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Stewart Mandel college.football.mailbag

Random thoughts

Sounding off on MAC's demise, Badgers' D, Cowboys' deja vu

Posted: Tuesday September 28, 2004 5:54PM; Updated: Wednesday September 29, 2004 11:13AM
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  Wisconsin D
Wisconsin has the No. 1 scoring D in the country -- after playing the likes of UCF, UNLV, Arizona and Penn State.
AP

Haven't done this in a while, but it was kind of a slow week in the mail department (perhaps because last weekend's games were about as inspiring as a Keith Gilbertson press conference), so I'm starting off the 'Bag with some Random Thoughts. Take 'em or leave 'em ...

• I've always been somewhat of a closet MAC fan, but the boys have let me down big time this season. Do you realize that Toledo's victory over Temple last weekend raised the conference's record to 1-30 against I-A, non-conference opponents? Ah, if it could only be September 2003 again, when MAC teams beat three BCS-conference foes on the same day.

• You know, I went out of my way to address Chris Rix's injury in the most sympathetic way possible Sunday, but some of my colleagues haven't been as shy about saying exactly what the rest of us are thinking. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel quoted a fellow writer as saying, "Maybe now [Rix] can get a legitimate handicapped parking sticker."

• If you're a fan of brainless college comedy movies -- and if you've become a regular reader of this column, I'm guessing you are -- it's worth your while to check out the 2002 bomb Slackers, currently airing on Comedy Central (though I'm guessing the non-edited version would be more entertaining). The movie's fairly dumb, but Jason Schwartzman's (of Rushmore and Phantom Planet fame) performance as an oddball stalker is fantastic.

• I'd just like to state, for the record, that in the never-ending Hilary Duff-Lindsay Lohan feud, I'm firmly in Hilary's camp. Lohan may be hot now, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell where that's headed. Two words: Tara Reid.

• Memo to Sarah Jessica Parker: Could you please disappear already? Your show is over, your bratty co-stars already have faded from sight and no one in their right mind actually believes you shop at The Gap.

• If, by chance, you not only watched ESPN's Pete Rose movie this past weekend but have also already set your TiVo for Tuesday night's debut of I'd Do Anything, you are officially no longer welcome to read this column.

• Finally, I've read articles and heard talking heads lament that today's college graduates aren't as prepared to enter the work force as in years past. That may or may not be true, but I know one thing: They're definitely as creative and resourceful as ever.

Bring on the questions ...

Do you think Wisconsin's defense can carry the team to a Big Ten title? I think when Anthony Davis comes back, the offense will be better.
--Corey, Neenah, Wis.

The Badgers' defense, currently ranked second in the country, certainly looks improved under new coordinator Bret Bielema. Defensive end Erasmus James, after missing last season with an injury, has turned into a total stud and sophomore linebacker Mark Zalewski is a rising star. I wouldn't get too excited just yet, though. None of the four offenses they've faced -- UCF, UNLV, Arizona and Penn State -- has been particularly overwhelming. Let's see how Wisconsin does a few weeks down the line against Ohio State and Purdue.

However, there's no understating the importance of Davis' return this week. Wisconsin's offense has been brutal, but once it gets back one of the best running backs in the country, things might start to suddenly open up for struggling QB John Stocco. The Badgers always have been able to run the ball, and they've done a good job the past few years of mixing in spread sets on offense. Where they've really struggled is on defense. Whether Bielema's unit can sustain this level of play will determine whether this team can reach Pasadena or book another trip to El Paso.

Regarding your observation of Miami's so-so talent on offense: My observation has always been that every few years the fashionable college team (where all the blue-chip recruits want to go) changes. A few years back, Miami became "hot" again when Butch Davis turned things around. In the interim that tag went to Oklahoma, and then, most recently, to USC and LSU. Each of these schools had to turn around poor programs with new coaches. But each had also been dominant prior to that. My pick to be the next hot team? Notre Dame. But it may take several years, and I don't think Tyrone Willingham will be the man to do it.
-- Joe Rossi, Columbus, Ohio

First of all, just to be clear, all of Miami's main contributors on offense were among the most sought-after recruits in the country coming out of high school. But not everyone lives up to the expectations, and so far Brock Berlin and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Moore and Roscoe Parrish, have been chief examples of that. That said, you're absolutely right about the "hot" school concept. Part of the reason is those coaches at that time could sell kids on the fact they'd be able to play early. That's how Davis was able to put together his famous 1999 class with Ken Dorsey, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Bryant McKinnie and Philip Buchanon; how Pete Carroll was able to land Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Steve Smith and John David Booty all in the same year; and why receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Fred Davis came all the way from New Jersey and Ohio, respectively, to play for the Trojans this year.

For that reason, my guess for the next "hot" program would be Nebraska, because lord knows if you're a blue-chip offensive skill player, you've got a chance to see the field immediately as Bill Callahan rebuilds. It's going to take him a couple of years, though, to build up the 'Huskers within the recruiting community.

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Can you see a situation where an undefeated West Virginia team is left out of the BCS championship game over a one-loss team from a "better" conference?
 -- Eric, Morgantown, W.Va.

Under last year's system, when such factors as strength of schedule and quality wins counted, yes, absolutely I could have seen that happening. This year, though, I find it highly unlikely. You can basically expect the final BCS rankings to mirror the human polls, and considering that the Mountaineers are already up to No. 6 in one and No. 7 in the other, it's hard to believe they wouldn't rise to No. 1 or 2 if they go undefeated. The only way I can see your scenario coming true is if either USC loses a close game to Cal or Oklahoma loses a close game to Texas next week, and they don't drop below West Virginia in the polls.

Why aren't the Clemson Tigers winning?
-- John Smith, Charleston, S.C.

Because they're not very good.

Do you think it's deja vu all over again with the Thurman Thomas/Barry Sanders era at Oklahoma State and the Tatum Bell/Vernand Morency era that is presently happening?
 -- Dave Cook, Calgary

We'll probably have to wait 10-15 years before we know that -- part of the lore of the Thomas/Sanders era was that they each went on to such success in the NFL -- but this is a pretty darn good line of succession. Bell ran for 1,286 yards and 16 touchdowns last season and became a second-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos. But I had a feeling Morency was going to be even better when he replaced the injured Bell last year and ran for 200 yards in consecutive games. Morency is currently leading the country with a 187-yard average, slightly ahead of Big 12 peers Cedric Benson and Darren Sproles. Not too shabby. He's got a long ways to catch Sanders, though. When Sanders won the Heisman in 1988 -- amazingly, his only year as the starter -- he set an NCAA record by averaging 238.9 yards per game.  

If LSU beats Georgia this week, what are you going to say in your postgame statements? And if it happens, do you think Georgia will fall many spots in the polls, or barely at all, like last year?
-- Michael, Shreveport, La.

Well, gosh, if I knew ahead of time what I was going to write, I'd just send it to my editors now and head to Costa Rica for the weekend. It will depend on what kind of game it is. Do LSU's quarterbacks step up? Does the Tigers' defense dominate? Does Alley Broussard run for 200 yards? Does some third-stringer come off the bench and score the winning touchdown? Those sort of things tend to have an effect on what I write.

As far as the poll drop, I went back and looked: After losing on a last-minute touchdown pass -- on the road -- to the eventual co-national champion, the Bulldogs fell five spots in both polls. Call me crazy, but I fail to see the travesty.

Mandel, why don't you put your money where your mouth is (OK, even if haven't actually said anything bad about the Bucks this year)? You went to Northwestern. I went to Ohio State. They play this weekend. OSU loses, I give you a prize of reasonable quality -- like some beer or wine. OSU wins, I get some column inches. Be like Dr. Z. Give me a chance!
-- Paul Levine, Chicago

Let me get this straight. You want me to make a straight-up bet where you get the team that's won 28 of its past 30, has a world-renowned defense and, if, by some minor miracle the game is close, an All-America kicker, and I get the team that's 1-3, just lost by 26 to Minnesota, hasn't had a good defense since Clinton's first term and, if by some minor miracle the game is close, a kicker who missed five field goals in a single game earlier this year? You're going to have to offer something a lot more lucrative than a free beer. I know -- how about an unlimited line of credit from Maurice Clarett's sugar daddy?

Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.

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