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The longshot forecast (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday July 19, 2005 12:16PM; Updated: Friday August 19, 2005 5:36PM
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If you could choose one player in the country to be on your team, who would it be -- and why? Even though I am a diehard LSU fan (and therefore am considering Skyler Green), I would have to go with Reggie Bush. He is easily the nation's most versatile player.
--Larry Jones, Baton Rouge, La.

You can't go wrong with Bush -- unless of course you don't have anyone to throw it to him (because, let's face it, if you're picking someone who's solely a running back, you'd go with Adrian Peterson). That's why, as conservative as it sounds, I'd have to go with Matt Leinart. There's no one more valuable than an elite, battle-tested quarterback, particularly one who's already good enough to be playing on Sundays.

Miami has most of its starters returning on defense and, because of injuries last season, a lot of experienced players back on offense. What is keeping the Hurricanes from being a national-title contender?
--Joseph Fasullo, Houston

Yes, Miami returns a lot of experienced players, but it's the inexperienced ones who will make the difference between another 9-3 season and a national-title run.

Many pinned the blame for the Hurricanes' "struggles" the past two seasons (they did still go 20-5) on the often-disappointing Brock Berlin, but his 22-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year was hardly the problem. The main thing Miami was lacking that it had in 2000/'01/'02 (when it went 35-2) was a dominant runner like Clinton Portis or Willis McGahee. Frank Gore was never able to return to his previous form, and Tyrone Moss simply isn't at that level. The 'Canes averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last year, down from 5.2 just two years earlier. Injuries to the offensive line last year, particularly All-America tackle Eric Winston, certainly didn't help, but either sophomore Charlie Jones or redshirt freshman Derron Thomas -- both of them highly touted -- needs to step up and become that guy.

Secondly, the 'Canes' defense struggled at times to stop the run last year, something that was rarely a problem when they had linebackers like Dan Morgan and Jonathan Vilma. Redshirt freshman Willie Williams, a former all-everything recruit, is supposed to be the real deal, but once again, seeing is believing.

Finally -- and obviously -- new QB Kyle Wright needs to play at a more consistent level than Berlin, who was the master of the two-minute drill but often made poor decisions at other points in the game. Wright doesn't necessarily need to be Ken Dorsey, but he needs to limit his mistakes and get the ball to playmakers like Lance Leggett and Sinorice Moss. Supposedly Wright has all the tools to be an excellent QB, but again, he's yet to be put on the spot.

I too was disappointed in the music for NCAA Football 2006. Thankfully, I discovered it can be changed by going to the audio section, going down to "EA Trax", and selecting "bands" instead. That will bring back the college fight songs, making everything right in the world again.
--Marc G., Miami

I must have received 20 e-mails telling me the same thing -- within hours of the game coming out -- and many more the rest of the week. Either you people actually read the instruction manuals, or you're much, much smarter than me. I'd rather you don't tell me the answer.

Hey, I was just wondering if your research team could place Temple's '05 schedule against the hardest in history. On paper so far it puts any past Notre Dame schedule to shame. Let me know.
--Buzz, Philadelphia

You seem to be under the impression that there's some lab behind me where legions of MIT grads sit behind computers and, on my word, eagerly go about researching any inane question I may have. Sadly, my "research team" is me, and I wouldn't have the foggiest idea where to even start on such a project.

However, you're absolutely right that the poor Owls, stuck in the no-man land of I-A Independents this year, have assembled what has to be the most merciless schedule I've seen in some time. With the exception of one date with Western Michigan, there isn't a single game in which I wouldn't expect Temple to be at least a two-touchdown underdog. Its opponents, with last year's record in parentheses, are: at Arizona State (9-3), at Wisconsin (9-3), vs. Toledo (9-4), vs. Western Michigan (1-10), at Bowling Green (9-3), vs. Maryland (5-6), vs. Miami (9-3), at Clemson (6-5), vs. Miami of Ohio (8-5), at Virginia (8-4) and at Navy (10-2). That's just cruel.

Does SMU ever have a chance to be a football powerhouse again? Or was the death penalty literally the death of the Mustangs? What can they do to compete with other big-time football schools in the future?
--Thomas Bruce, Dallas

Baby steps, Thomas. Forget becoming a "powerhouse" for now. It would be a step up just for SMU to become competitive in a second-tier conference. The Mustangs last rose above .500 in the WAC in 1997, and now they're moving into Conference USA, which lacks a juggernaut like Boise State but on the whole should be comparable. If Phil Bennett can just get them over that .500 hump, though, and into a bowl game -- which they haven't done in 21 years -- then maybe that program could finally build some momentum.

We've seen it time and time again recently: previously forgotten cellar dwellers (such as Memphis, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green) turning themselves into respectable mid-major programs with the right mix of coaching, support and fortunate recruiting. The death penalty (or, more accurately, the gross misbehavior that prompted it) certainly put an end to any hopes of SMU ever returning to its glory days of the '30s and '40s, but it's no longer a valid excuse for why the Mustangs can't at least field a competitive program in the C-USA.

Admit it! You have a serious bias against Florida State. I have not seen you say anything positive about our program since I've started reading this column. What's the deal?
--Joshua, Tallahassee, Fla.

Darn it, Joshua, you nailed me. I hate that place so much, with its idyllic weather, female students who double as models, picture-perfect stadium and breathtaking pregame rituals. If I never have to go to another game there, my life will be that much better.


Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.

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