Time to find a new mate for Mandy ... and be optimistic about Rutgers
Posted: Tuesday June 1, 2004 1:23PM; Updated: Thursday June 3, 2004 3:53PM
Before we get to this week's football topics, I feel compelled to address a huge news item from the past week. Normally, I wouldn't mention a competitor's story, but this is just too important.
In an interview with ESPN.com, the delectable Mandy Moore, still smarting from her failed relationship with tennis star Andy Roddick, declared, "The next guy I date will not be an athlete, will not be a celebrity. He'll just be a normal Joe."
If there's anything I've learned poring through my e-mails every week, it's that the Mailbag's audience is overflowing with normal Joes. (Actually, most of them aren't exactly "normal." But quite a few are named Joe.) Out of the goodness of my heart, I figured I would lend a hand to poor Mandy, who will obviously need all the help she can get meeting her next man. Therefore I'm hereby accepting dating applications from any of my single male readers who both feel they meet Ms. Moore's aforementioned criteria and feel they could learn to love a tall, gorgeous singer/actor who "grew up going to Gator football games, going to the Swamp." (In the same interview, she also discusses her childhood Penny Hardaway basketball shoes, to which the reporter responds, "Those shoes were tight!" And you guys thought my interview with Katrina was fluff?) These applications will then be forwarded to her agent/publicist/trainer/chef/anyone who will return my calls.
Finally, because I don't want to flood the obviously busy star with an avalanche of reading material, I will personally screen the candidates and send on only the very best ones. Mine, of course, will be included as well.
Now, on to the only topic that could possibly raise more interest among my readers than a picture of Mandy Moore: Rutgers football.
Could this be the year that Rutgers finally plays in a bowl game (and not one held in New Jersey)? The Scarlet Knights' schedule seems easy enough (no Virginia Tech or Miami) and they get Michigan State at home. Your thoughts?
At the risk of sounding like I've gone certifiably insane, having previously stated this could be Vanderbilt's year as well, my answer is -- yes! Most people thought Greg Schiano was nuts when he arrived in Jersey four years ago and initiated an aggressive effort to raise awareness of the Scarlet Knights (ads with Tony Soprano, billboards in South Florida, etc.). The feeling only intensified when his teams went 3-20 his first two seasons, including 0-14 in the Big East. But Rutgers' drastically improved recruiting under Schiano began to pay off last fall when the Scarlet Knights went 5-7, their best record in five years, which included a 48-27 thrashing of bowl-bound Navy and a season-ending 24-7 upset of Syracuse that gave them two conference wins. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Hart broke several school passing records, freshman running backs Brian Leonard and Justise Hairston emerged as potential stars and the defensive line came on strong.
In any other conference, Rutgers would still have a way to go, but in this year's Big East? Shoot, the conference has six bowl bids and there are only seven teams -- and one of those is Temple. I concur that the Scarlet Knights' schedule is favorable, but it will still be tough to reach six wins. The swing games will be at Vandy and the finale at home against Connecticut, which was 9-3 last year and is entering its first season in the conference.
Is everyone afraid to talk about how good Oklahoma is this year because they felt like they got burned last year? I mean, the Sooners are returning most of their offense and a lot of their defense.
Needless to say, this is our first known submission from Broken Arrow, and I must admit I didn't know it existed. So I did a little research and sure enough, Broken Arrow boasts a population of 81,900, fifth highest in the state, and is the former residence of the late Warren Spahn. Our congratulations go out to local fourth grader Malachi Keeter, whose flood awareness poster took second place in the Oklahoma Floodplain Managers Association contest.
As for Jarod's observation, I think there is some truth to it. Let's face it, if the Sooners had produced the same kind of offensive numbers and returned 10 starters, including the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, but had their two ugly losses come at the beginning of the season instead of the end, there's no question they'd be the No. 1 team in the nation heading into this season. While they'll still be in everyone's top five, they are some serious questions that are keeping pundits like myself from proclaiming their greatness (especially after we spent nearly the entire season doing so last year) -- such as: Which Jason White will show up, the one that torched defenses the first 12 games or the beat-up, burnt out version that struggled at the end? And how will OU's normally dominant defense cope with so many missing pieces -- not just the departed stars like Derrick Strait and Teddy Lehman, but fiery co-coordinator Mike Stoops? I don't think there's much question the defense didn't play with its usual intensity those last two games, and that can be traced directly to Stoops' absence. (Technically he was at the K-State game, but not really. His mind was already in Tucson.)
But Bo Pellini is a highly qualified replacement, and there's plenty of remaining talent in the form of D-linemen Dan Cody and Dusty Dvoracek, and safeties Brodney Pool and Donte Nicholson -- not to mention White, Mark Clayton and Co. on offense. Oklahoma will be very good once again, but you'll have to excuse us sportswriters if we're a little gun shy this time around.
Between Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, who do you think will end up coaching longer and why? Do either of these coaches still "coach" their team, or are they both figureheads now?
C'mon, John, disclose your location. What, are you on the run? Yours is a tough question because you never know what circumstances, good or bad, might arise for either Bowden or Paterno in the next few years. I know both are still highly eager and motivated, and don't think for a second that the I-A wins record isn't on both of their minds.
Paterno is still very much a hands-on coach, and many feel that's been part of his problem lately -- that perhaps he should be delegating more authority. Chances are that will be the case with new offensive coordinator Galen Hall. Bowden has been an admitted figurehead for years -- the self-proclaimed CEO of the football program -- whose duties are as much about p.r. as they are football. He still takes a particular interest in the offense, particularly the recruitment and development of his quarterbacks. There's no question he's very close with Chris Rix. But in terms of games and practices, he's mostly an observer, as seen in last year's Clemson game when a sideline reporter's question uncovered that he wasn't aware defensive lineman Darnell Dockett had been ejected.
I know Paterno just signed a four-year contract extension, but I'm going to have to give the edge to Bowden. For one, he's younger, by three years, and his program is in better shape. Though they've slipped a tad in recent years, the 'Noles are still winning conference titles and going to BCS bowls, whereas Penn State is just trying to get back to respectability. Bowden still has the overwhelming support of his team's fan base while Penn State faithful are very much split on Paterno. Both are going to leave on their own terms, but the writing is on the wall for Paterno more so than it is for Bowden.
Why is the ACC so gung-ho about getting a conference title game and the Big Ten so resistant? I know both arguments -- big bucks are a positive, while messing up undefeated teams' seasons (like what happened to Oklahoma) a supposed negative. But it seems to me the Big Ten is being a stick in the mud.
There are many reasons. For one, the Big Ten is much more steeped in tradition than the ACC when it comes to football. Can you imagine the uproar if the Big Ten tried to move Ohio State-Michigan to the first week of the season like the ACC did with Miami-Florida State? But mostly it's because there's no available 12th team that would make sense financially for the Big Ten. Going to 12 teams works for the ACC because two of the teams it added, Miami and Virginia Tech, greatly enhanced the profile of its conference. It was therefore able to garner a much more lucrative TV deal. But with the exception of Notre Dame, which the Big Ten would admittedly add in a heartbeat, there's no team in its geographic vicinity that would make the conference a more valuable TV property. Pittsburgh? That market is already covered with Penn State. Syracuse? Missouri? No one's bending over backward for them. If anything, the 12th team would just dilute the other teams' revenue shares, thus making the extra dough generated by the title game a wash.
College football is fantastic. But when guys start asking for fewer depictions of pretty girls, well, that's when I feel most alone on this big round ball called Earth. Katrina is always welcome in my browser. I commend you, sir.
Trust me, Kevin, you are not alone, as my e-mails this past week attested. And I'd like to think that if pictures of pretty girls eventually become my column's equivalent to Peter King's softball dispatches, the earth won't fall off its axis.
The Mailbag is taking a break for the next couple of weeks, but feel free to continue to send in your questions.