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LSU-Alabama rematch talk silly and presumptuous; more Mailbag

Saban would be pretty ticked about this week's Mailbag.

Stewart, Does the dynamic of this year's SEC remind you of the Big Ten in 2006? The Big Ten was arguably the best conference in the country from 2002-2005, but in 2006, Ohio State and Michigan became the clear national favorites before the calendar turned to October. The country became so excited about their anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup that it ignored what had become a relatively weak Big Ten conference. It seems to me that the SEC is having a similar down year in 2011, but nobody is talking about it because Alabama and LSU are so incredibly good.-- Adam B., Cleveland, Ohio

Stewart, a few years ago everyone said that Georgia couldn't go to the national championship because it didn't even win its division, much less the conference. Georgia finished third, and Ohio State got blown out by LSU. It is possible that Georgia was a better team than Ohio State. This year, if the LSU-Alabama loser wins out, and every other team has one loss, are you willing to stick by the rule that you have to win your division/conference and say they shouldn't get to have a rematch?-- Steve, Dallas

The LSU-Alabama buildup reminds me very much of that 2006 Ohio State-Michigan storyline, both because fans and media (myself included) already seem so united in their belief that these are the two best teams and because I'm already getting pre-emptive rematch questions, just like I was well before that OSU-Michigan game. However, there are also some notable differences.

While the Big Ten may have been stronger in the years before that '06 season, it had not produced five consecutive BCS champions, which is unquestionably the biggest factor driving our LSU-Alabama obsession. Meanwhile, a big reason OSU and Michigan jumped so far ahead of the pack in the public's eye that year was because there was no equivalent to 2011 Oklahoma -- or Wisconsin, Boise State and Stanford, for that matter. Looking back at the first BCS standings from '06, the chief competitors to OSU and Michigan were a USC team that had struggled on offense and would eventually be exposed; a one-loss Auburn team; a one-loss Florida team; and a trio of undefeated Big East teams, West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers. This year's field of challengers inspires a lot more confidence.

All of which explains why the presumptuous rematch talk is just plain silly. The '06 season taught us a long-lasting lesson. The OSU-Michigan rematch came awfully close to happening. The Wolverines were No. 3 going into Championship Saturday, and No. 2 USC lost. If not for the voters' 11th-hour elevation of Florida, we never would have found out that the Buckeyes were in fact mortal, which is worth remembering this year. Nobody, including poll voters, truly knows who the two best teams are. Five straight BCS titles for SEC teams or not, 'Bama and LSU are enjoying the luxury of beating up on an unusually high number of bad SEC teams this year, and some team from another conference -- be it Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Boise, Stanford or Clemson -- will deserve the same shot Florida got in '06 to prove our assumptions wrong.

The Pac-12 (your new friendly neighborhood conference) is squarely behind the eight-ball in the new BCS standings, where undefeated Stanford is eighth. So I have to ask, why would the league add two schools that are pretty much dead weight (Colorado and Utah) only to refuse to consider a pair of schools (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) that control which conference will be cashing a BCS title game check?-- Scott, New York

Football-wise, I do think the Pac-12 could use another marquee program like Oklahoma. USC (traditionally) and Oregon (more recently) are its only real national powers, and the Trojans could be off the map for the next several years once scholarship reductions kick in. Stanford is enjoying a golden period right now with Andrew Luck, but it's unrealistic to think it will stay at that level over a longer period. Other teams like Washington may rise, while another like Cal has fallen. In general, however, there are really only two Pac-12 programs that fans from other parts of the country will tune in to see on a year-in, year-out basis. Contrast that to the Big Ten, which has at least five programs that fit that category (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin), or the SEC (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn and sometimes Georgia or Tennessee).

Having said that, Larry Scott added Colorado and Utah at a time when he was positioning the league for a new television contract that wound up netting $3 billion over 12 years. That's $250 million a year, guaranteed regardless of the quality of the teams (which will fluctuate) or the ratings. By comparison, a second BCS berth in a given season -- the main effect of adding a marquee program like Oklahoma -- is worth a mere $6 million. In other words, program strength is not a driving factor in expansion. At the time the Oklahoma/Oklahoma State decision was made last month, the Pac-12 was in a position where it could be pickier than it was a year earlier. The more unwieldy divisional structure of a 14-team league and reservations about the Oklahoma schools' geographic fit and academic reputations apparently outweighed the possible BCS windfall.

Stewart, I was at the Florida-Auburn game and then watched the replay. I felt Will Muschamp's meltdown reaction to the questionable no-call on Chris Rainey's fumbled punt return in the first quarter seriously impacted the team's mental focus. Morale and intensity spiraled downward afterward. If you were a Gator fan would you be worried about the precedent this may set for the future?-- Bart Prorok, Auburn

Florida has a lot of issues right now, so I can't possibly gauge whether the muffed punts and inept offense had anything to do with Muschamp's rant. I will say, however, that I've rarely seen an instance where a head coach berating the referees positively impacted his team. Just ask Mike Stoops or Bo Pelini. Unlike basketball, a game filled with subjective, influential calls, it's nearly impossible to sway officiating in your favor in football.

To this point, Muschamp has only intensified the reservations I've had since day one about Florida's hire. Yelling and screaming is fine if you're an assistant, but most head coaches are more polished for a reason: They set the tone for their entire team. It's OK to get animated, but I fail to see how ranting and raving like a lunatic helps your team in any discernible way.

Stewart, you might want to take another look at the facts before calling Todd Grantham buffoonish. Vandy head Coach James Franklin was in the process of confronting Georgia player Shawn Williams in an awfully aggressive fashion when Grantham intervened in defense of his player. Franklin deserved to have his rear-end handed to him for going after Williams.-- Dan, Athens, Ga.

Boy did I feel the wrath of Bulldogs fans this week for the Grantham/buffonish comment. They're right, I should have mentioned Franklin's role in inciting Grantham to begin with, but Grantham's response was still ridiculous. How can we expect 18- to 22-year-olds to be sportsmanlike if the adults in charge of them act like teenagers in a high school parking lot?

Doesn't it feel like Virginia Tech is realizing its traditional ACC destiny: Regroup after a crushing/embarrassing loss (usually, bizarrely, suffered in Lane Stadium), jell as the season matures, leave its flaky divisional rivals behind, take a bus to Charlotte (where it won't lose to Clemson twice just like it never lost to BC twice), claim the conference ... and then blow its bowl game?-- Thaddeus Riddle, Forks of Buffalo, Va.

First of all, congrats to you, sir, on hailing from the coolest hometown name in Mailbag history.

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I'm not ready to fully jump back on the Hokies' bandwagon, as we're only a couple games removed from that three-point showing against Clemson (which hasn't shut down an opponent to that degree in any other game). But it does look like Logan Thomas and Co. have turned the corner. I was definitely skeptical of Frank Beamer when he insisted after the Clemson loss that the offense would be just fine, but it seems he was right. Thomas will probably continue to be up-and-down, but when he's up, wow.

Looking at Virginia Tech's remaining schedule, I'd be surprised if the Hokies didn't wind up back in Charlotte. Their only viable competitor in the ACC Coastal (Note: I triple-checked this time after mixing up the division names for the 242nd time in College Football Overtime this week) is Georgia Tech. I'm not writing off the Jackets after one poor showing at Virginia, but Virginia Tech gets the all-important extra time (12 days) to prepare for the option. The Hokies will be favored in every other game. That said, I'm not yet ready to assume revenge against Clemson when the Tigers are 7-0 and have yet to show any sign of slowing down, particularly on offense.

Congrats on picking Virginia beating Georgia Tech for an upset, but being off by one point is completely unforgivable.-- Justin, Rittman, Ohio

I had to chuckle when I saw the final score. It's one thing to pick winners, but I don't pretend to have any methodology in choosing the scores (other than the margin). Once in a blue moon I look smart.

You do not have a clue about Michigan football. You have been picking against the Wolverines all season and you have been wrong. You will be wrong again when Michigan shreds the MSU defense.-- Mike, Lansing, Mich.

Or twice.

Now that the NCAA has issued its statement, I just want to know when you and the national sports media makes a collective apology to Cam Newton and Auburn University for the ongoing character assassination you've put on him for the past year? It was despicable.-- Rich Donnell, Montgomery, Ala.

Sorry Rich, I am not a spokesperson for the collective media. I can only speak for myself, and in doing so, I find it curious why you'd address this complaint to me. I felt I was pretty restrained throughout the Newton affair, particularly in the weeks leading up to the Heisman ceremony, continually reiterating that whatever suspicions I had (and I think any neutral observer would agree there was and continues to be plenty of room for suspicion), I would not penalize a deserving player without hard evidence of his wrongdoing. It would have been irresponsible as a journalist to ignore the controversy altogether, which I did not, but I would invite you to comb through my archives and try to find an instance where I accused Auburn of paying for Newton, or said that the Tigers' BCS title would one day be vacated.

Unfortunately, many of my colleagues did just that. They're obviously entitled to their opinions, and regardless of what the NCAA did or didn't prove, they're certainly entitled to continued suspicions until the end of time. It's not like the innuendo happened in a vacuum. Cecil Newton did solicit a huge amount of money from a school recruiting his son. But I would agree that several columnists and bloggers with large audiences and influence took the next step and wrote things about Auburn that, without the level of proof we usually require as journalists, should never have left the message-board realm.

With the announced merger between the Mountain West and Conference USA, you should hold a contest for your readers to submit a name for the new conference.-- Ken Kosyk, Tampa

Done. The floor is open. My nomination: the Frequent Flyer Miles Conference.

When I see a headline like "Unbeaten K-State makes big jump in new AP poll," why should I even care? It's not like the poll factors into the BCS anymore. I'm wondering what value the AP poll provides at this point. Thanks!-- Nick Sweers, Seattle, Wash.

The AP poll certainly loses much of its clout once the first BCS standings of the season come out, since those ultimately take precedent over everything else. While the AP does crown its own champion, the chances of another split title like in 2003 are remote now that the BCS formula is two-thirds poll-based.

But I would argue the AP poll still matters for several reasons. For one, it is ubiquitous. Because most media entities are AP subscribers, they still use the AP rankings when mentioning teams in stories, box scores, even the ESPN ticker. For that reason, it also sets the template that the Coaches' and Harris polls (the latter of which was created to essentially mimic the AP poll) then follow. And lastly, its voter roster on the whole is far more knowledgeable and dedicated than the coaches (who have bigger things to worry about on Sunday morning) or the non-media Harris voters (some of whom spend Saturdays on the golf course).

I've long contended that if the BCS really wanted the most qualified voter base possible, it would use the Las Vegas oddsmakers. But that would create some sticky situations.

You are supposed to be a football pundit. Some pundit to say Virginia Tech is in the Atlantic Division. Is it any wonder you can't get it right. I don't think you have done any take on them since Michael Vick, and they have won four ACC championships. Now I get you sports casters...

What a go Northwestern!!!!! You get your great quarterback back and have a lousy season on top of that ... some alma mater you have there!-- E Schuyler, Alexandria, Va.

I apologize again for the division mistake. Now I hope you'll apologize for wasting three minutes of my life trying to decipher the rest.

Given the recent admission (and later retraction) by Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo of ESPN's apparent involvement in neutering the Big East, wouldn't other television networks and other football conferences begin to be concerned that ESPN is monopolizing college football? Wouldn't other schools be concerned that such an interest could be detrimental to their program if they are found to be on the wrong side of ESPN?-- Scott Sinsel, Atlanta

I've spoken to people at ESPN, who obviously vehemently deny DeFilippo's insinuation. I've spoken to others with knowledge of these types of talks, and of course I'm not naive enough to think DeFilippo's retraction means there was no truth to what he said initially. However, by "told us what to do," I don't believe he meant ESPN literally told the ACC to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse. For one thing, it doesn't help ESPN in any discernible way (it has to reopen the ACC contract now and give the league more money, while its most valuable basketball property, the Big East tournament, loses significant value). For another, the school ESPN would be most likely to push for is UConn, its home-state school and the team for which the cable channel was originally founded. In the same interview, DeFillippo said he (not ESPN) blocked UConn's inclusion.

But make no mistake, ESPN is involved either causally or formally in every decision made by any conference with which it has a relationship. What DeFillippo more likely meant was that the conference went to the network and told it what it was considering, and the network gave the league a ballpark of what those additions would be worth. These kinds of conversations take place behind the scenes constantly. We're past the point of concerns about ESPN's monopolization of college football; it's an unstoppable giant at this point. NBC was very close to getting the new Pac-12 deal, so what did ESPN do? It teamed up with FOX to outbid NBC. It continues unabashedly with the Longhorn Network despite the fact that it became such a lightning rod it nearly broke up a conference. And heaven help any party that dares to cross it. Ask the Mountain West what life is like without an ESPN contract. Ask Mike Leach how the network can help ruin a coach's career. Like it or not, ESPN unofficially runs college football at this point and will continue to until a viable competitor emerges.

West Virginia overrated? You are crazy. Call us overrated when we are 11-1. By the way, you are overrated.-- Ben Burton, Holgersonville, W. Va.

I'm a little bit overrated in the polls right now, but the computers love me.