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Wilson's success could spark free- agent movement; more Mailbag

Later this week I will be following my wife -- the true breadwinner in our household -- to Silicon Valley, where she recently accepted a cushy new job, and where I will now be a Pac-12-based college football writer. No one will ever be able to accuse me of East Coast bias again, unless it's the reverse kind. (Damn you, Mandel. You never wake up early enough to watch the Syracuse-Rutgers game!)

I know. It's a lot to digest, especially on top of this week's Arrested Development bombshell. But those who know us well think we're a natural fit for Northern California -- you know, the opposite of Missouri joining the SEC.

After nearly eight years here, I will dearly miss my New York friends and my office co-workers. (Though fear not, Mandel Initiative listeners: Mallory Rubin and I will continue the podcast.) I'm excited for this new life, but never in a million years would I have guessed I'd one day hold a Santa Clara, Calif., mailing address.

Just like a certain former ACC quarterback had no idea a year ago he'd be relocating to Madison.

After seeing Russell Wilson dominate Nebraska this weekend, and considering Cam Newton was also a free agent last year, do you think it will become more common for schools to start heavily recruiting upperclassmen quarterbacks?-- Mike, Austin

Every coach who has a void at quarterback spends the offseason scouring for potential replacements; it's just that the pool is usually walk-ons and picked-over juco transfers. Newton was obviously a juco guy, but he was also a former five-star high school recruit who saw the field for a national championship Florida team. Even in that case, Auburn's coaches didn't know they were getting a future No. 1 draft pick. And Wilson became available under even more unusual circumstances: How often does a coach like N.C. State's Tom O'Brien willingly part with a talented three-year starter for non-disciplinary reasons? If Wilson hadn't been moonlighting as a second baseman, he never would have become a free agent.

But I do wonder whether Wilson's incredibly fruitful move may cause more qualified upperclassmen to start putting themselves on the market. I wasn't always a fan of the NCAA waiver that allowed Wilson to become immediately eligible. When Florida conveniently picked up Utah cornerback Ryan Smith in time for its 2006 BCS title run under the first year of the rule (before it was modified to be used on a case-by-case basis), the "rent-a-player" mentality did not feel very college-y. I came down hard on Ole Miss last year, and would again, for giving Jeremiah Masoli a landing spot following his suspension/dismissal from Oregon.

But after the Nebraska game, Bret Bielema offered a pretty reasoned defense of the practice. First, he pointed out that one of his own former players, running back Zach Brown, took advantage of the same rule this year. Buried behind Montee Ball and James White, Brown -- who got his degree last spring -- transferred to Pittsburgh, where he's the No. 2 tailback behind Ray Graham. In order to become a "free agent," one has to be a good student. In some distant idealistic world, that's what college sports is supposed to be about. So if a player like Wilson or Brown who feels he's stuck in the wrong program can be rewarded with a new opportunity by getting his degree, maybe that's a good thing.

And maybe a talented quarterback in a similar position watched Wilson play Saturday night and is now hitting the books to make himself available for next year's Auburn or Wisconsin.

Where do you think Tom O'Brien's decision to run off Russell Wilson ranks among the dumbest decisions in the history of college football?-- J.D. Bolick, Denver, N.C.

Believe it or not, I understand what he was doing. It certainly looks dumb right now, but the fact is Wilson had offered little indication as of last spring that he'd be back for football season. Facing a possibility that his next quarterback, Mike Glennon, might transfer if made to wait on Wilson's decision, O'Brien did what he thought was best for his program's future. Unfortunately his current team is so bad in almost every area, I'm not sure how much future O'Brien has left. Even had Wilson stayed, he wouldn't be putting up the numbers he is in Madison if surrounded by the Wolfpack's underwhelming skill players, and he'd obviously be of no help to their horrendous, injury-plagued defense.

It's good for college football that we get to see what Wilson can do with a strong supporting cast. It's not so great for N.C. State. However, I've received numerous e-mails and tweets from Wolfpack fans who say they're rooting for Wilson and the Badgers. They say he's a good kid very deserving of this shot.

The dumbest quarterback handling I've ever seen remains Dirk Koetter in 2006 naming Sam Keller his starting quarterback one day, then changing to Rudy Carpenter the next, after which Keller transferred to Nebraska and all three of their careers went down the toilet.

I'm a Buckeyes fan -- have been since I was born -- but I found myself today, beginning to read an article about the latest OSU/NCAA news conference, staring at a picture of Gene Smith and saying "Haven't we had enough of this guy?" I guess what I am saying is -- haven't we had enough of this guy?-- Jeff, Cleveland

I think everyone outside of Gordon Gee has had enough of Gene Smith. I understand his is not the only school with NCAA issues. I understand it's impossible to monitor every single booster and every single athlete 24/7. But Smith is at best completely naive about the extent of Ohio State's problems, and more realistically being disingenuous with the public, and perhaps even the NCAA, with his repeated insistence that the school has no "systemic" compliance issues. Just like Rick Neuheisel keeps telling us UCLA is close to turning things around.

First Smith stood there in December and said with a straight face that, after a cursory investigation, he was confident the Tatoo Five suspensions were an "isolated incident." It took my colleague George Dohrmann about 48 hours in Columbus last spring to find out that was hardly the case. Smith initially suspended Jim Tressel two games for an offense that anyone with the slightest understanding of NCAA infractions knew was a terminable offense. Then he once again assured us there was nothing more to see following OSU's infractions hearing in August, even though multiple credible media outlets have reported there was plenty more to see. And now, what do you know, there is.

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Quite frankly, I'm sick of Smith's condescending "nothing more to see here" approach and his stance that this is all just the work of a few rogue individuals. That's how the individuals who got USC placed on double-secret probation and forced the athletic department to undergo a complete makeover acted. As athletic director, it's Smith's job to show some semblance of control over his department. Whether or not the NCAA ever alleges failure to monitor or lack of institutional control at Ohio State, the department could desperately use a change of leadership.

I love reading your columns each week. Although I have to say, it may be time to retire your Upset Special this season, much like you retired the Mailbag Crush.-- Marc, Beirut, Lebanon

No question, I'm having an Oregon State-like season with the Upset Special (though I do have one more win than Mike Riley's club). But I'm not giving up. I've figured out where I'm going wrong. For one thing, I keep picking road teams. Never, ever pick road teams. I've also gone away from my Upset Special roots. I used to scour the weekend lineup for a completely off-the-radar game in which the home team was getting three points. This year it's been mostly high-profile games involving ranked teams. I'm going to go back to trying my hat with the Sun Belt.

As for the Mailbag Crush ... in honor of my move west, I'll unretire it for one week and once again give a nod to Pamela Adlon, one of the stars of ... Californication.

Certainly Michigan's defense isn't perfect, but no one has uttered a word about missed tackles this season, and some of the schemes have shown a lot of complexity. Also, turnovers are racking up. These are big steps up from the past years. Do you Michigan's D is for real or it will it be exposed in B1G play?-- Avi B., Austin, Texas

There's no question the Michigan defense has made significant strides this season, especially the past two games. If by "for real" you're asking if I think the Wolverines will still have a top five scoring defense come season's end ... no, I do not. This is still not a talent-laden defense and won't be for at least another year. There are not a lot of guys in that lineup who jump off the screen, though Mike Martin and Craig Roh are solid linemen, Jordan Kovacs is a classic overachiever linebacker and Kenny Demens has really embraced the middle linebacker role in Greg Mattison's defense.

Mattison is doing some nice stuff scheme-wise, but the biggest departure from the Greg Robinson era is that the players know what they're doing. In turn, they are making plays and forcing turnovers. They do have a ceiling, and as we saw in the Notre Dame game, good Big Ten receivers will likely do a number on Michigan's defensive backs. This week's game at Northwestern will be a nice litmus test, because Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa is certainly capable of shredding a secondary. But I do not expect a full-blown regression like we saw in past seasons. The defense will keep the Wolverines in most games, and at some point may even make a game-saving stop.

I noticed in the Michigan paragraph of your College Football Overtime column this week that you actually referenced the [name of Michigan's division]. Does this signal a change in your no-mention policy or was this merely a slip-up after an exhausting Saturday night?-- Gary Lillard, Le Grande, Ore.

The policy has and continues to apply only to the Mailbag. Hence, why I redacted something from your question. I can't make any such promise for other columns now that we're getting into conference play. It's hard to get away with: "Michigan will be able to contend in Michigan's division."

Clemson is 5-0 with three quality wins and is ranked No. 8 in both polls. Is it time to rename Ole Miss/Clemson Syndrome? I have a suggestion for a school to replace Clemson: Texas A&M. For months, I've been listening to deluded Aggie fans talk about how they BELONG in the SEC. The Ags have their best team in years and are now 2-2 after two huge second-half meltdowns.-- Jaime, Austin

Maybe it's been lost in translation over the years, but Ole Miss/Clemson Syndrome (and Auburn/Clemson Syndrome before that) is not a reflection of on-field performance. It was named such to describe fan bases with unrealistic expectations relative to their history. It should be noted, however, that I did remove Clemson from the title once before in acknowledgment that the Tigers stuck with Tommy Bowden well past when most fan bases would have. And then I promptly forgot about it.

But as luck would have it, the school that you, the fans, overwhelmingly nominated to replace Clemson back in 2009 was none other than ... Texas A&M. And I'd imagine recent developments have only reinforced that perception.

Besides Western Michigan's Jordan White, what other players at mid-major schools are having great seasons and flying under the radar of college football fans?-- Andrew B, Warren, Mich.

Well first we should tell people who Jordan White is. He currently ranks second nationally in receptions (43) and fifth in receiving yards (137.3 per game), most recently catching 12 balls for 173 yards and two touchdown in a win at Connecticut. It marked his third straight game with at least a dozen catches. He's a machine.

Elsewhere, I recently took note of Colorado State sophomore defensive end Nordly Capi, who leads the nation in both sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (five). According to CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman, he's also a former high school water polo player. So, he's pretty athletic. Let's also give a nod to Air Force linebacker Brady Amack, who had a staggering 23 tackles in the Falcons' win over Navy last week, earning Walter Camp defensive player of the week honors. Houston's Sammy Brown is leading the nation in tackles for loss (11.5). And I continue to be impressed with SMU running back Zach Line, who opened the season with 128 yards against Texas A&M and had 120 in last week's upset of TCU.

You referenced in last week's Mailbag that Tyrone Willingham left the cupboard empty at Washington. It is NOW widely accepted that he is a failure on the recruiting scene. However, when he left Notre Dame and Charlie Weis with subpar athletes and many holes in certain positions, it was widely viewed as a Charlie Weis-coaching issue. Can you think back to any other programs where a departing coach set them up for failure, but it wasn't realized until years down the road?-- Todd, Chicago

It happens more often than you'd think, and it's happening right now at Auburn. When Nick Saban came to Alabama in 2007, he kicked Tommy Tuberville's tail in recruiting during the latter's last two seasons, and it's coming back to haunt the Tigers now. While Tuberville recruited most of the upperclass starters for last year's championship team (much like Willingham recruited Brady Quinn and other stars for Weis' two BCS bowl teams), the inordinate number of washouts from his last two classes left a significant void in Auburn's current junior and senior classes, and we're seeing the effect with an inexperienced, oft-torched defense. Gene Chizik's recruits will help upgrade the unit (which may have had a breakthrough last week against South Carolina), but they need time to mature.

Meanwhile, as if Al Golden doesn't have enough problems to deal with already, he too will have a lot of holes to fill next year after the last of Randy Shannon's elite classes (2008) graduates. Shannon's recruiting tailed off drastically in his last two seasons. And while I'm not sure whether to blame coach or athletic director for this one, Gene DiFilippo's well-intentioned but risky decision to fire Jeff Jagodzinski in January 2009 when he interviewed for an NFL job is costing Boston College dearly today. While Frank Spaziani is the easy target to blame for the Eagles' downward spiral (they're 1-4 so far this year), a team can't go through three coaches in four years and not have it affect recruiting.

I was really hoping to see some sort of recognition in College Football Overtime for Duke having won three straight. They haven't all been pretty, or the highest level of competition, but it still represents a big step forward for the program.-- Mat Snyder, Wimington, N.C.

The three straight wins Mat refers to were against Boston College, Tulane and FIU, and considering how much praise I heaped on T.Y. Hilton and the boys earlier this season, you're right, I probably should have lent a nod to the Blue Devils, now 3-2. But I also can't say I'm surprised. Duke has been much more competitive under David Cutcliffe, though it fell back from 5-7 in 2009 to 3-9 last season. Quarterback Sean Renfree struggled in his first year starting but is having a nice season so far, including a 335-yard day against FIU. Now let's see if he can keep it up against some meatier ACC competition. Following this week's bye, the Blue Devils play Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Miami.

Apparently, there is no rule that can be used to change the injustice of Toledo/Syracuse. Maybe Syracuse should look to the 1940 Cornell-Dartmouth game, where the Cornell president [Edmund Ezra Day] conceded the game to Dartmouth because Cornell's winning score was made on an illegal fifth down. Cornell was undefeated and in the national title hunt at the time. Thoughts?-- Chris, Palmetto, Fla.

You're asking university presidents to return to a day when they acted in an honorable and collegial manner.If you put the current Syracuse president in the shoes of the 1940 Cornell president, she'd probably be secretly wooing Rice to the Ivy League to get into the Houston radio market.