Ten bowl games have been played since the last Mailbag, but there's only one I regret not commenting on until now: The Boise State-Arizona State Las Vegas Bowl.
On the surface, it was nothing special. The Broncos rolled. Dennis Erickson oversaw one last personal-foul fest. Yet for anyone who's followed college football these past four years, the game definitely felt like a piece of history. It marked the end of the Kellen Moore era at Boise State, during which time the southpaw won 50 games, lost just three and helped redefine a once disregarded program.
But just as we settled in to enjoy Moore's swan song, an ESPN PR person tweeted that Mel Kiper and Todd McShay -- our nation's most trusted determiners of a player's NFL draft stock, even though no actual NFL teams employ them -- "say Moore should be a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick."
Of course they do.
With all the experts analyzing the potential of college quarterbacks in the NFL, I have never heard a single mention of Kellen Moore. Do you think that there is no chance of him making it at the next level?-- Peter Ashley, Indio, Calif.
As we know well by now, if a quarterback doesn't fit an exact prototype (6-foot-3 or taller, classically trained drop-back passer, rocket arm), NFL types are instinctively trained to dismiss him. Remember, these are the same people who convinced themselves JaMarcus Russell was the second coming of John Elway and Blaine Gabbert was a "safer" pick last year than Cam Newton.
While I wouldn't expect the sub-6-foot Moore to be a first-round pick, I don't understand the massive discrepancy between Moore and the similarly sized Drew Brees, the first pick of the 2001 second round. Both are insanely accurate. Brees played in a tougher college conference, but his 132.5 efficiency rating was pedestrian in hindsight compared to Moore's 169.0. Furthermore, Moore plays under center more often than Brees did in Joe Tiller's Purdue offense, and Moore throws downfield far more often. Neither played in an NFL system, but Boise's is closer to a traditional run-based attack than Tiller's "Basketball on Grass." And yes, I've heard the knocks about Moore's arm strength, but that's always such a nebulous thing to assess. Ask Georgia's coaches if they think Moore can zip a tight pass between defenders.
I'm not saying Moore is "the next Drew Brees," I just don't get the gaping disparity. It matters, too. If Moore gets drafted that low, the team that takes him won't treat him as a priority, lessening his chance to even get a start, much less develop into a star. Of course, the process hasn't even begun. Teams will get a close-up look at Moore at the Senior Bowl and in workouts. They'll interview him at the combine. As we've seen with Tim Tebow, it only takes one team seeing what the rest of us have been watching the past four years to decide to make an investment. As best as I can tell, the only inarguable knock against Moore is that he's not tall. Why that trumps all the other skills one needs to play the position is beyond me. But hey, that's why NFL GMs get paid big bucks to rank sculpted but unimpressive college quarterbacks like Gabbert and Jake Locker ahead of four-year standouts like Moore and Andy Dalton.
When will the schools say enough is enough and put a stop to having to buy all the unsold bowl tickets for their trips? Only a handful of schools break even on their bowl trips. When the schools get tired of shelling out for these trips to far away exotic locales like Mobile and Boise, we will be a step closer to a playoff.-- Skip Wagner, Tulsa, Okla.
It's not the trips to those third-tier bowl games that cost the most money; it's the big ones. Clemson and West Virginia are both going to take a bath on unsold Orange Bowl tickets (they both sold about half their 17,500-seat allotment, due to much cheaper tickets available on the secondary market), and West Virginia's athletic director, Oliver Luck, says he's just trying to keep the program's overall losses under $1 million. It was reported this week that it's going to cost LSU and Alabama roughly $1 million between them to bring their bands to New Orleans, in part because they have to buy $350 game tickets for all 500-plus members. It's an absolute fleecing.
And yet, the schools keep signing up for it because ... what choice do they have? LSU and Alabama aren't going to turn down their title-game invites because it costs too much. West Virginia isn't going to deny its players a trip to the Orange Bowl because it finds the ticket burden unfair. Even if they wanted to, their conferences -- which actually sign the partnerships with the bowls and collect the paychecks -- would surely overrule them. And even though it's such a blatantly outdated and fiscally irresponsible business model, no bowl or conference official I've spoken with has expressed any sense of urgency to change it. They point to the fact that the schools' share of the leagues' BCS payouts ($22 million for an AQ berth, $6 million for an at-large) ensures no one actually loses money in the end.
Still, can't they come up with something less clunky? ESPN is paying the BCS $125 million a year to televise five games. Both the network and the games sell sponsorships on top of that. The bowls all have massive reserves. Surely they could afford a ticket for LSU's tuba player.
Hey Stewart, given all of the head coaching vacancies at larger programs, do you think that Gus Malzahn is selling himself a bit short by taking the Arkansas State job? Or, do you think it's a wise move for him to start with a smaller program and give himself a chance to adapt to a head coaching role?-- Louie, Pittsburgh
It'd be one thing if Malzahn jumped at the first school to give him a look. He didn't. He initially accepted a lucrative offer last year from Vanderbilt before changing his mind and turning it down. Coming off a BCS title and having just coached a Heisman winner, he presumably believed better opportunities would arise. Instead, a year later, North Carolina and Kansas both looked at Malzahn and passed, turning instead to guys (Larry Fedora for UNC, Charlie Weis for Kansas) with head-coaching experience. Perhaps his stock dipped with Auburn's production this season. Perhaps, as some have speculated, schools were scared off by a bizarre video (since removed) of controversial comments his wife, Kristi, made at a church function. Either way, it wasn't happening this year.
With all that in mind, I think this is a great move for Malzahn. The guy's an Arkansas native only six years removed from coaching high school ball there. Reserved and generally media-shy, he gets to hone his head-coaching skills away from the spotlight with a team that won 10 games this year. (Also note Malzahn is replacing a guy, Hugh Freeze, who left for Ole Miss, a school one would have thought would fall all over itself for Malzahn a year earlier.) If Malzahn has success similar to Freeze's, a more high-profile program will likely jump at him in a year or two. In the meantime, Malzahn will hardly view Jonesboro as coaching purgatory. On the contrary, it's an ideal spot for him.
Stewart -- just a quick question. Does the SEC pay you more than SI does? I ask, because every article you write is so biased I quit reading them after the first five sentences. I get it, the SEC is great. The nation gets it, the SEC is great. Does that mean you have to be their personal cheerleader? No, it doesn't. Since you are, though, it means they must be paying you (very well).-- Jess, Seattle
Indeed, Mike Slive was cutting me a nice little check on the side until I, um, relentlessly pushed for Oklahoma State over Alabama a few weeks back. They didn't view that as acceptable cheerleading.
Stewart you predicted LSU to be this season's biggest bust. Any reasonable evaluation of the talent and depth LSU has shown on a weekly basis has to make one wonder what you, and in fairness other prognosticators, missed. You weren't even close on this prediction.-- John Yerger, Johnstown, Pa.
Hey now -- I still got half the BCS championship matchup right.
LSU's talent and depth were no secret. It's been a recruiting machine for years. What's made this year's Tigers so impressive is the obstacles they've overcome -- obstacles I (and others) thought would bring them down. First and foremost was the schedule, which included nonconference dates with Oregon and West Virginia and facing Alabama on the road. I didn't think that slate was conducive to a top-three finish. Secondly, LSU won a lot of close games last season. Generally those breaks tend to go the other way the next year. And finally, Jordan Jefferson, the quarterback Les Miles was so heavily banking on to improve by leaps and bounds and lead this team, was arrested and suspended 10 days before the season started. Again, not normally the stuff of champions.
And then there are the things no one could have predicted. If I had told you before the season that LSU, playing Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, would improve from 92nd to 19th in pass efficiency, would you have believed me? What if I had told you a redshirt freshman punter from Australia would emerge as one of LSU's most important players? Or that a cornerback nicknamed after a YouTube video would not only take over Patrick Peterson's number, but one-up him in terms of game-changing defensive and special teams plays? I can't say I knew the 2011 Tigers would be this ridiculously deep or loaded, but talent level only gets a team so far. You still need certain things to fall your way. I didn't think that they would. I was almost as wrong about that as I was about my surprise team.
What are the chances the Mountain West's request for BCS AQ status in 2012 and '13 gets approved? For the last few years, it has seemed superior to the Big Least, at least at the top end of the conference (pay no attention to New Mexico over there). What effect will the impending departure of Boise State have on the outcome?-- Bob, Powder Springs, Ga.
It's hard to say, because it's a completely subjective decision. While the league met set criteria to be able to apply for a waiver, the BCS Presidential Oversight committee decides whether to actually grant said waiver. But my educated guess is that it won't be approved. The problem is, nearly all the accomplishments the league is touting from the past four years were achieved by teams that are either no longer members or about to leave: Utah, TCU and Boise State. It's essentially arguing that as a result of those teams' success, the BCS should reward San Diego State, UNLV and Air Force.
The only possible motivation for the BCS presidents to do so would be political correctness, extending an olive branch right before it's expected to eliminate the AQ/non-AQ distinction altogether, thereby making it even more difficult for nontraditional programs to play in the most prestigious games. Interestingly, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson told the Idaho Statesman last week: "I would rather eliminate automatic qualifiers across the board over us getting automatic qualifier status for the next two years." Unlike some critics, he doesn't view the move as a threat to conferences like his. "I think our people are willing to take the risk and say you know what, let's go in the marketplace with this bunch." All the best with that. Six years in the sun, an 11-1 record and a top 10 ranking couldn't get Boise State a BCS berth this year. Maybe new member Nevada will fare better.
Do you think either Dayne (Crist) or Paul (Chryst) will help a Christ-like resurrection of underachieving programs next season at Kansas or Pitt, respectively?-- Jeffrey, Cleveland
Dayne has a nice chance to resurrect his career by reuniting with his former coach, Charlie Weis, but this isn't Russell Wilson coming to Wisconsin. Crist was not a standout three-year starter at Notre Dame, and the 2-10 Jayhawks obviously had far bigger problems than their quarterback last season (like, say, running, catching and tackling). His impact will likely be more the level of Greg Paulus' at Syracuse in Doug Marrone's first season.
Chryst, on the other hand, is a perfect fit at Pitt. One of the most respected offensive coordinators in the sport (and Wilson's mentor this season), Chryst should bring an end to that programs 12-month nightmare that saw five permanent or interim coaches come and go. His offense is far more suited to the personnel Dave Wannstedt recruited than was Todd Graham's, and in light of the latter's text-and-run, the school couldn't ask for someone more humble and loyal than Chryst. It took some serious lobbying by Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez to sell Pitt on Chryst because he's so reluctant to market himself, but I did it for him a little bit in this feature from September on Wisconsin's offense.
Hey Stewart: Is being "banned" from a bowl game that big of deal anymore? If anything the university actually saves money not having to foot the bill for overpriced tickets, hotel rooms and a myriad other expenses. The schools getting "banned" are not really being punished by saving all kinds of cash and headaches are they?-- Alan Hale, Omaha, Neb.
I see where you're going with that, but ask Matt Barkley or Jacory Harris whether it's "not that big of a deal" to be banned from playing in a bowl game.
Hi Stewart. I've been reading a lot about how wrong it is for a team that didn't win its conference to be able to win the national championship and I must say I agree. I mean, the ninth place Big East team (UConn) is the national champion? Really? Oh, they are talking about football and Alabama? Sorry, wrong sport.-- Chris Anderson, Shreveport, La.
Touche. College football's unique postseason system makes for some unique pet peeves. Teams that didn't win their conference or division constantly emerge as champions in other sports. In fact the reigning NFL (Packers), NBA (Mavs) and baseball (Cardinals) champs did not win their respective divisions. UConn was ranked 14th in the final RPI standings last year. The BCS equivalent this year would be No. 14 Oklahoma -- fourth in the Big 12 -- winning the national championship.
But of course we accept these results without hesitation because they stemmed from a playoff. Given that only two teams get that opportunity in college football, I understand why some fans would find it uncomfortable that one of them did not even win its conference. However, it's not like in the NCAA tournament we make sure every conference champ is seeded before rewarding any at-large teams. If the two best teams in the regular season were ACC champion Duke and ACC runner-up North Carolina, they'd be given the top two overall seeds, thus ensuring the best possible chance to play each other in the title game. If the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils, no one would object to their being declared national champion. That's essentially what's happening here, albeit with five fewer layers between the seeding and the title game.
I was wondering if any of you sports writers realize that BAMA won every statistical category when they played for the first time in Tuscaloosa expect for the one on the scoreboard and yet "all" of you talk about how LSWho beat BAMA. Score wise, yes they did, but on the stat sheet they DIDN'T. For that very reson you are WAY off on your BCS Championship prediction. BAMA will Rolllllll into New Orleans on Jan 9th ranked #2 and ROLLLLLLLLL out National Champions!!!!!-- Michael, Corinth, Ala.
I couldn't wait for the first game to get here because I so badly wanted to see the teams play. I can't wait for the second one to get here to put an end to 36 days of this.