The circus that is SEC Media Days began Wednesday in Hoover, Ala. A reported 900-plus media members have gathered for three days to play golf, gorge on barbecue and sit in a large hotel banquet room listening to 12 coaches stand behind a podium and talk about how "pleased we are with the guys' effort" and how "good we feel about our depth at that position."
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.
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
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.
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):
• 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.
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.
I couldn't agree more, which is why I
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.
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
I certainly understand why
False. You may have heard about this school called SMU ...
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).
It would probably involve moving out of the Sun Belt.
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.
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