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Mounting allegations making it very hard to defend Newton; more mail

Hmm. Anything going on in college football this week?

Does the new Cam Newton story about his alleged cheating while at Florida change your mind any regarding Heisman voting? On the one hand, the story certainly sounds more plausible than the recruiting allegations and directly impugns his integrity. On the other, it doesn't concern his eligibility even remotely and "integrity" isn't part of the stated criteria for Heisman voting -- not to mention that they set a bad precedent for negative Heisman campaigning.-- Aaron, Auburn

This whole sordid tale makes me very uncomfortable. As of Tuesday evening, my answer to your question would have been: No, the allegations don't change my mind about possibly voting for Newton because, as I wrote Sunday night, the only requirement made of Heisman voters is that they vote for a player in good standing with the NCAA, which Newton currently is. I'm all for the truth being exposed, but the timing of the cheating report came off as a blatant pile-on. It's given the public justifiable reason to believe that Newton is the subject of some orchestrated smear campaign.

But while the Florida story technically had no bearing on the investigation into Newton's recruitment, it did carry a consequence in the court of public opinion: It called into question the credibility of Newton and his father. Since at least last spring, Newton and his father have been telling the story that Newton left Florida solely because he didn't want to sit another year behind Tim Tebow. If the cheating allegations are to be believed (and it's certainly telling that neither Newton nor his father have denied them), then that version of the story, while not necessarily an outright lie, left out a pretty important detail. You'll have to excuse me if I have a hard time believing anything that comes out of Newton's or his father's mouths anymore.

Which brings us to the latest bombshell: ESPN's report late Tuesday that two Mississippi State coaches claimed both Newton and his father discussed money during Newton's recruitment. That's a game-changer. Mind you, as of now, these are still just allegations. The SEC was supposedly made aware of this information back in January, and it's hard to imagine the league didn't pass it along to the NCAA. If it didn't, you better believe the NCAA is looking into it now. Suddenly, this is shaping up to be the biggest pay-for-play scandal since I've been covering this beat. (Albert Means was a freshman defensive lineman, not the Heisman favorite.) And Auburn, with its infamous history of boosters paying players, doesn't do itself any favors in the credibility department. The story is hardly far-fetched.

Yet as of now, Newton remains eligible despite the SEC and NCAA inquiries -- which means he remains eligible for the Heisman. Would I feel good about voting for him? I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't make me feel a little bit dirty. But my job isn't to play moral arbiter; it's to pick the most outstanding player. Unless Newton's status changes between now and mid-December, I'm going to do my darndest not to let the allegations cloud my view of Cam Newton the player.

But I probably won't be feeling too many warm fuzzies during his acceptance speech.

Any chance Boise State jumps TCU before the end of the year? This exact same thing happened last season, and BSU beat them head-to-head on a neutral field. I know that was last year, but both teams are almost identical.--Tyrus, Boise

I do think it's possible, because college football is a "what have you done for me lately?" sport. In fact, the two teams' seasons have played out almost exactly the way I figured. Boise hogged the spotlight in September due to its high-profile Virginia Tech and Oregon State games. Even well into October, TCU was an afterthought, constantly getting passed in the polls by teams like Nebraska and Oklahoma while Boise remained unharmed. But as I suspected, Boise kind of fell out of sight, out of mind once it began WAC play. Other teams started losing, TCU started moving up and, by playing in the Game of the Week last week and throttling top 10 foe Utah, the Horned Frogs not surprisingly jumped the Broncos.

But now it's TCU's turn to fall back off the radar. After this week's game against a respectable but unranked San Diego State team, TCU has a bye, then finishes with 1-8 New Mexico. No one outside of Fort Worth will see those games. Meanwhile, Boise will be playing three straight Friday night ESPN games, including the big Nov. 26 game at No. 21 Nevada that figures to get a lot of attention with No. 1 Oregon (against Arizona) and No. 2 Auburn (at Alabama) playing earlier that day. Jerry Palm of CollegeBCS.com has projected that Boise will eventually surpass TCU in the computer rankings, at which point it will come down to the polls.

If things remain the way they are, with Oregon and Auburn finishing No. 1 and 2, it's hard to imagine the voters bothering to reevaluate TCU and Boise. However, if it comes down to a spot in the national championship game, recent history shows that the voters aren't afraid to reshuffle their ballots the final night of the season. (Florida passed Michigan in 2006, LSU passed Georgia in '07 and Oklahoma passed Texas in '08.) If Virginia Tech wins the ACC while Baylor (TCU's best nonconference victim) slumps to a 7-5 finish, that might play a factor. And while I know we're not supposed to consider last year's bowl result, at some point it can no longer be ignored. Imagine if Auburn loses, and the new poll reads: 1) Oregon, 2) TCU, 3) Boise State. The Broncos would be sitting behind two teams they'd played each of the past two years and gone 3-1 against.

I don't know if that will play a deciding factor; I only know that no one's going to be happy regardless of how this thing plays out.

You're quick to point out that Boise beat TCU last year in a bowl game. However, you're not quick to point out that Ohio State beat a team last year currently ranked as No. 1 (Oregon), and are instead calling them overrated.-- Casey Jensen, Findlay, Ohio

Ohio State didn't return 20 starters from last year like Boise, it's not undefeated and it's beaten one team currently ranked in CollegeBCS.com's Top 50. Boise's beaten three.

Get back to me at the end of the year.

With Dan Hawkins finally getting the boot at Colorado, who do you see replacing him? Who do you think will be a good fit in Boulder?--Brent Winters, Longmont, Colo.

I'll tell you who wouldn't be a good fit: Bill McCartney. It's absurd that he's being considered (and I'm told he is). I understand the general idea of wanting to bring back a revered figure to unify the community, like Bill Snyder has at Kansas State and Tom Osborne (as athletic director) has at Nebraska. But Snyder was out of coaching for three years. McCartney hasn't coached since 1994. That's so long ago, it predates the 85-scholarship limit. Or the spread-option. Or Netscape.

It's unlikely the Buffs can land a big name, because they can't afford to pay a lot of dough. Their best bet is to go after a hot coordinator, and I can't think of a hotter coordinator right now than Auburn's Gus Malzahn. With Colorado heading to the Pac-10, the best way to get competitive, and fast, is to bring something unique to the table. Oregon is the king of that conference right now in part because it's running an offense the rest of the conference hadn't seen. Most still run some variation of a pro-style/West Coast offense. Malzahn's hurry-up and unconventional schemes bring an edge that may help the Buffs overcome their massive talent disadvantage a bit in the early going. Of course, I have no idea what kind of a recruiter Malzahn would be as a head coach, and recruiting was Colorado's single biggest problem under Hawkins. Therefore, another option may be to go after a noted recruiter -- someone like Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables or Utah offensive coordinator Dave Schramm.

Since 1992, 10 of the 65 current BCS teams have NOT played in a BCS game, won their conference, or had a 10 win season -- Baylor, Clemson, Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, South Florida and Vanderbilt. I was very surprised to see a few of the teams mentioned on this list. Who should be the most ashamed to be in this company?-- Rob, Fort Collins, Colo.

First of all, that's an amazing stat. Secondly, we can immediately eliminate eight teams from consideration -- Baylor (until this year, the worst program in its conference), Duke, Kentucky and Indiana (basketball schools), South Florida (relative newcomer to Division I-A) and Iowa State and Vandy (no history of success). That leaves Oklahoma State, South Carolina and Clemson. You would think the Cowboys would have produced a 10-win season in there somewhere, with or without T. Boone's money, but they've long played second fiddle in their own state.

The two that really have no excuse are South Carolina and Clemson. They're in a talent-rich state, not far from even more talent-rich Southern states, with big stadiums and rabid followings. Of course, South Carolina has long been plagued by the Chicken Curse. And it plays in an extremely tough division (usually). Clemson, on the other hand, has no excuse. It won a national title. It often signs top 10 recruiting classes. We'll forgive it the '90s, when Florida State was at its heyday, but even Wake Forest has won the ACC more recently than the Tigers. Clemson wins this one, hands down.

And the sad thing is, Clemson is guaranteed to extend its streak at least another year, whereas South Carolina could finally win its conference and Oklahoma State will most likely hit 10 wins.

While I like most of the Mandel Plan, it has one major flaw: fans traveling to two destinations in two weeks. Boise State fans aren't going to fly to Pasadena, then Glendale, especially when they have to book the second flight on two weeks' notice. TCU isn't going to fly or drive to New Orleans, then to Pasadena two weeks later. You're kind of lucky on your picks this year, because they are geographically somewhat convenient, but sub in Ohio State for one of those teams, and it's a problem.-- David, Houston

I understand that concern. I'm sure the bowl games do, too. But think of the alternative: In a 16-team playoff, 14 fan bases get no bowl trip at all. And I don't think they'll have much problem filling seats for games that determine the national championship. My guess is most fans would still make the traditional trip to the New Year's (semifinal) game because it's more convenient and there's more time to plan. I'm conceding that the title game may have more of a Super Bowl-like atmosphere, with a more buttoned-down crowd. But the Final Four is exactly the same way, and most people still believe it's a pretty darn cool event. And if Ohio State makes the title game, believe me, 30,000 Buckeyes fans will still find a way to get there.

Stewart, one scenario that I cannot find a definitive answer to online: What happens to the Rose non-AQ obligation if TCU or Boise faces Oregon in the national championship game? Is the Rose forced to take the second non-AQ team, or since a non-AQ team is in the BCS, are they released from their obligation?-- Michael Bode, Austin, Texas

I've gotten this question a LOT over the last week, so here's hoping that every single person who e-mailed me is reading this answer.

No, the Rose Bowl does not have to select the second non-AQ team. The rule states that, "For the games of January 2011 through 2014, the first year the Rose Bowl loses a team to the [title game] and a team from the non-AQ group is an automatic qualifier, that non-AQ team will play in the Rose Bowl." Since only the highest-ranked non-AQ team is an "automatic qualifier," there is technically no one else it "has" to take. It could voluntarily choose to take the second non-AQ and thus fulfill its obligation, but there's no way the Rose Bowl would pass on 11-1 or 10-2 Stanford to take TCU or Boise State. The rule would just carry over to next year.

Hey Stewart, after watching K-State destroy Texas, I was left wondering how in the world did UT beat Nebraska. Did Texas do something after that game that has somehow made them a team that has a good chance of not playing in December?-- Samuel Fleming, Chapel Hill, N.C.

You're not alone. I was there. And because of it, it's taken me longer than it probably should have (i.e., until last week) to fully accept that Texas really is this bad. But I don't think it's as much a matter of what the 'Horns have done since that game as what Nebraska didn't do in that game, which is: let Taylor Martinez be a true dual-threat quarterback.

Going into that Texas game, Martinez, a redshirt freshman, had started two games against BCS-conference foes and attempted 11 and seven passes, respectively. Texas ganged up and stuffed the Huskers' rushing attack, Martinez completed just four of 12 passes (though remember, Nebraska receivers dropped three wide-open touchdown catches, which could have changed the game completely) and when it came time in the second half to play catch-up, Nebraska's coaches had such little faith in Martinez's passing abilities that they benched him for Zac Lee. Bo Pelini later admitted that was a mistake, and the following week against Oklahoma State Martinez went 23-of-35 for 323 yards and five touchdowns. I don't think it's a coincidence that a week later against Missouri, with Martinez established as a bona fide passing threat, the seas parted for running back Roy Helu Jr. -- nor that the Huskers nearly lost to Iowa State last week without Martinez.

As for Texas, its defensive dominance that day masked what was and continues to be its Achilles' heel: the offense. The 'Horns were able to get off to a hot start that day thanks to an unanticipated wrinkle by the coaching staff: using quarterback Garrett Gilbert as a runner. He caught Nebraska off-guard, rushing 11 times for 71 yards. But he was just 4-of-16 for 62 yards passing that day as Texas spent most of the second half milking its lead. It was easy at the time to brush it off as a product of the Huskers' stingy pass defense, but Gilbert's struggles have only worsened. He's thrown just seven touchdowns against 14 interceptions and does not rank among the top 100 passers nationally. Throw in the nation's 79th-ranked rushing attack and you've got yourself the formula for a 4-5 season.

I work a fulltime job, run a business and have a wife and 16-month-old at home, and I could do a better job of bowl projections than this in about 35 minutes of analysis. You are not taking into account all the factors that go into projections -- rivalry games at season's end, desperate teams, overconfident teams, coaches thinking about their next job, geographic locations, traveling fan bases, powerful boosters with corporate tie-ins and just plain luck. Please reevaluate this list and put out a better product next week.-- Julius, Ashland, Miss.

I'll tell you what, Julius. If, between running your business and raising your child, you can come up with a computer model that analyzes the remaining schedules of 70-plus teams and successfully deduces which overconfident teams with wandering-eye coaches will lose to desperate teams with powerful boosters, by all means, you can take over the bowl projections.

Until then, I'll probably stick to my more trusted method of "educated guesses."

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