The ongoing playoff talks have dominated the Mailbag thus far this offseason, and now they're about to affect the publishing schedule. In an attempt to keep these columns from becoming outdated six hours later, you'll notice this one went up a day earlier than usual (Tuesday), in advance of Wednesday's BCS meeting in Chicago. Next week's (yes, we're going weekly now) will be pushed to Thursday in order to include any possible outcome of the June 26 presidential meeting. And the following week, we'll go back to Tuesday (July 3), albeit to beat the holiday.
Basically, check back often.
In the meantime, I'm feeling a bit playoff-ed out, before we even get to these meetings, as we've seemingly beaten the conference champions debate to a pulp. Just wait until we get to the really sexy stuff: Revenue distribution. So this week, I offer you an (almost) entirely playoff-free edition.
Stewart, big fan of your column(s). Question: what coach's stock has risen the most over the past 12 months? My Vanderbias makes me say James Franklin, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, what coach do you project to have a "breakout" year, coming from relative unknown to major contender for a big-time position?-- Ryan B., Austin, Texas
Franklin has made an undeniable impact in his first year at Vanderbilt, so much so that an actual Vandy fan feels compelled to e-mail me a question. Even before he coached his first game in Nashville he made an impression with his blunt personality and recruiting prowess, both of which continue today. That "hot wives" comment sure made the rounds; meanwhile, Vandy currently has the No. 16 recruiting class on Rivals.com. And you know you've made it in the SEC when you're getting under opposing coaches' skin, as he did with Georgia coach Mark Richt last season. "I don't think we'll have much trouble getting jacked up to play the Vanderbilt Commodores this year," Richt said recently, which may be a first for any SEC coach outside of Kentucky.
But to this point Franklin's rising stock is largely contained to the South. His team finished 6-7 last year. That's not to say ADs around the country haven't noticed, but it's not like he's Gus Malzahn circa 2010. Therefore, my actual answer to this question is West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen. Certainly there was curiosity when he got the job following an incredible one-year stint as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator. The hair and the Red Bull-swigging on the sidelines certainly contributed to the intrigue.
But after reaching a BCS bowl in his first season and then truly opening eyes with that 70-point Orange Bowl outburst, Holgorsen has been the Xs and Os darling of this offseason. Coaches and closer followers of the sport have spent the past few months poring over tape of that game, marveling at his use of the new-fangled diamond formation and all those Tavon Austin jet sweep tosses that Clemson couldn't stop. The intrigue will only grow with the Mountaineers' move to the Big 12.
As for the last part of Ryan's question, the key phrase is "relative unknown." That rules out a whole lot of mid-major or coordinator candidates whose stocks are already rising. With that in mind, keep an eye on new Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter. After two seasons as Texas A&M's defensive coordinator, the 49-year-old is returning to the Mountain West, where as Air Force's defensive coordinator in 2009 he produced an unlikely Top 10 national defense. If ever there was a year for someone new to step up and supplant Boise State, which returns just seven starters, this is it. DeRuyter has installed an up-tempo spread offense at Fresno, which slipped to 4-9 in Pat Hill's last season but is fairly experienced. DeRuyter's Bulldogs therefore could enjoy the "breakout" year you describe.
Stewart, thank you for writing "Failings of Penn State officials exposed at Jerry Sandusky trial". I can only tolerate about 10 percent of the coverage of this trial because it is so tragic. But it is also completely infuriating to see how much of the power structure at Penn State seems to have looked away so that they wouldn't tarnish their football program. Disgusting. Do you believe this could lead to any kind of a penalty against the entire football program? I mean, if you are willing to terminate SMU football for paying players, what about a program that purposefully protected a devious and dangerous monster?--Thomas, Charlottesville, Va.
I don't know if we'll ever get this answer, but if in fact it's shown that Graham Spanier/Tim Curley/Gary Schultz purposefully chose to cover up the alleged 2001 Sandusky shower assault, was it truly for fear of tarnishing the football program? It would be one thing if Sandusky was still on staff at the time, rather than retired. Would Joe Paterno's program have suffered any tangible harm by the news that a former assistant had been arrested? College administrators are more often driven by fear of negative publicity for the university -- and sex crimes are a particularly hot-button issue for colleges. As in, how would it impact prospective students' opinion of the school knowing an alleged pedophile had roamed the campus? Unfortunately, this type of insular thinking by the people in charge of these institutions can turn a perceived crisis into a real crisis.
This is far from the only e-mail I've received suggesting some sort of NCAA Death Penalty-type punishment for Penn State. Yes, this is a far more serious situation than booster payments, but that's precisely why the NCAA shouldn't be involved, in my opinion. It's out of its league on this one. Its investigators have their hands full with free tattoos and freshmen sleeping on couches. They're in no position to dole out sentences for actual real-life crimes. Whatever guilty parties emerge will have to answer to the state of Pennsylvania and the school is under investigation by the Department of Education. People may wind up spending time in actual jail, not NCAA jail. And since all parties believed to be involved or privy to Sandusky's alleged crimes have since been removed from office, shutting down the football program for a year would be purely symbolic. It would only punish coaches, players and fans who had nothing do with the fiasco, not to mention athletes in other sports whose scholarships are dependent on football.
Stewart, have you ever seen an offense lose so many star players as Virginia Tech has over the past two years -- Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams, Darren Evans, David Wilson, Danny Coale (that WAS a catch!!), Jarett Boykin. Nearly all of their offensive line starters will be new as well as running backs and receivers. The only "star" returning will be Logan Thomas, who has great potential but will probably be hamstrung by the new crew protecting him and getting opposing defenses to pay attention to anyone but him.-- Joe, Charlotte
I'd disagree with your characterization of some of those guys as "stars" -- this isn't quite the same thing as, say, Florida losing Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Aaron Hernandez and three other NFL receivers within two years -- but without question, that's a lot of turnover in a short amount of time. Wilson, who ran for 1,709 yards last year and became a first-round NFL pick, is obviously a huge loss. But while those receivers were experienced, I'd hardly consider them irreplaceable. And perhaps the Hokie tailback pipeline will slow down at some point, but based on recent history, I assume that one of the new guys -- junior David Gregory, freshmen Michael Holmes or J.C. Coleman -- will emerge as their next stud.
My biggest concern for Virginia Tech is that it's banking so heavily on Thomas, who, while freakishly athletic and dominant in spurts last season, was very inconsistent. He completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In particular, Clemson mostly shut him down in the Hokies' two regular-season losses. Now, without the dependable Wilson behind him or a veteran line in front of him, Frank Beamer badly needs Thomas to become a guy that takes over every week, not some weeks, if that otherwise inexperienced offense plans to excel. It's going to be a challenge.
Stewart, over the last 10 years, which Mailbag are you the most proud of, and which one would you most like to take back?-- Dave, Corpus Christi, Texas
I'm sure there are many better examples of either from the distant past, but I choosethis edition from last August as pretty amusing examples of predictions for which to be proud and embarrassed in consecutive questions.
In your opinion, on any potential selection committee for a playoff, is it possible to have members/voters without a possible bias? You'd have ex-coaches (for example, Bobby Bowden) who might vote for their schools/conferences in addition to current/former AD's and/or commissioners. Isn't impossible to have a perfect system?-- Jonathan, Westerville, Ohio
Like I said -- "mostly" playoff free.
Humans have biases. There's not much we can do about that. And I'd agree that when you're dealing with potential committee members who were directly involved in the business they'll be discussing, they're going to have preexisting relationships and allegiances that may affect their thought process. However, that doesn't mean they can't still be professional and put those biases aside.
My personal preference for a selection committee is that the panel would consist primarily of ex-coaches -- Bowden, Phillip Fulmer, Lloyd Carr, R.C. Slocum and Fisher DeBerry, just to name a few. First and foremost, they know college football better than anyone else you could think to include that's not actively involved in the sport. They don't hold the direct conflict of interest that active coaches do. Also, it isn't like putting a random fan on the panel; these guys dedicated their lives to the sport and will treat it with the appropriate respect. For fairness' sake, I would try to divide the voters fairly evenly based on where they spent the bulk of their career -- i.e., Bowden would be the only ACC-oriented member, Carr the only Big Ten rep, etc. Every conference would be represented. And unlike the current polls, the members would be required to explain their selections to the public, thus making it more difficult to hide personal agendas.
I never miss a mailbag and was looking on your archive when I noticed that you list Rock Band as a hobby and the 2001 Miami Hurricanes as the best team you have seen in person. I think it might be time for an update. Do you think Alabama from 2009 would have stopped that Hurricanes team? Ohio State's defense stopped them the next season with pretty much the same players a year later. Second question, are you still playing Rock Band?-- Kevin, Avon, Ohio
Yeah, it's probably time to update that bio. Rock Band enjoyed a nice run, but at this point I only break it out once a year, at my annual Super Bowl party, where the guests play guitar and drums at halftime rather than watching some over-the-hill band do it. But no one's yet topped that Miami team in my mind. I respect that 2009 Alabama team a lot (and the 2011 team, though it suffered a loss, was even better), but that Ohio State example is not entirely fair. The 2002 Miami team the Buckeyes beat, while still unquestionably loaded, was not "pretty much the same players." The Hurricanes had in fact lost five first-round draft picks, including Ed Reed and Jeremy Shockey, and second-rounder Clinton Portis. And finally, let us not forget, that Miami team crushed almost everybody it played, most memorably 59-0 over a 10-win Syracuse team and 65-7 over eight-win Washington in consecutive weeks.
So no, the past decade has not prompted me to change my answer to that question. We'll see what the next decade holds.
How do you think Arkansas' off-the-field issues affect Tyler Wilson's Heisman chances? At first glance I'd assume the issues would do nothing but hurt him; however if his numbers are as great as last year and the Hogs win 9+ games, could he be a "media darling?" I could see ESPN playing up how he overcame the obstacles of this offseason.-- Josh Crawford, Searcy, Ark.
By December, Arkansas' offseason "issues" will be a distant memory. They'll play no part in the coverage of Wilson or his Heisman chances. But obviously, Bobby Petrino's departure affects Wilson's chances in that we have no idea whether he and/or Arkansas will perform at the same level as previously anticipated. Petrino will be missed most as a play-caller. He was one of the finest in the country, something you'd often notice by the way his teams often started off fast against even elite defenses like Alabama's and LSU's. He'd seen something on tape he knew he could exploit. I'm skeptical that his brother, Paul, or former boss Smith can replicate that. Therefore, I could see the talented Wilson still throwing for a ton of yards but his efficiency going down, and possibly his interceptions going up, if the coaches aren't putting him in the same optimal spots to succeed.
Ultimately, Arkansas will need to do more than just win nine-plus games for Wilson to have a chance, especially when he's going against other players -- Matt Barkley, Montee Ball, DeAnthony Thomas -- whose teams will be contending for conference if not national titles. The key will be to keep the Razorbacks and himself in the mix nationally heading into his Nov. 23 game against LSU. If he can lead the Razorbacks to victory and put up big numbers against one of the nation's premier defenses, he'll presumably become a media darling at a time when it matters most.
Hi Stewart. In retrospect, who was your favorite Mailbag Crush?-- Michael Kasa, Lincoln, Ill.
C'mon, now. That's like asking a parent to pick his favorite child. Obviously, I'm proud of all of them, especially when they go on to even greater fame and fortune.
I'm a lifelong Notre Dame fan. I was looking at the 2012 schedule and said to myself: It's great I have all those great matchup to get ready for, but on the other hand it is most likely Champ Sports Bowl here we come. Do you think they went overboard with the scheduling?-- Jean-Francois Byette, Montreal, Canada
I'm reticent to criticize a program for doing what we all wish more would do and cut out the creampuffs, but yes, Notre Dame bit off more than it can chew this season. It's playing five teams that finished between No. 6 and 16 in last year's final AP poll and, with the exception of independents Navy and BYU, themselves perennial bowl teams, not a single opponent from a non-BCS conference.
Most of these games were scheduled years ago, and they include two annual opponents, Stanford and Michigan State, that happen to be enjoying historic success at the moment. Five years ago you wouldn't have listed either in discussing an imposing schedule. On the other hand, it chose two years ago to add the game against Miami in Chicago already knowing it would be playing the first leg of a home-and-home at Oklahoma. I'm sure Brian Kelly is thrilled. He's entering a critical third year, when, after going 8-5 each of his first two seasons, the faithful will be looking for signs that this is the coach to finally return the Irish to glory. But even a dramatically improved squad would be hard-pressed to make it through this slate without a few losses. And by the way, the Champs Sports Bowl used up its once-in-four-years Notre Dame pick last year, so it's either 10-2 and BCS or ... whoever's got an opening.
Les Miles has had one of the most unique tenures in his time at LSU. Few coaches have succeeded so much and yet are rebuked by so many a fan. Given the manner in which events have occurred, and figuring in the fact that LSU is expected to have another Top 5 team going into the 2012 season, how much longer can the coach have a season like last year and remain the head ball coach of LSU?-- Pearce C., Baton Rouge, La.
How much longer can Miles keep going 13-1 and winning the SEC championship and expect to keep his job? I assume for eternity, unless it turns out Miles is actually the least crazy person in Baton Rouge.