Surprise team facing Week 1 statement game; more mail
Among the eight million reasons the college football season is so captivating: It's not just about whether a team wins or loses, but about what that win or loss
The coaches and players will tell us "it's just one game," but we're not having that. No sir. What's the point of even lining up if not to "make a statement?"
My answer is: D) None of the above. Boise certainly can't play for the national title without beating Georgia, but the Broncos have beaten better teams before. And while the SEC milestone would be huge, it wouldn't legitimize the Broncos any more than beating Virginia Tech did last year. Similarly, I know Oregon would love some SEC bragging rights, particularly after the Auburn loss, but it's not like the Ducks are hurting for national respect. And Shane is a BYU fan, but frankly I'm puzzled by why that one's even on the list. The Cougars faced better teams than Ole Miss when they were in the Mountain West. We'll need at least a full season, if not longer, to truly gauge whether independence is working for them.
So while it bucks the conventional AQ vs. non-AQ narrative, in this case the SEC team is the one that could really use a primetime win over a top five team to show it's still got a pulse. And it goes without saying that Richt, despite owning the fourth-highest winning percentage in the country (.738), needs to show he's got things back on the upswing or risk the vultures circling tighter. Technically Georgia's Week 2 game against South Carolina is more important because of the division-title implications, but the Boise game is going to impact the Dawgs' perception far more.
And isn't that really what we mean about making a statement?
Actually, this is a rare instance where the NCAA is
The guidelines are not ironclad by any means, as the staff is supposed to consider "if a significant competitive advantage was gained, the student-athlete's responsibility for the violations and any mitigating circumstances." Last year Alabama's Marcell Dareus got what by dollar amount should have been a four-game suspension reduced to two for "mitigating circumstances" that were never revealed. And I assume Miami defensive lineman Olivier Vernon's suspension went from four games to six because it involved his recruitment, hence a competitive advantage. The real question isn't how the NCAA came up with these punishments; it's how did it come up with exact dollar values for all those drinks, cover charges and lap dances from three years ago?
No question, that's certainly another element to consider, though I'm not sure it's about Xs and Os. Oregon has the same amount of extra time as its opponents to prepare its own "more effective" schemes. But I have to believe conditioning comes in to play when facing Oregon's offense. Given the absurd tempo at which the Ducks operate, you'd much rather play them with fresh legs than, say, in Week 9, when teams are banged up. There's also the rust factor. Offenses often struggle with execution the first week of the season and early in BCS games after such a long layoff. That, too, can work against an offense like Oregon's that is so precision based.
But maybe we're just overthinking this. Boise, OSU and Auburn were all end-of-season top five teams the years they beat the Ducks. Maybe they were just that much better. If Oregon is more talented than LSU, it should win Saturday night, schemes or layoffs be damned. But judging by recruiting rankings and LSU's recent track record, the Tigers' defense should be just as talented if not more so than those other elite groups that felled the Ducks, so this will be a game where Oregon's execution and Chip Kelly's creativity need to be in top form.
Not a chance. No SEC team has ever lost a nonconference game that couldn't be washed away by some indisputable excuse (Darren McFadden wasn't healthy when USC beat Arkansas 50-14; Alabama wasn't "up" for the Sugar Bowl when it got crushed by Utah). Likewise, every nonconference opponent every SEC team has ever beaten was slower, smaller and outcoached. This is actually the real reason Texas A&M wants to join the conference: Better spin.
I was indeed shocked -- shocked to learn that Fozzy Whitaker is still at Texas. That does not seem humanly possible. Wasn't he in Chris Simms' recruiting class? But seriously, no matter how heavily hyped, no matter how many of us peg him with
From what I've been told, Whitaker had an impressive camp. Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin called him "tremendous." But he's a fifth-year senior who's averaged 4.3 yards a carry. He may well be improved, perhaps in part thanks to the new offense, but he obviously has a ceiling. You'll note that Brown is not listed as third string, but co-No. 2 with Bergeron, a less heralded member of the same recruiting class (he was a three-star prospect). Bergeron is more of a power runner, while Brown is more elusive. My guess is we'll see all three early on, and perhaps Brown will eventually emerge as the go-to guy, but recruiting is an inexact science. It wouldn't be stunning if Bergeron keeps pace with Brown. It
Wow, look at that. Come for the football, stay for the geography lesson.
Did the lakes freeze over 50 years ago?
The country views the Pac-12 as an offensive conference because it is. The reason USC was able to sustain such dominance under Pete Carroll is because it was the rare program in that conference that managed to assemble enough elite defensive talent to handle the challenge of repeatedly facing NFL-caliber quarterbacks. (Case in point: During its 34-game winning streak from 2003-05, it faced Aaron Rodgers, Derek Anderson, Kellen Clemens and Trent Edwards, among others.) And I'd argue the league's quarterback crop last year and this year is particularly strong.
But the league does have a history of producing elite individual defensive players at schools other than USC, like Oregon State's Stephen Paea and UCLA's Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore last season. I'm guessing by your hometown that your pick of Ta'Amu for this year is a partisan one, and no question he's a budding star. He was a monster in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska. But Burfict has to be the overwhelming favorite. He may be the most physically gifted defensive player in the country and the only thing that will keep him from a dominating season is himself. His oft-noted temper is no joking matter at this point. If he does wind up derailing himself, I'd keep an eye on two other candidates: USC defensive end Nick Perry, who as a full-time starter should increase on last season's 7.5 sacks; and UCLA defensive end Datone Jones, who, after missing last season with a broken foot, could be one of the conference's breakout players this season.
I agree 100 percent. We've long known the Ohio State case would end with Jim Tressel receiving a show-cause penalty (in which a coach is prevented from recruiting for an NCAA member school for a certain length of time, essentially making him unhireable); the only question is for how long. Pearl received three years for initially lying about the details of an incriminating photo of himself with a recruit and attempting to coerce the recruit's father to do the same. I have no idea whether the committee will consider Tressel's failure to report the memorabilia violations more or less seriously, but figure three years to be the ballpark estimate. And the NCAA's case against Ohio State is even more coach-centric than its Tennessee case, which also included impermissible phone calls, a failure to monitor charge against the school and, originally, a major violation in football (which the committee reduced to secondary).
It's interesting that at a time when figures all around college sports are calling for stiffer enforcement and penalties, the current committee (headed by MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas) has been rather lenient in its high-profile cases so far.
You caught me. For the most part they're guesses. Except when I'm right, in which case they're the results of extensive data study and those giant touch-screens and holograms CNN uses on election night.
Give credit to Richard Deitsch, SI.com's sports media guru, who came up with the concept and the questions. I had no idea when I gave my answers that it would garner the reaction that it has. Normally when a writer expresses a strong opinion about something, no matter the subject, he can usually expect reactions both positive and negative. This was a very rare occasion where nearly every single e-mail and tweet the other panelists and I received was along the lines of this one -- including many thanking us just for writing it.
College football fans will never agree on which conference is the best, which teams are overrated or underrated, whether there should be a playoff, whether players should be paid -- but they do seem to universally despise Craig James.
This summer has taught me that whatever you think is the wildest possible story is probably just a precursor to something else. I'm ready for summer to be over. Kick it off, fellas.