• It's time to answer your mailbag questions on Nick Saban's 10-year plan, Miami's chances to win the Coastal, the folly of preseason predictions, the joys of fried cheesecake and more.
By Andy Staples
August 09, 2017

We got some great questions for #DearAndy this week, beginning with one about why sportswriters are bad at predicting success and failure…

From Ikeyo: Why does it seem like a strong bowl game performance and returning starters are the main thing in determining an outlook for a season?

Because predicting the performance of large groups of 18- to 22-year-olds is incredibly difficult, so we fall back on the safest prediction possible. Except the problem is that prediction doesn’t always work out.

College rosters change so much that we only feel like we have a handle on the prediction when a roster stays relatively stable and a team is coming off a great last game or a great end to the season. Problem is, we can’t predict chemistry in the new season, or which 18- or 19-year-old will suddenly ball out when the spotlight shines brightest. That’s why we get some of these predictions hilariously wrong. Here’s a great example from a few years ago.

USC’s 2011 team didn’t have a great bowl game performance to point to—the team was banned from the postseason because of NCAA sanctions—but the Trojans won seven of their last eight, and the one loss was a three-overtime thriller to a good Stanford team. They also won at eventual Pac-12 champ Oregon and clobbered UCLA 50–0 to close the season. The Trojans returned a ton of talent, notably quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and we ranked them No. 1 to start the 2012 season.

One of USC’s victims in the 2011 season was Notre Dame, which went 8–5 and lost to Stanford and Florida State to close the season. The Fighting Irish were breaking in a redshirt freshman starting quarterback. They had just lost Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith to the NFL. Aaron Lynch, a promising young defensive end, had just transferred. Notre Dame wasn’t ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll. 

So what happened? USC went 7–5 and then lost to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Notre Dame went 12–0 and played for the national title. (Sure, the Irish got whipped by Alabama, but by any measure it was a great season.)

How did we botch that so much? Well, we didn’t know what was going on inside Heritage Hall. Take it away, 2012 USC coach Lane Kiffin. “I don't think we grew any,” Kiffin said in 2015. “What I did was just expect that we could just go do what we did and do it again. But every other defensive coordinator you’re going against usually isn't the head coach. What are they doing? They’re spending their offseason going, ‘How do we beat SC because they‘re preseason No. 1?’ ”

So take preseason polls for what they are: a jumping-off point for your college football discussions during the time before actual games are played. Don’t expect much wisdom. And with that, we give you SI’s preseason top 25!

From @MWNFootball: When do you think Nick Saban will retire? [Answer linked here, and in the video at the top of this story.]

College Football
College Football's Top 100 Players of 2017

From @yehonala4: #DearAndy, if #FoodAndy were paid $$ to select a BBQ brand for sale Sanford Stadium, what would the choice be?

My favorite story this week involves the questioning of Georgia officials for bringing Alabama-based Dreamland BBQ into Sanford Stadium. The truth of the matter is the Bulldogs chose a place that can handle the scale of catering a stadium, but it’s fun to poke fun at the choice, since the original Dreamland in Tuscaloosa isn’t the barbecue temple it once was and is at least second in metro Tuscaloosa behind Archibald’s. It’s also a legitimate question to ask whether a major state university should support in-state businesses.

In this particular case, there might not have been an in-state business capable of handling the task. Atlanta’s excellent Fox Bros. is now working with the Falcons at their new stadium and might be too busy.

But since you asked, my current pick of Peach State barbecue joints would be B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue. B’s started in Savannah and has since expanded to Atlanta. Since opening there last fall, it has become a must-stop for me. I wrote about it earlier this year, and I’d have a blast at any college football game where I could get B’s pulled pork with a side of hash and rice.

From @NebraskaPhil: Over/under seven wins for Nebraska? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From @Da_contrarian: Does Miami finally win the Coastal? What are their chances of winning the league and making the playoff? Any other surprise ACC teams?

It may come down to how the quarterback—whoever that may be—plays, but Miami does seem set up to compete in the Coastal Division. The defensive line of Chad Thomas, Kendrick Norton, R.J. McIntosh and Joe Jackson should be the strength of the Hurricanes, and that should keep the score down and help a developing offense with field position. How will that offense develop? That probably depends on who Mark Richt chooses to take the snaps. The buzz around true freshman N’Kosi Perry is loud, but four players (Perry, Evan Shirreffs, Cade Weldon and Malik Rosier) will get a chance to win the job in camp. Whoever wins will get to throw to one of the nation’s best young receivers (Ahmmon Richards) and hand off to a dynamic back (Mark Walton).

We’ll learn a lot about Miami in Week 3 when the Hurricanes go to Tallahassee. Miami hasn’t beaten Florida State since 2009, and the Seminoles have a few question marks. One of those question marks is the offensive line, which means Miami’s might take advantage. A team that can beat Florida State can win the Coastal, but even a team that loses close at Florida State can win the Coastal. Miami has the talent to overcome Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and the division’s other contenders. The question is whether the Hurricanes can hang with Florida State or Clemson or Louisville. We’ll have an answer to that in mid-September.

Another potential surprise ACC team is the one that goes to Tallahassee the week after Miami. NC State will have the most talent of the Dave Doeren era, and even though it plays on the loaded side of the league (the Atlantic Division) it also has a stellar defensive line and a lot of veterans on offense. But NC State is in a weird position. The Wolfpack will either shock some people or get Doeren—who might have lost his job last year had he not beaten North Carolina—fired.

From @BillyTyra: Andy, what are the odds Texas knocks off OU in Dallas, and would you eat a fried cheesecake? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)