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Widespread paranoia (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday August 31, 2005 11:19AM; Updated: Wednesday August 31, 2005 12:43PM
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Virginia has had great talent over the years, as evidenced by the number of players it puts into the NFL. Why is it that the Cavs cannot seem to use this talent to reach college football's elite? They never seem to be able to get past the second tier.
--Earl, Chesapeake, Va.

There's no question the Cavaliers have produced their share of pros (Tiki Barber, Aaron Brooks, Jamie Sharper, Thomas Jones, et al.), but just because a particular year's team happened to have a few NFL-caliber standouts doesn't mean its entire two-deep was on par with the Florida States or Michigans. It probably wasn't even close most years.

All indications are Al Groh has made considerable inroads with Virginia's recruiting. Last year's team produced a school-record seven draft picks (TE Heath Miller, LB Daryl Blackstock, G Elton Brown, RB Alvin Pearman, DE Chris Canty, DT Andrew Hoffman and TE Patrick Estes), and not surprisingly the Cavs dominated much of their competition. Yet, when they went against Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech, you could tell there was still a considerable gap. Last year's 8-4 record was a bit disappointing considering many of us expected Groh's team -- 8-5 the year before that -- to take the next step, but I think the reality is Virginia hasn't yet accumulated the kind of depth necessary to win 10 or 11 games. That doesn't mean it can't happen sometime in the near future, though.

Thirty years ago, if you would have told me that Bobby Bowden would turn Florida State from mediocrity to the monster that it was in the '90s, I would have thought you were insane. What program do you think can become that next monster?
--Michael, New York

It's hard to find an equivalent example, because Florida State's rise involved a couple of unique variables: One, you're talking about a program that was less than 30 years old when Bowden took over and therefore had almost no tradition whatsoever; and two, it happened to be located in what would turn out to be the most fertile recruiting ground in the country. Also, I don't know if we'll ever again see any school come close to replicating FSU's run of 14 straight top-four finishes.

The one program that might fit the mold, however, is Louisville. While the Cardinals have been playing football since 1912, the fact is they were, until just recently, a complete afterthought nationally. They'd played in just three bowl games prior to the 1990s and went 1-10 as recently as 1997. If they do indeed become a national-title contender playing in the Big East, as many are predicting, and, more important, if they can sustain that level over an extended period of time, you'd have yourself as improbable a monster as FSU once was.

You wrote a list of 10 reasons you're excited for Sept. 3 and forgot to mention the biggest rivalry game that weekend -- Colorado State vs. Colorado. That game may not be as meaningful outside of Colorado, but isn't it worthy of some commentary?
--David Fennell, Denver

Tell you what, David: Just as soon as the teams' own fans get excited about it, I'll pass along a memo to the rest of the country that it should be excited as well. As of Monday, the "biggest rivalry game that weekend" was still 3,000 tickets short of a sellout.

My observation of all the preseason talk thus far is that Texas Tech is being overlooked. Its offense will be unstoppable as always and its defense is much improved. I look for the Red Raiders to upset either Texas or Oklahoma for the Big 12 South title. Do you think they have a chance, or am I living in a dream world?
--Brady Kolb, Midland, Texas

Actually, for once, I don't think the Red Raiders are being overlooked. They checked in at No. 21 in both the Associated Press and Coaches' polls, which is a step up from past seasons, when they were nowhere to be found. Obviously voters finally have gotten the message that losing the starting quarterback doesn't exactly put a damper on Mike Leach's offense. Clearly the pollsters remember Tech's Holiday Bowl win over Cal, and maybe they've even noticed that, for the first time in Leach's tenure, his team has the pieces in place for a semi-decent defense.

You're taking a pretty gigantic leap of faith, however, to suggest the Red Raiders can win the toughest division in college football. They've yet to lose fewer than four games in a season under Leach, and their combined record against the Sooners and Longhorns is 1-9. Texas A&M beat them last year, too, and the Aggies should be even better. This could be Leach's best team to date, but I'd be stunned if Tech wins the division.

I was offended by your reference to horse racing being boring. I find football boring. Horse racing is exciting as well as beautiful and intellectual. I wouldn't care if the NFL and college football disappeared altogether.
--Karen, Lincoln, Neb.

Poor Karen. I'd probably find football boring, too, if I had to watch Nebraska last season.

Oops ... I think just subjected my inbox to a whole new set of history lessons.


Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com. His Mailbag appears every Wednesday during the season.

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