It's a terrific publicity-generating event, drawing wall-to-wall coverage both regionally and nationally, but it rarely teaches us anything useful about the upcoming season. It seems to me we can have just as much fun bantering about SEC topics here in the Mailbag -- though sadly, we won't smell the Jim 'N Nicks pulled pork cooking down the street.
Stewart, this season the SEC seems to be lacking stars at the QB position. Aaron Murray is the preseason first-team QB for a Georgia team that few are picking to do well. What team in the SEC could have the biggest boost if its QB goes from either mediocre or unknown to great (relative to a watered-down SEC stable of QBs).-- Dan, Hollywood, Fla.
I, too, cringed when that all-conference list came out. Not over Murray, who threw for 24 touchdowns against eight picks as a redshirt freshman and is a bona fide star in the making (albeit one on a team littered with questions). I cringed because Stephen Garcia -- yes, Stephen Garcia -- is the second-team quarterback. A dearth of proven quarterbacks often signals a down year for a league, and preseason all-conference teams are the most obvious indicator.
But something tells me the conference won't lack star signal-callers by year's end. Arkansas' Tyler Wilson may be a first-year starter, but he showed his potential by coming in for an injured Ryan Mallett and throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns against Auburn last year. I fully expect Wilson to post Mallett-type numbers under Bobby Petrino's tutelage. Mississippi State's Chris Relf, who earned a third-team preseason nod, seemed to turn it on over the final three games of last season, and I'm interested to see if Dan Mullen will let Relf air it out more. And Tennessee's Tyler Bray, who performed admirably once handed the reins as a freshman, should continue to carry the Vols' otherwise average offense.
But without question, Florida's John Brantley best fits the description in Dan's question. I've expressed my skepticism before about Will Muschamp's decision to hire Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator, but there's no disputing Weis' acumen for developing quarterbacks. Here, he's been handed the ultimate challenge: Take a guy who finished 89th nationally in pass efficiency last season while playing in an offense for which he was ill-suited and turn him into a savvy, productive senior leader after one offseason of work. Florida's offensive line and receiving corps remain dubious, but if Weis succeeds with Brantley, Florida can go from a 7-5 squad on paper to a challenger in a relatively weak SEC East.
As an aside, what the SEC lacks in returning quarterbacks it makes up for quite nicely in running backs. A first-team backfield of Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore would be awfully scary in real life -- and if they get tired, Knile Davis and Michael Dyer can come in off the second-team bench.
In your 2007 book Bowls, Polls & Tattered Souls you listed Florida's Urban Meyer, Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Texas' Mack Brown, USC's Pete Carroll, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, Georgia's Mark Richt, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, Rutgers' Greg Schiano, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Cal's Jeff Tedford, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier as the only major conference coaches whose school's fan bases were fully content and confident with their leadership. What a difference a few years make, as only four of those coaches (Stoops, Beamer, Bielema, and Spurrier) in my mind remain on that list. Which coaches would make your list heading into the 2011 season?-- William, Arlington, Va.
It's amazing to think there was a time when Notre Dame fans were truly thrilled to have Weis as their coach -- and that time was only four years ago. Or to think that in four years' time, Rodriguez went from a revered coach at West Virginia to an unemployed coach scorned by both WVU and Michigan fans. Or that Meyer, Tressel and Carroll are no longer college coaches.
The theory I proposed in the book was that at any given time, only 25 percent of fans are completely satisfied with their current coach. That aforementioned list comprised 15 of the 66 BCS-conference schools (including Notre Dame) at the time: 23 percent.
What is that number today? I would agree with the four William chose (Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and South Carolina) and add the following:
• ACC (0): Florida State fans are optimistic about Jimbo Fisher but not yet fully sold.
• Big East (1):Louisville (Charlie Strong). My sense is Syracuse fans need to see Doug Marrone follow up on last year's success before they buy in completely.
• Big Ten (3): Michigan State (Mark Dantonio), Nebraska (Bo Pelini) and Northwestern (Pat Fitzgerald). Iowa's Kirk Ferentz goes on and off this list every other year.
• Big 12 (4): Baylor (Art Briles), Kansas State (Bill Snyder), Missouri (Gary Pinkel), Oklahoma State (Mike Gundy). I do know some Missouri fans who still haven't embraced Pinkel. They are batty.
• Pac-12 (3): Oregon (Chip Kelly), Utah (Kyle Whittingham), Washington (Steve Sarkisian). Half the coaches in this conference are on the hot seat.
• SEC (3): Alabama (Nick Saban), Arkansas (Bobby Petrino), Auburn (Gene Chizik). LSU's Les Miles may have to win another national title to ever join this list.
• Notre Dame (0): Not yet, Brian Kelly.
All told, that's 18 fully content fan bases out of 67 schools (with Utah) , or 27 percent. The names have changed, but our collective mood remains about average.
I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the Georgia Tech situation. I'm a Tech grad and a huge fan. The 2009 ACC Championships is one of my best college football memories as a fan; I can't even imagine what it must have been like for those hardworking kids on that field. I also want to point out that I believe that wrongdoing ought to be punished and that there were clear problems here. That being said, punishing those kids from 2009 doesn't seem to fit the crime. -- Avi, St. Paul, Minn.
It's one of those NCAA no-win situations. People want the NCAA to do a better job of cracking down on the rule-breakers. They go ballistic whenever it appears a school gets off lightly. But when the Committee on Infractions issues scholarship reductions or bowl bans after the fact, we inevitably hear how unfair it is to the current players who weren't even there at the time. And of course when the committee imposes retroactive sanctions like Georgia Tech's, it's unfair to the guys who earned their trophy.
Ultimately, Georgia Tech has only itself to blame. All it had to do was sit Demaryius Thomas and Morgan Burnett until the NCAA could sort out their eligibility. Schools do this all the time. Tech was warned twice in the weeks before the title game. It's possible the Jackets might not have beaten Clemson without two of their best players, but they also wouldn't be on probation today. For whatever reason, certain school officials (most notably the university's attorney at the time, Randy Nordin) failed to follow the standard protocol in these situations. The lesson: If the NCAA comes calling, don't make your own judgment calls. Play it safe. And most of all, do what the NCAA says. By failing to do so, Georgia Tech failed all the kids who worked so hard for that trophy.
Please answer and post questions that do not include Ohio State and its scandal. A lot of us are sick and tired of you wasting our Wednesday reading with that stuff, we want a more rounded Mailbag please, sir.-- Casey, Dallas, Ga.
I couldn't agree more, which is why I put out a call on Twitter on Tuesday morning asking for questions about the other 119 FBS teams -- and as you're about to see, I got questions involving nearly all 119.
Stewart, Troy Calhoun is entering his fifth season at Air Force. He now has four straight seasons of eight-plus wins with bowl appearances, regained the Commander-in-Chief's trophy and has a veteran QB in Tim Jefferson. Now that Utah and BYU are out of the picture, is it now or never for Air Force to win the Mountain West despite TCU and new arrival Boise State?-- Pete S., Boston
No question, Calhoun has done some great things at the Academy, and Jefferson -- who is two wins away from breaking Dee Dowis' school record (22) -- really turned a corner last season to become a true dual-threat weapon. Air Force is still first and foremost an option team, but Jefferson is an effective, efficient passer. With a veteran running the offense and eight starters back from an already solid defense, this could be Calhoun's best team yet.
But as was the case for the legendary Fisher DeBerry before him, Calhoun's teams always seem to come up just short against the elite teams in the conference. Such is life for a service academy. DeBerry won one outright conference championship in 23 seasons, usually playing second fiddle to BYU in the old WAC. Calhoun, meanwhile, went 1-8 the past three years against TCU, Utah and BYU.
Air Force just does not have the same talent as teams like TCU and Boise State. It's hard to see the Falcons winning at Boise on Oct. 22, but they do get TCU with a new quarterback at home early in the season (Sept. 10) and San Diego State, which Air Force narrowly lost to last year, visits Colorado Springs as well (Oct. 13). Win those two and it could be a special year.
The stars are aligning for Texas A&M to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. The Longhorn Network-ESPN deal is bad for them, and the SEC has a clause to renegotiate their deal. The $10 million dollar question is who comes along -- Clemson, Virginia Tech, Louisville?-- John, Plantation, Fla.
Are we really going down this road again? Already?
I know many of you don't want to believe it because it ruins everyone's favorite college hot stove game, but conference alignment has stabilized for the foreseeable future. (Except in the WAC. The WAC may never be finished realigning.) Last year, when it looked like all hell was about to break loose with the Pac-10 possibly annexing nearly half the Big 12, A&M and Oklahoma did have serious discussions with the SEC. By all accounts, the SEC was ready to pull the trigger -- but only if the Big 12 was certain to implode. The SEC did not want to be the aggressor, and it has no motivation to be one now. If it wants more money from ESPN now that the Pac-12 has rendered the SEC's own two-year-old deal outdated, all it has to do is ask. It need not expand.
I certainly understand why A&M is peeved about the Longhorn Network. As I wrote last week, the implications for college football (and the Big 12 in particular) are extremely troubling. I'm sure its administration will explore options to counter it, and maybe that will include reaching back out to the SEC, but unless Oklahoma comes as part of the package, that call won't last very long. More realistically, either A&M looks into beefing up its own media distribution, as Oklahoma is already doing, or it teams with Oklahoma and the other remaining Big 12 schools to start some sort of joint collaboration as has been discussed in the past.
"...we're not finished."True or False: The Auburn investigation -- which even the common college football fan knows is far reaching well beyond Cam Newton -- will one day be viewed as the most significant and influential case in the history of the NCAA.-- Erik Olson, Los Gatos, Calif.
False. You may have heard about this school called SMU ...
Here's one for you. The Sun Belt is always mocked as the worst conference. It has a lack of bowl tie-ins and hardly picks up many big out-of-conference wins. My question is, would you still consider it to be the worst conference? What about the MAC? The Sun Belt took two out of the three bowl matchups last year and had more players drafted than the MAC the past two years as well.-- Jonathan, Troy, Ala.
Nice. We need more questions like this one.
You may be right that the Sun Belt has ascended to No. 10, something I would not have imagined possible back in the days when the MAC was churning out quarterbacks like Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger while the Sun Belt was sending its 5-6 champion (North Texas, 2001) to a bowl game. But let's look at some of the numbers over the past four years, courtesy of CollegeBCS.com.
• MAC vs. Sun Belt, regular season: 5-4
• MAC vs. Sun Belt, bowls: 2-3
• Bowl records: MAC (3-13), Sun Belt (5-3)
• Record vs. other FBS conferences: MAC (42-138, .233), Sun Belt (25-115, .179)
• Record vs. BCS conferences: MAC (17-108, .136), Sun Belt (7-88, .073)
It's a tough call. It seems like Sun Belt teams come to play during bowl season much more so than MAC teams -- including a 2-1 head-to-head record last season (Troy beat Ohio and FIU beat Toledo while Miami of Ohio beat Middle Tennessee) -- but I've never been one to read too much into bowl records. The MAC has been slightly more competitive during the regular season, most notably against BCS foes. Last season Northern Illinois beat Minnesota, Toledo beat Purdue and Temple beat eventual Big East champ Connecticut, while the Sun Belt went 0-fer-25 against its major foes.
So it seems to me the MAC remains slightly ahead. But remember, this entire conversation is largely moot because the WAC will automatically slip to the bottom after next year's mass exodus (unless sleeping giant UT-Arlington institutes a football program in the next three weeks).
As an MTSU alum, I've always felt like they could slowly move up the chain like Boise State has done. The school is right outside Nashville, in a football-crazy area with resources and one of the fastest growing counties in the country. What would the plan look like to for Middle Tennessee to become the TCU or Boise State of the 2020s?-- John, Nashville
It would probably involve moving out of the Sun Belt.
With Case Keenum back for a sixth year, a light schedule and a (hopefully) improved defense, what is your forecast for the Houston Cougars?-- Jeff, Houston
I think the stage is set for a potentially epic Conference USA title game come December between Keenum's Cougars and Jeff Godfrey's UCF Knights. Unless Southern Miss and SMU get there instead.
As for Houston, I remember talking to Kevin Sumlin two years ago after Houston's back-to-back upsets of Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. He was almost in disbelief, not over the fact that Keenum and the offense (under then-coordinator Dana Holgorsen) were putting up big numbers but because his defense had been able to hang against two high-powered Big 12 offenses while relying heavily on true freshmen on the defensive line and youth throughout the unit. Sure enough, a week later, they imploded and gave up 58 points to UTEP.
The defense again got off to a good start last season, but Houston's offense wasn't nearly as prolific after Keenum got hurt and the defense -- which switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under new coordinator Brian Stewart -- eventually gave out. But now all those talented freshmen from two years ago are into their third seasons. The starting lineup will be predominately juniors and seniors, including two juco transfers, Chevy Bennett and D.J. Hayden, potentially starting at cornerback. The Cougars have so much skill talent on offense with Keenum (provided he's healthy), running back Bryce Beall and receivers Patrick Edwards and Tyrone Carrier that if the defense can just become average (last year it was downright terrible), Houston should be able to replicate its 10-win 2009 season.
I noticed that you like the show The League on FX. Which character would you say you are most like?-- Scott Clark, Saint Johns, Mich.
Shoot, I'm not like any of them. If I were, my marriage would be off to a very rocky start. But that's why they're so fun to watch.
But hey, just like I did a few years back with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I challenge fans of The League to submit their college football equivalents for Pete, Kevin, Andre, Ruxin and of course, Taco. And if you have no idea what we're talking about -- enjoy.