onto YouTube. No coach has a bigger propensity to shoot from the hip, and candid camera Hawkins is the stuff of pay-per-view dreams. I know I'd pay $59.99 to see Hawkins: Uncut and Uncensored.

What about Taylor Mays, USC safety, as a household name? -- Roderick Powe, Los Angeles

You mean first-team All-America Taylor Mays? I'm going to act like you didn't ask that question.

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