Wednesday September 15th, 2010

Before we dive into this week's mail, I have a message of my own to deliver. Starting this week, The Mandel Initiative -- that fun little podcast I started last winter to indulge my obsession with Lost -- is back, only now it's an actual, (relatively) legitimate college football show. Along with my co-host Mallory Rubin, I'll discuss the news of the week, interview guests and answer some of your e-mails. It's like Mailbag bonus scenes!

(You can listen here or download on iTunes each week the rest of the season.)

Unfortunately, we recorded this week's episode shortly before the news of Reggie Bush's Heisman forfeiture, but I did share my thoughts here. The short version: I don't like revising history. The award should go vacant for that year. Quite a few of you disagree.

(UPDATE: The Heisman Trust has announced there will be no 2005 winner.)

Stewart, if the Heisman Trophy Trust does not pass the 2005 trophy on to Vince Young, what would be the point of naming a runner-up? If Miss America fails, they do not simply vacate the position of Miss America. It passes on to the runner-up. If the President of the United States is incapable of fulfilling his duties, we put in the Vice President. If they fail to pass the trophy on they simply should just announce the winner and not release voting statistics or name a runner-up. -- William Burns, San Diego

The truth is that Vince would have won the award if he had been given the award after the season ended instead of during the quiet period between the regular season and the bowl season. Vince Young was the most dominant player to ever play a season in college football. It is time to do the right thing. Things do have a way of working out. -- Pete Farling, Austin, Texas

It's funny that William brings up the Miss America comparison, seeing as I previously cited the 1984 Vanessa Williams scandal as an example of why Auburn shouldn't be handed USC's soon-to-be-vacated BCS title. The Heisman is not a beauty pageant, nor is it the White House. There are no official duties for a Heisman winner that would require a replacement to step in. It's simply an award in which 800-something people are asked to vote for who they thought was the best player in football that season. In 2005, Bush earned 784 first-place votes to 79 for Young. It's unfortunate that he violated rules and had to forfeit his trophy, but it's five years too late to reverse the outcome of the vote.

Which brings us to Pete's e-mail. I don't disagree with the sentiment that, had the vote been held after the Rose Bowl, Young probably would have won the award himself. A lot of people feel that way. Unfortunately, buyer's remorse is not a legitimate reason to rewrite history. If Matt Leinart had to give up his Heisman rather than Bush, would people be calling for the 2004 award to go to runner-up Adrian Peterson? I doubt it, seeing as Leinart beat Peterson head-to-head that year in a game in which he was the more dominant player. If Troy Smith had his trophy taken away, would there be a surge of sympathy for Darren McFadden? Probably not. It may seem convenient -- particularly to a Texas fan -- to use Bush's ineligibility as an excuse to "right a wrong," but once you go down that road, you might as well hold a re-vote for about 27 other winners.

Should Frank Beamer be on the hot seat at Virginia Tech? Ten wins each year and a few conference championships is great, but the program has reached a plateau, and now losing to JMU can only hurt the recruiting efforts in Virginia (which is already in trouble with Mike London taking over at UVa). -- Chris, Centreville, Va.

It sure feels like the end of an era at Virginia Tech. Is Frank Beamer's situation like Lloyd Carr's in 2007 at Michigan (besides the obvious App State comparison) where the game just passed him by while he refused to adapt? Or is it more like Bobby Bowden at FSU in 2006, where personal loyalty to an offensive coordinator trumps performance? -- Adam Cruz, Dayton

It's been a rough week for the Hokies. I get that. People are distraught. The season feels like it's over before it started. But I think we can safely assume that no person of reasonable mind or authority in the Virginia Tech administration has suddenly decided that "Ten wins each year and a few conference championships" is no longer good enough and has begun drawing up a severance package for the man who made the school relevant to begin with.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I don't view the James Madison loss -- as embarrassing as it was -- as a sign of the Hokies' impending destruction. Too often fans view results in a vacuum of Xs and Os, ignoring the human element of the sport. Last Monday, Virginia Tech suffered a crushing last-minute loss to a top five team. You can't tell me the letdown and the short turnaround didn't directly impact the Hokies' performance on Saturday. I'm not saying it excuses the loss. Virginia Tech should never lose to James Madison. But I wouldn't go penciling the Hokies into the EagleBank Bowl, either. My guess is they'll bounce back and will still be in contention for their division heading into a late-November road trip to Miami.

The one reasonable criticism of Beamer (besides his questionable late-game management against Boise) is his undying loyalty to offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, whose squads have chronically underperformed. This is a ridiculous stat: Virginia Tech hasn't finished higher than 50th nationally in total offense since 2003. I thought for sure the Hokies were going to turn the corner this year, what with a fourth-year quarterback (Tyrod Taylor) and three talented tailbacks (Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson), but it was apparent from the opening minutes of the Boise State game that the Hokies' offensive line is a mess. Maybe they'll still get it turned around, but Tech's offensive staff is long past due for an infusion of new blood.

The Carr comparison is interesting, though not entirely valid. First of all, there had been numerous signs pointing to Carr's impending retirement before the '07 season even began. I've heard no such thing about Beamer. However, Carr might not be the worst model for Beamer to follow. The Michigan team that lost to Appalachian State (and got crushed by Oregon the following week) wound up finishing 6-2 in the Big Ten and beating Florida in a bowl game. As of today, I'm guessing Tech fans would gladly take a similar outcome. And I believe it will happen.

Stewart: As an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, I'm optimistic for a good season and the possibility of challenging Ohio State for the Rose Bowl. So I'm not pleased to see Michigan apparently turning the corner. How is a frisky Wolverines team going to impact the Big Ten race? -- Steve, San Diego

Well, whenever you've got a quarterback capable of producing 500 yards of offense by himself, you've certainly got a chance to "impact" the race by upsetting one of the contenders (like Iowa). But even with Denard Robinson's heroics, I don't believe the Wolverines are yet a contender. In fact, they've still got most of the same questions they had coming into the season.

Lost amid the (deserved) hype over Robinson's performance last weekend was the confirmation we received that Michigan's defense -- particularly its secondary -- is every bit as overmatched as many anticipated. Even with quarterback Dayne Crist knocked out for most of the first half, the Irish still managed to rack up 535 yards on the Wolverines. Credit Michigan for picking off three passes, which helped tremendously, but it's never good when you're giving up 95-yard passes, either.

The schedule sets up so that Michigan will almost certainly win its next three games (against UMass, Bowling Green and Indiana), but it's not assured of anything after that. The Oct. 16 Iowa contest at the Big House may well become a defining game. Robinson isn't going to be able to do it all himself against an elite defense like the Hawkeyes'. Adrian Clayborn will make sure of that. Yet at the same time, Iowa's offense isn't likely to come in and roll up 600 yards. Pulling off that upset would certainly boost the perception that RichRod has his house in order, and it would also put a dent in the Hawkeyes' Rose Bowl hopes. Or, Iowa could go in and win 27-9, reinforcing how much work remains to be done. We shall see.

Last week you said a person always has to cheer for their alma mater, even if they grew up rooting for a separate team. You made it sound like a no-brainer. My friends and I have had discussions around this issue for years. I grew up in Texas and was raised with burnt orange in my blood. That was 18 years of living and dying Texas football. I then spent four years going to school at Colorado. During that time I certainly cheered on the Buffs but remained true to Texas. How can four years trump a lifetime of dedication? -- Chris, St. Louis

I was surprised to receive a whole bunch of e-mails just like this one. Listen, I'm not telling you, Chris, to stop rooting for Texas once you enter college. Lots and lots of people have a "hometown" team they root for outside of their current school/alma mater. All I'm saying is, if your two teams happen to actually face each other (which, luckily for you, will soon be happening less frequently), I can't imagine not rooting for your school. College is such a formative time in a person's life, and, at most major football schools, game days are such an enjoyable part of the experience. If you're actually rooting against your own school, I'm guessing either you didn't enjoy college that much, or you don't see the point in rooting for CU because Texas is so much better.

I think this Gator team appears to be taking a trajectory similar to that of the 2006 BCS championship team, albeit with a much younger D. The defense is carrying them while trying to figure things out week-by-week, with an opportunity to get much better offensive production over the course of the season. Thoughts? Can they stay on the field with 'Bama? -- Thomas Gould, Gainesville, Fla.

It's true that this is not the first time we've seen an Urban Meyer Florida team struggle to find its offensive identity early. And I don't doubt the Gators will get better. However, I can think of at least three big differences from '06.

For one thing, that Florida team had a veteran quarterback (Chris Leak) and several quality receivers (Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin). This year's team features a first-year starting quarterback (John Brantley), and his receivers, to put it nicely, have been underwhelming (and one of them, Chris Rainey, is out indefinitely). Secondly, though he was a freshman backup at the time, Tim Tebow proved incredibly valuable to that offense, making key plays in Florida's early-season SEC wins at Tennessee and against LSU. So far this year, that spark is missing. And remember, the unquestioned strength of the '06 Gators was their overwhelming defensive line. While Florida's secondary has been sensational, these Gators have thus far gotten alarmingly little pressure on the quarterback (three sacks).

Now, here's the good news: For one thing, we're talking about a team that still won its first two games, 34-12 and 38-14. More importantly for Florida's future prospects, the SEC in '06 was a whole lot tougher than what we've seen so far from the SEC in 2010. Florida had to play four conference foes ranked 13th or higher that year. This year, I'd be shocked if the Gators see more than two -- Alabama and perhaps South Carolina. And no, I don't think they can handle 'Bama just yet. But fortunately they don't have to play the Tide tomorrow.

Did you hear that My Boys was cancelled? Your ex-Mailbag Crush, Jordana Spiro, is jobless for now. -- Jonathan, Washington D.C.

I did hear -- but Jordana will be fine. She's actually in grad school right now and will soon be a very successful director. In the meantime, another Crush Emeritus, Kaitlin Olson, recently had a baby. It's milestones all around these parts.

And oh, by the way, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has its season premier Thursday night. Jackpot.

A local newspaper columnist recently claimed that if somehow Boise State and TCU made the BCS national championship game (a possible, if very unlikely, scenario) a playoff plan for 2012 would happen "next week." As somebody who has written extensively on the barriers to a national playoff, do you think that TCU vs. BSU would lead to a playoff of some sort? -- Britton Jackson, Las Vegas

I prefer to deal in the land of reality, and there's absolutely no chance both teams will finish in the top two. I will, however, address the possible ramifications of one of the two (or Utah ... don't forget Utah) getting there.

I've heard many playoff enthusiasts say they hope Boise State reaches the title game because it will "blow up" the BCS. I've heard others suggest just the opposite -- that Bill Hancock and his cronies would welcome the scenario because it would allow them to tell off Orrin Hatch and other critics who say the system is unfair. The reality is somewhere in the middle. I have to think losing a spot in the championship game would cause a couple of the major conference commissioners to rethink their opposition to a plus-one (the only semi-realistic "playoff" option for the foreseeable future). Just like many fans, they probably feel their teams are more deserving of that opportunity, and that the Broncos should have to play their way into the game. Of course, they might also blow it off as a one-time thing in which the planets perfectly aligned.

Personally, there's another scenario out there I believe would have the best chance of impacting some of the key decision-makers. As you know, the Big Ten and Pac-10 have in the past been the most resistant to any change because they fear how it might impact the Rose Bowl. As you may also know, this year the Rose Bowl is obligated to take Boise/TCU/Utah if it loses one of its champions to the title game. Follow me here. Suppose Oregon goes 12-0 and reaches Glendale. Now, suppose Arizona -- the one Pac-10 school that has never reached the Rose Bowl -- goes 10-2, which, in any other year, would earn the Wildcats the Ducks' vacated spot in Pasadena -- only Boise gets it instead. Think Larry Scott and his conference presidents might be a little ticked? Think they might give more consideration to a postseason model that adds an extra round but ensures that a Pac-10 team plays in the Rose Bowl every year? You're darn right they would.

I have been a Michigan fan since I was approximately 3 years old, and this devotion has never wavered. Since 2005 I have been a student at Appalachian State (first for undergrad and now grad school). Needless to say, I was not in any way rooting for Appalachian State that fateful September day, and, in fact, can no longer tolerate any success the school has against any opponent (FCS, FBS, or Pop Warner). If you grow up a legitimate fan of college football and have a team for whom you have cheered and cried, it isn't even in the realm of possibility to switch that allegiance because you preferred the academic opportunity at another school. -- Michael Murphy, Boone, N.C.

OK, this e-mail just makes me sad for you, Michael. Not only were you not able to enjoy the single greatest moment in your school's athletic history, but you may in fact be the most unintentionally conflicted fan in the history of college sports. If I had to guess, no Michigan fan in the world suffered more miserably on Sept. 1, 2007, than you did. And now it's apparently scarred the rest of your half-decade in Boone. This is just depressing. Please, someone, cheer me up.

Dear Ann Arbor,

Sorry for laughing at you. Hope you're really back this year since it means we have a chance to recover in a few years.

Sorry again,

Blacksburg -- Andrew, Blacksburg, Va.

OK, that's funny.

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