Getting to know you, the reader, in the final Mailbag of the preseason
So here we are, on the eve of our first date (of the football season), and it's suddenly occurred to me: I don't really know you that well. We've spent so much time lately talking about Matt Barkley, Nick Saban, Tyrann Mathieu, et al., but I want to know a little bit more about you, the reader.
Some of you may remember that way back in 2006, before Twitter turned all of you into 10-letter user names with tiny little avatars, I had an actual MySpace page, and before it became overrun by middle schoolers and Macy's spam, it actually proved quite useful. I got to put some faces to names and get a better sense of exactly whom I'm addressing each week. I suppose I could do the same now with Facebook, but then I'd be expected to remember peoples' birthdays and comment on their kids' back-to-school pictures. No thanks.
Instead, I'm going to attempt a one-time get-to-know-you-a-little-better experiment. Call it market research. Just this once, please e-mail me (even if you're not normally the type to e-mail sportswriters) with simple answers to the following questions.
1. What is your age?
Rest assured, I will not sell your information to a third party. I don't even know how to do that. But if this little survey works, it will help me write columns this season that are the most likely to interest you. And for anyone who's curious, I will publish the general audience demographics next week.
And now, on with the questions:
You wouldn't think my predicted national championship matchup of two preseason top five teams would be all that unusual, but apparently it is. This week ESPN sent out the
Is it really crazy to think an Oregon team that's gone 34-6 and won its conference three consecutive years might in fact win the league again? No question, USC will be very, very good, particularly on offense. But the Trojans, as you may have heard, are still under NCAA sanctions and playing with at least 10 fewer guys than everybody else. I'm concerned about their ability to withstand injuries for an entire season, and I'm concerned that their biggest question mark, the defensive line, just happens to be the biggest key to stopping Oregon's offense. As Bill said, barring the unexpected rise of some team like Cal or Washington, the Ducks and Trojans will likely face each other twice in November, and the later in the year it gets, the more depth will become a concern.
Hence, I see USC winning the first meeting but not the second, and assuming that's Oregon's only loss, I see De'Anthony Thomas and Co. rising back into the top two.
First of all, as thrilling as that would be, can we all agree it's highly unlikely to happen? Now that we've spent eight months assuming this hierarchy for the 2012 season, there is absolutely no chance it will stay that way for nine weeks. Someone we haven't even contemplated will rise into the top five by then, and at least one of the aforementioned teams will fall on its face. Given how I just penciled Oregon and USC into a de facto national semifinal, it will probably be one of them.
But just looking at schedules, the answer is Alabama. In the first three weeks alone the Tide face two preseason top 10 teams (Michigan and Arkansas) away from home. While I believe both those teams to be slightly overrated, they can still notch an early upset over an Alabama squad breaking in a whole lot of first-time starters at important positions. If it doesn't happen then, it might come in one of the Tide's consecutive mid-October road games at Missouri and Tennessee. Nick Saban's team is still loaded -- the offensive line alone has three preseason All-Americas (center Barrett Jones, tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack) and a former top-rated high school tackle (Cyrus Kouandjio) -- but so was the 2010 team that tripped up three times. This team, too, is bound to get upset at some point.
I wouldn't dismiss Virginia, what with the progress the Cavs have already made under Mike London, but with North Carolina ineligible, Miami undergoing a massive youth movement and Duke being Duke (though I'm apparently more optimistic for the Blue Devils this year than most), it's very likely the division will come down to the teams that play each other Monday night.
Absolutely, it's better to face the Hokies early. That's not unique to this season; just look at their recent history. Frank Beamer's teams lost at least one of their first two games every year from 2007-10 before playing an all-cupcake September last season. Mind you, that included games against LSU, Alabama and Boise State, but also East Carolina and James Madison. From that point forward, however, they went a combined 41-8 in those four seasons. So yes, if you're Georgia Tech, you'd rather face the Hokies on Sept. 3 than Nov. 3. However, it's also advantageous for Virginia Tech to be facing the triple-option without a game the week before. The Hokies have had bye weeks before facing the Jackets the past two years and won both meetings.
Of course, the biggest advantage for Virginia Tech is that the game is in Lane Stadium at night -- which means
The page views that thing got would suggest otherwise.
I think you're correct about the Tigers -- and I also think you may be among the very small minority of SEC fans who believes one of the conference newbies will do something other than be beaten into submission by its new oppressors.
No team is a sure thing in the East, not even South Carolina (inexperienced offensive line and secondary) or Georgia (questionable running game, early season suspensions). Missouri's offense has been consistently potent the past five years, and Franklin's running ability makes the Tigers trickier to defend than during the Chase Daniel/Blaine Gabbert days. I don't expect them to score 35 points every week, but it will happen more often than many expect. My concern is whether defenders who have spent their entire careers to date facing the Big 12's mostly spread-passing offenses can handle the physical rushing attacks of teams like South Carolina and Alabama.
Mizzou probably won't win the East in Year 1, but it could mess things up for one of the favorites.
Wow, what a fun game. Are you saying I shouldn't go with Kansas' Vain Wrist?
June Jones is as good a bet as anyone to resurrect Garrett Gilbert's career. I don't think Gilbert will ever be the five-star guy he was touted to be when he got to Texas -- an opposing coach who faced the Longhorns during Gilbert's tenure told me he couldn't believe the quarterback they faced that day would be billed as such -- but clearly a lot of other things went wrong during his time in Austin. After attempting to succeed a legend (Colt McCoy) while getting no protection and no running game as the season rapidly deteriorated, his confidence was surely shot. Throwing five picks on two occasions (in the BCS championship game against Alabama and against Kansas State in 2010) probably didn't help, either. Jones has yet to produce another Colt Brennan at SMU, but you can usually count on his Run and Shoot quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,500 yards.
But if I'm going to pick one transfer quarterback to have the best season, without question it's Wisconsin's Danny O'Brien. For one thing, unlike Gilbert, we've seen O'Brien shine before. As a redshirt freshman at Maryland, he threw for 2,438 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions while starting the last 10 games, highlighted by a 417-yard, four-touchdown day against NC State in the regular season finale. Then Randy Edsall replaced Ralph Friedgen and everything unraveled. But now O'Brien is stepping into a talented team with an All-America running back (Monteé Ball) behind him, a rock solid O-line in front of him and at least two very talented receivers (Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen) to throw to. While not as off-the-charts explosive as Russell Wilson, O'Brien is pretty darn athletic, too. So I'll go with Danny ... er, Fanny Orion.
Technically, Penn State still has not committed a major violation, since it never went through the actual NCAA infractions process. But the others are Stanford, Northwestern and Boston College. (Hat tip to the
No question, there's a lot of buzz surrounding Franklin and the Commodores right now. They're doing things once deemed impossible at Vanderbilt, like putting together a
But I don't know whether any of that means Vandy is in "better shape" than Northwestern. For one thing, we now take it for granted that the Wildcats will reach a bowl game every year. They've been to four straight and six in nine years. For the Commodores it was still a pretty big deal just to reach bowls in 2008 and 2011, and the teams both finished last season with the same 6-7 records. I fully expect to see Vandy improve over the next couple of years. Heck, the 'Dores might knock off South Carolina on Thursday. But I wouldn't bet my life on Franklin's still being in Nashville five years from now. His stock is only going to rise, and he has no ties to the area, whereas Fitzgerald, a Chicago native and Northwestern alum, will be in that job for eternity unless the Bears ever call. He's got another star quarterback in the making with junior Kain Colter, and I wouldn't expect the recent drop-off (from nine wins in 2008 to eight to seven to six) to continue.
Are any of those trophies capable of playing defense this year? If so, I'll reassess.
And with that ... we're DONE previewing the season! Unleash the fireworks and confetti!
Follow along this weekend as I travel to Provo on Thursday to cover Washington State-BYU, then to Jerry World for Michigan-Alabama on Saturday. And please do take a moment to fill out my little survey. I'll tweet out some of the early returns if