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Stewart Mandel

Return to civilization

It's game week! Time to talk Vols QBs, Sooners D ... and Angelina Jolie

Posted: Tuesday August 24, 2004 1:14PM; Updated: Tuesday August 24, 2004 1:44PM

Holy schnikes, there's a game this weekend. I guess I'm going to have to start doing some actual work.

Truth is, for the past eight months I've been lounging on a remote Caribbean island drinking Mai Tais and doing crossword puzzles. Once a week, one of the natives delivers a FedEx package containing my latest Mailbag questions to my beach chair. I record my answers on a mini-cassette, which I then send back to's office for some poor intern to transcribe. Any column in which I predicted something that fails to pan out this season, it's probably because the intern screwed up the transcription.

This week I'll pack up my few belongings, charter a sailboat back to the mainland and catch a flight to Washington D.C. for the USC-Virginia Tech game. At which point, presumably, I'll wake up.

  Brent Schaeffer, Jim Bob Cooter and Erik Ainge
Tennessee QBs (from left) Brent Schaeffer, Jim Bob Cooter and Erik Ainge run through drills in fall camp.

Phillip Fulmer has promoted freshman QBs Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge to Co-No. 1 status, meaning that for the first time in my 25 years of existence, Tennessee will have a true freshman under center for the first game of the season. Historically, how have true freshmen QBs performed in college football?
 --Dan Kilday, Knoxville, Tenn.

First of all, that was one of the more surprising announcements I've heard in awhile. I knew the Vols' coaches didn't have much faith in sixth-year senior C.J. Leak (man, that poor guy can't catch a break), but I figured he'd at least start the season under center with perhaps one of the freshmen emerging by the end of the year. Apparently, Fulmer has a lot of faith in these freshmen, and, after watching some scrimmage highlights of the fleet-footed Schaeffer in particular, I can see why.

I can only speak for recent history, but the track record of true freshmen QBs is pretty good, mostly because the kid is usually a pretty rare talent if the coach has enough faith to trot him out there. Case in point: N.C. State's Philip Rivers, who started all 11 games as a freshman and threw for 3,054 yards. Other good examples: Tennessee's Peyton Manning and Casey Clausen; UCLA's Cade McNown; and last year, Florida's Chris Leak, Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball and Houston's Kevin Kolb. That said, I would expect plenty of rough patches, growing pains and other moments where you just want to wring the guy's neck, because he is, after all, a true freshman.

You left Oklahoma out of your list of top five defenses. Yet, they return a healthy number of starters from one of the top defensive units one year ago and their "replacements" have plenty of experience. Where do they shape up against the rest of the country?
--J.P., Houston

Stewart Mandel will answer questions from readers each week in his mailbag.
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The Sooners were the last team left off the list. It's funny, for four years now Oklahoma has been synonymous with dominant defenses, yet going into this season, all of its biggest questions are on that side of the ball, especially, how will they perform without fiery co-coordinator Mike Stoops? Let's face it, though they finished third in the country in total defense last year, the unit wasn't exactly superhuman those last two games, which just happened to coincide with when Stoops interviewed for and accepted the Arizona job. Also, while OU does return plenty of All-America-type players (linemen Dan Cody and Dusty Dvoracek, linebacker Lance Mitchell, safety Donte Nicholson), it always hurts to lose two right up the middle -- DT Tommie Harris and LB Teddy Lehman. Look for early-season opponents to test them by attacking right up the gut.

I'm confused about something. In listing your top-five defenses in the nation last week, you said that USC had "the deepest and most athletic unit this side of the Green Bay Packers." It's confusing because the Packers are such a poor example; they hardly have a great defense. Can you explain? --Chris Bellamy, Salt Lake City

Yes I can. Approximate number of hours spent watching or researching college football last season: 1,000. Approximate number of hours spent watching or researching the NFL: Seven. Approximate amount of thought put into that Packers reference before publishing: 17 seconds. Approximate amount of people who noticed: 1.

How much of a gamble is Marshall University (my wife's alma mater) and coach Bob Pruett taking in the rather serious non-conference games they keep lining up? On one hand, it's more exposure to a national audience, which is great for income and recruiting, but don't they also run the risk of additional injuries and a higher number of losses? Granted, they beat Kansas State and made a good showing against Tennessee last year, but they've got to face Ohio State and Georgia in back-to-back weekends early this fall, for goodness' sake.
 --David Carnes, Tallahassee, Fla.

That's a tall order, no doubt about it. But imagine if they manage to win one of them? Why not go for it? Let's face it, the damage isn't exactly the same for Marshall if it loses two early-season games as, say, Florida State, whose national title hopes would be shot. Fact is, if the Herd lose those two games but turn around and win the MAC, they're probably going to the same bowl (Motor City or GMAC) as they would if they beat up on three non-conference patsies. At least this way, if they do pull off an upset and then run the table, they wouldn't have nearly the same problem as their predecessors in securing a BCS berth.

Do you think that Michigan has what it takes to get to the national championship game this year and win it all? 
 --Dean, Michigan

No, not really.

Stewart, my buddies from college and I call it the Brooks Bollinger Memorial Award, and this year, it's coming home to Camp Randall Stadium. Anthony Davis is the hands-down winner of staying in school for seemingly forever.
 --Jeremiah, New York

I am so ticked off at myself right now for not having included Bollinger as a textbook example of the guy who stayed in school for eight years. Davis is a solid candidate for this year and could easily have made the list, as are several others who I either didn't have room for in the top 10 or have been brought to my attention since: Xavier Beitia, Brock Berlin, Darian Durant, Richie Incognito (who, somehow, is only a junior), Barrett Ruud, Carnell Williams, David Greene, David Pollack, Fred Gibson and, finally, the absolute, should-have-been-No. 1-last-week ultimate: Albert Means.

I have to tell you that I take your word over any other college football guru out there, so I've got to ask ... Do my Hokies have a chance against USC?
 --Patricia Harris, Charleston, S.C.

Of course they do. But it's not a very good one. The Trojans aren't without question marks (Matt Leinart's tired arm, the depleted receiving corps, etc.), but I'd feel a lot better about the Hokies' chances if this was last year's team (prior to its late-season meltdown), which was filled with proven difference-makers like Kevin Jones and DeAngelo Hall. Aside from the quarterback (Bryan Randall), this year's team is young all over, and while there may be some future stars in the bunch, it's hard to imagine them blossoming quickly enough to knock off the No. 1 team in the country in their first game of the year.

How is this year not a perfect year for the Buckeyes to run the table once more? Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin are all at home. Two years ago, everyone said they were one year away as well. 
 --Billy H., Dublin, Ohio

Wait a minute, are you suggesting that Penn State is one of the three most important games to have at home? What is this, 1997? I'd be a lot more worried about those road trips to N.C. State, Iowa and Purdue if I were you.

I really think Fresno State has a chance to beat both Washington and Kansas State in their first two games this year. Could we be seeing a repeat of their run at the top 10 from three years ago?
--Doug Stolhand, Los Angeles

I'll take it a step further and say I'd be surprised if they don't beat Washington. Kansas State, that's another story, though the Wildcats did lose at home last year to a Marshall team that wasn't nearly as good as this Fresno team appears to be on paper. The Bulldogs have been devastated by injuries the past couple of years, yet still managed to win nine games and beat major-conference opponents (Georgia Tech and UCLA) in bowl games both seasons. Now, with 17 returning starters, including underrated QB Paul Pinegar, 1,000-yard rusher Dwayne Wright, fierce pass-rusher Brian Morris and standout safety James Sanders, Pat Hill's team is certainly in good position to wrestle away the WAC title from rebuilding Boise State. A run at the top 10, however, would require knocking off K-State, which would mean a rushing defense that ranked 80th in the country last year would have to find a way to bottle up Darren Sproles.

I'm sick of hearing about all the crimes and trouble that are occurring off the field. What about the crimes on the field? It was reported that USC defenders were gouging eyes and squeezing crotches during last year's loss at Cal. Does that really happen? Does anyone look into accusations like that? By the way, please find a "legitimate football reason" to run a photo of Angelina Jolie.
 --John, Arcadia, Calif.

Crotch grabbing? Didn't the U.S. medal in that last week in Athens?

I agree, there's no place for such atrocities on the field, but let me ask you this: How would you like to be the guy charged with conducting that investigation?

As for Angelina, we just have to play a college football version of the Kevin Bacon game. Angelina was once married to -- and co-starred in Pushing Tin with -- Billy Bob Thornton, who starred in Armageddon with Ben Affleck, who was infamously engaged to Gigli co-star Jennifer Lopez, who was The Wedding Planner for Matthew McConaughey, who -- ding! ding! ding! -- is an ardent supporter and frequent sideline guest of the Texas Longhorns.

I think next time I'll just run the picture.

Angelina Jolie
Ask, and you shall receive.

Stewart Mandel covers college sports for

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