Extra MustardSI On CampusFantasyPhoto GalleriesSwimsuitVideoFanNationSI KidsTNT

Manhattan malaise (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday June 14, 2005 3:40PM; Updated: Tuesday June 14, 2005 5:23PM
Free E-mail AlertsE-mail ThisPrint ThisSave ThisMost PopularRSS Aggregators
Previous Page
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.
Your name:
Your e-mail address:
Your home town:
Enter your question:

I think the Pac-10 deserves a big kudos for mandating its teams' 12th game be an intra-conference matchup. Why the other conferences don't insist on this is beyond me. A Texas-North Texas game holds no interest for me, but getting a Big 12 North team such as Nebraska on the Longhorns' schedule more often would appeal to me a lot. Do you see any chance that the other BCS conferences will follow the Pac 10's lead?
--Dennis, Austin, Texas

Oh, there's a chance. But it's about the same chance Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo has of being funny. One thing you have to understand is that the Pac-10 in general has much more of a traditionalist mentality than the other conferences. That's because its commissioner, Tom Hansen, albeit one of the nicest guys in the business, is older than Moses.

I'm not trying to be mean, folks -- it's true. According to his official bio, Hansen began working for what would later become the Pac-10 in 1960. I'm not even sure some of the conference's states had been discovered yet. Also, the move makes more sense for the Pac-10 because of its number of teams. It can now play a true round-robin schedule. Even if the SEC or Big 12 added a ninth conference game, there would still be two teams each year the schools wouldn't face, and since those leagues have title games, they don't have the same concern about co-champions. So, while the Pac-10's decision certainly benefits its fans, it will definitely hurt some of its teams' coffers, because most of their ACC/Big Ten/Big 12/SEC counterparts are going to be using their extra games to bag an extra home date.

No one can question Glen Mason's ability to turn around a football program, as he's done at Kent State, Kansas and Minnesota. However, I don't see any conference championships or major bowls on his resume. Do you think he can bring Minnesota its first Big Ten title and Rose Bowl since the '60s?
--K.K., St. Paul, Minn.

As loyal readers of this column know, Mason's Gophers burned me big-time last year. When I talked to him in the spring, he bubbled with such optimism about his squad -- which was coming off a breakthrough 10-3 season -- that I drank the Kool-Aid and picked Minnesota to do just that: win the Big Ten.

I realized its early-October trip to Michigan would be a potential stumbling block. What I didn't anticipate was that a heartbreaking, last-minute loss in Ann Arbor would send the previously 5-0 Gophers so far in the tank that they'd win just one regular-season game the rest of the way and make me look like the biggest idiot since the CBS executive who green-lighted Listen Up. So excuse me if I'm a little bitter in my analysis, but yes, I do have some doubts at this point as to whether Mason and his staff are truly capable of producing a championship-caliber club.

That said, while Minnesota will understandably go into this season with lower expectations, it may have a more complete squad. Fifteen starters return, including speedy running back Laurence Maroney, who ran for 1,348 yards last season while splitting carries with Marion Barber III, and three veterans of the Big Ten's most dominant offensive line the past two years. Quarterback Bryan Cupito, a first-time starter last year, should help produce a more consistent passing game.

What the Gophers so desperately need in order to get over the hump -- what they haven't had yet during Mason's eight-year tenure and what we were told would come to fruition last year but never did -- is a bona fide, upper-echelon Big Ten defense. Whether that will happen is anyone's best guess. Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson left for East Carolina prior to the Music City Bowl, and Mason promoted linebackers coach David Lockwood. Maybe that will help. One thing's for certain: If Minnesota ever wants to see Pasadena again, at some point it's going to need to beat Michigan.

Love the 11th-year senior game. Hayden Epstein is great, but the all-time best is Carlos Huerta. He kicked at Miami for at least a decade.
--Peter, Shawnee, Okla.

Indeed, I once saw a columnist for another Web site refer to this very subject as the All-Carlos Huerta Team. Other readers have nominated former Wisconsin quarterback Darrell Bevell and former Pittsburgh quarterback Alex Van Pelt as Hall of Fame nominees. (And I'd throw Bradlee Van Pelt's name into the hat while we're at it.) Other suggestions are always welcome, both current and classic.

Temple is about to enter the MAC. This means the MAC will have another Division I-A bottom-feeder. How do you think this will affect the national perception of the best MAC teams, such as Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio, Toledo and Northern Illinois? Is anyone going to take those programs seriously?
-- Rick, Lombard, Ill.

The MAC's interest in Temple baffles me. For one, the conference is only getting the Owls for football, in which they bring almost nothing to the table ... besides yet another program that will struggle to meet the NCAA's minimum attendance requirements. Temple already had enough problems getting people in the stands to watch Miami and Pittsburgh -- do you think fans are going to suddenly start showing up for Eastern Michigan and Ohio?

It also gives the now 13-team league unbalanced divisions. The only rationale I can come up with is that the MAC is scared another member might potentially defect in the future (or Buffalo might drop back to I-AA) and doesn't want to risk losing its championship game.

As for credibility issues, however, I think the teams you mentioned have done plenty over the past few years to assert themselves nationally, both by knocking off major-conference teams (Northern Illinois over Maryland and Alabama, Toledo over Pittsburgh, etc.) and producing high-caliber NFL Draft picks (Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Frye, etc.). And while their league schedules may become watered down, their out-of-conference results are really all that matters in terms of national perception. There will be plenty such opportunities this fall, too, what with Bowling Green playing Wisconsin and Boise State, Miami facing Ohio State and NIU going to Michigan.

I have some friends who think BYU's Todd Watkins is a legit Heisman candidate. I've asked how that can be when he's not even the best receiver in the conference. That would be David Anderson of Colorado State, who has wallowed in anonymity the past couple of seasons. Who's right?
--James Durant, Payson, Utah

I think you're all equally delusional if you believe either guy has a chance at the Heisman. It's hard enough for a receiver to win the thing coming from a major conference (the last one was Desmond Howard in 1991), nevertheless the Mountain West. They're both outstanding players, though. If you're asking me which one is better, I'd say while Anderson has a deeper track record (129 catches for 2,233 yards over the past two seasons), Watkins, who averaged 20 yards per catch last season, is more of the prototypical big-play burner, as anyone who watched him torch both USC and Boise State for long touchdowns last season knows.

After catching 52 passes for 1,042 yards during his first season after transferring from junior college, I'd expect Watkins to have an even bigger impact this year, what with a more experienced quarterback (junior John Beck) and a new offensive coordinator, Robert Anae, who spent the past five years apprenticing under Texas Tech spread-passing guru Mike Leach. That combination has the makings of some pretty big numbers, but unless BYU pulls a Utah and goes undefeated, no one's going to be winning any Heismans. Sorry to be the party pooper.

Will the "Cal-should've-been-in-the-Rose-Bowl" debate ever end? The Michigan-Texas game was a classic. Not to take anything away from Cal, but after a 45-31 loss to Texas Tech, I think it's pretty clear that Texas deserved to be there (and that's hard for an Oklahoma fan to admit).
--Bill, Calvin, Okla.

Folks, I received this e-mail on June 9. As far as I know, that debate ended sometime in late December. But I suppose word hasn't yet reached Calvin, Okla.

Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.