Coming to a sideline near you ...
In this week's Mailbag, meet CBS' replacement for Jill Arrington
Posted: Wednesday August 18, 2004 12:47PM; Updated: Wednesday August 18, 2004 12:49PM
It seems I've created a monster. Having become accustomed to the likes of Mandy Moore and Katrina Campins gracing the Mailbag, many loyal readers have written in with the same complaint: Dude, what happened to the women?
Thing is, to keep y'all entertained during the dead of the offseason, it was acceptable to lower our journalistic standards from time to time. Now that the season is here, I really should be sticking to football.
So, naturally, I went out and found a story of legitimate football interest that just happens to involve a striking beauty.
As you may have heard, CBS' famed sideline reporter Jill Arrington, a fixture on the network's SEC game of the week the past three seasons, has moved on to ESPN, which, I think most of us would agree, is not necessarily a bad thing. Replacing Arrington is petite brunette Tracy Wolfson, 29, a rising star at the network whom you may have seen at a handful of SEC games last season or during this past NCAA basketball tournament. Seeing as Wolfson will be playing such a prominent role in many of your football viewing experiences this fall, I took it upon myself to conduct a little introductory Q&A for your benefit.
Man, I have a tough job.
SI.com: So, who has the tougher act to follow in the SEC this season, the guy replacing Eli Manning, or you?
Wolfson: That's a tough one. Whoever replaces Eli is going to be under a lot of scrutiny, but I know the legacy Jill has in the SEC, which I saw first-hand last year at the LSU-Arkansas game. There were guys in the front row with their shirts off and her name spelled on their chests. Guys in the crowd kept asking me, "Where's the blonde girl?" I'm sure I'll get that the first two or three weeks, but hopefully I'll make a name for myself.
SI.com: Jill once infamously confused Georgia star David Pollack's name with a certain ethnic slur. Have you had any embarrassing moments?
Wolfson: I was doing a taped interview with Casey Clausen that was to be aired during halftime of the next game. I let him go after just one question, then suddenly I hear in my ear, "We need him back! We need him back!" I bolted after him, screaming "Casey, Casey, come back here!" I'm a little girl, and the sight of me chasing after this player -- the crew said it will definitely go down in infamy.
SI.com: Among the events you've covered for CBS are two rodeos and American Le Mans Series races. How will those experiences prepare you for being in the Swamp or Death Valley on a Saturday night?
Wolfson: Nothing can compare to an SEC football environment. I went to Michigan, and even that doesn't compare. I love doing rodeo, though. Those are some tough athletes.
SI.com: Being part of the SEC community, are you now obligated to turn in one of your neighbors for cheating?
Wolfson: (Laughs) No comment.
SI.com: You went to Michigan from 1993-97, about the same time I was at Northwestern. How does it feel to be one of the only students in school history to graduate without seeing Michigan beat Northwestern?
Wolfson: I can't explain that one. But we did win the national title the next year.
SI.com: Good point.
Wolfson: Plus, beating Ohio State is a lot more important than beating Northwestern.
SI.com: OK, OK. Give us your predictions for the SEC this season.
Wolfson: I'm going to have to go with LSU again. This is Florida's year, too, the Gators have something to prove under Ron Zook, and it will be interesting to see what Chris Leak can do. But I'm still going to go with Nick Saban.
SI.com: Fair enough. What's your first game?
Wolfson: Florida at Tennessee, under the lights, prime time. I can't wait.
There, now everyone's happy. Except, of course, for the USC fans who read last week's Mike Williams Mailbag. Moving on. ...
Could you compile a top-10 list of players a) who have been in school forever or b) who, perhaps through no fault of their own, seem like they've been in school forever but are actually just four-year starters? I'd like to nominate Cincinnati's Gino Guidugli for consideration.
D.C., you've hit on one of my favorite pastimes, though it's slightly more applicable in college basketball, where anyone who's stayed in school longer than two years is now considered an old-timer. Ah, but there's been some good ones in football over the years, too -- Carson Palmer, John Navarre, Darrell Bevell. My top-10 list for this year:
1) Jason White, Oklahoma: Obvious reasons.
2) Bobby Purify, Colorado: He ran for 154 yards in that 62-36 rout of Nebraska -- a game which, if you're a Colorado fan, must seem like decades ago by now.
3) C.J. Leak, Tennessee: A sixth-year guy who saw his most action way back in his first year -- 1999.
4) Timmy Chang, Hawaii: An 11 p.m. ET ESPN2 mainstay practically since the network started.
5) Jon Beutjer, Illinois: A four-year starter -- only the first year was back in 2000 ... at Iowa.
6) Matt Jones, Arkansas: He played in that seven-overtime game against Ole Miss. Enough said.
7) Chris Rix, Florida State: I'd say we've watched him grow up before our eyes, but ...
8) Guidugli: I think that guy's been playing for Cincinnati since he was in diapers.
9) Marlin Jackson, Michigan: Wasn't he supposed to turn pro two years ago?
10) Cedric Benson, Texas: Since no one ever turns pro early at Texas, the Longhorns have one of these every year (Roy Williams, Chris Simms, Major Applewhite ...)
It seems that ever since the BCS shunned 12-2 BYU in 2001, the Cougars have fallen from being one of the more stable teams in the nation to a miserable team to watch. Can we blame the BCS for keeping good schools like BYU down?
While I have no good explanation to offer as to BYU's demise, I do know the BCS is the wrong culprit. There's this notion that the BCS has widened the gap between the haves and have-nots. Financially, maybe, but competitively, the gap always has been there, and in fact, the playing field has never been more level thanks to the 85-scholarship limit. The Cougars' rival, Utah, for example, is no more or less affected by the BCS than BYU, and it's flourishing right now.
I will say this. Not to take anything away from BYU's past accomplishments, but one of the consequences of a more level playing field is that its competition is a lot tougher. For years, BYU was one of the only teams in its region that made a real commitment to football. Today, Colorado State, Utah, New Mexico, even UNLV are better-funded programs with top-notch coaches. It's not as easy for the Cougars to be dominant.
I would like to know your preseason predictions of the five most dominating defenses, all conferences included. -- Michael, Shreveport, La.
What's up with everyone wanting lists this week? Well, all right ...
1) USC -- The deepest and most athletic unit this side of the Green Bay Packers.
2) Georgia -- Brian VanGorder is one of the best coordinators around.
3) LSU -- A couple of stars moved on, but Corey Webster and Marcus Spears aren't shabby.
4) Iowa -- You'd be hard-pressed to find more experience through all 11 positions.
5) Miami -- The line will be unbelievable, and the secondary is always among the best.
How can offensive linemen get more of the credit they deserve for the yards gained and points scored by their incredibly important and hidden efforts? Every time I hear how great the quarterback or running back is, I wonder just how much it's the big men protecting them or plowing the way? It doesn't seem fair or accurate to leave them out of the stats.
I agree. In fact, sometimes the only way one of the big uglies gets recognized is if he gives up a sack or commits a holding penalty. The coaches notice, however, and usually assign a grade after each game based on what percentage of the plays he successfully contained a block. For instance, Shawn Andrews, Arkansas' All-America tackle last season, "graded out" at 90 percent or better in nearly every game. It would be nice if this stat became more widely recognized.
At the beginning of each of the past four or five seasons of Miami Hurricanes football, I have been able to look at the roster and pick out at least four guys that I felt were going to be guaranteed first-rounders in the following NFL Draft. This year, I can only see one or possibly two. Does this signify the end, or at least the decline, of a remarkable run in the NCAA?
I've got four for you: cornerback Antrel Rolle, offensive lineman Eric Winston, defensive lineman Orien Harris and tight end Kevin Everett. Also not out of the realm of possibility: Frank Gore, if he can return to pre-injury form. Admittedly, though, this Miami team has the least "star power" entering a season than any one since the probation era. If it does indeed turn out to be the "end of an era," keep in mind that any program in the country would be hard-pressed to maintain that kind of run (46-4 since 2000).
I was wondering what your take is on the situation with Jeremy Bloom at Colorado. Specifically, given that you have been very vocal about Mike Williams and his NCAA appeal, how does (if at all) the Bloom situation differ from Williams? Why (or why not) should he be allowed to play given that he has accepted money (a la Williams)?
The Bloom situation basically came down to the letter of the law vs. common sense. The rule, taken literally, says a player cannot accept endorsement money of any kind, making Bloom ineligible. But Bloom and Colorado were hoping the NCAA would exercise a little common sense and take into consideration the fact that the endorsement money was in no way related to his fame as a football player, and, since you don't sign pro contracts in skiing, was really no different than Cedric Benson or Chris Weinke accepting money to play professional baseball -- perfectly acceptable.
The NCAA chose to stick to the literal definition, however, which doesn't bode well for Williams. USC's reinstatement effort on behalf of the receiver is based on a similar theme -- common sense says the kid got screwed over by the courts and the NFL, and therefore shouldn't be penalized for his dealings with an agent, etc. But if anything, Williams' "crimes" were a far more blatant violation of his amateurism than Bloom's, considering he, at least for a brief time, was a professional athlete in the same sport he desires to play in college -- not skiing. I'll say this much: If the NCAA reinstates Williams after having ruled against Bloom, Bloom ought to sue them for every dollar in Myles Brand's stable and take it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, because that would be one of the most selective interpretation of a set of rules since Sebastian Janikowski was at Florida State.
That's all for this week. I apologize if this was a substandard Mailbag, but hey, look at it this way: It could be worse. You could be watching the Olympics.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.