Posted: Wednesday December 28, 2005 11:42AM; Updated: Wednesday December 28, 2005 11:42AM
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.
Has USC's success on the playing field hurt its ability to recruit top prep players? I know it is still early, but I have yet to see the quantity of top-notch players commit to the Trojans as in the past. --Gregg Dennis, Long Beach, Calif.
I think it's too early to draw any conclusions. While it's true USC has an unusually low number of commitments at this stage of the game (in the single-digits, compared with as many as 25 for teams like Texas and Georgia), there are still so many undecided top-100 prospects who have the Trojans on their short list that USC could still end up with a top-three class. For instance, eight of Scout.com's top 10 running backs have yet to commit -- and every single one has USC on his list. You could have had a Parade All-American photo shoot in the hallway outside the locker room after the UCLA game with all the guys who were visiting.
The reality is, USC has become such a recruiting juggernaut that its targets are almost entirely "four star" and "five star" guys -- the ones most likely to drag out the process -- which means you've got to play the waiting game. Florida State has been doing it this way for years. I also think that many of USC's recruits (particularly the running backs) are waiting to see who does or doesn't turn pro. On Signing Day, however, if the Trojans' class doesn't measure up to USC's recent hauls, it might be the most telling sign yet of just how important former recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron -- now the head coach at Ole Miss -- was to Pete Carroll.
What does the guy who really calls the plays for Penn State think about Joe Paterno being AP Coach of the Year? Does nobody else realize that the guy never even puts on headphones? --Chief Nacho, New York City
I hate to clue you in, Chief, but most head coaches don't call the plays -- that's what offensive coordinators are for. That's why I don't think Galen Hall has gotten nearly enough credit for the Nittany Lions' resurgence (possibly because he's barely done an interview since he got there). He's the one who revamped Penn State's long-stale schemes, adding in the spread and misdirection, using Derrick Williams and Justin King in the backfield, etc. Paterno's main contribution in that department was staying out of the way.
But the head coach still sets the overall tone for the team. If the players hadn't bought into Paterno -- and stayed loyal to him throughout the hard times -- they never would have gone 10-1. I'm not going to be naïve and tell you Paterno, at 79, is as adept a game-planner as Pete Carroll or Bob Stoops, but I assure you he's still very much involved in the day-to-day operations of the program.
I'm no fan of recruiting because I've seen too many sure things go bust, and too many walk-ons and lesser-knowns become stars. However, I can't help but be excited about the commitments that Urban Meyer has received. What are your thoughts on Meyer's recruiting success? --John Hadden, Live Oak, Fla.
It's been pretty impressive, no question -- but I would think of all people, Florida fans would know by now that highly ranked recruiting classes don't necessarily guarantee championships. For those of you who don't follow this stuff that closely, Florida and Meyer are widely expected to land the nation's No. 1 recruiting class this February. They've been reeling in one catch after another lately, including the nation's top overall prospect, receiver Percy Harvin, and top 3 quarterback Tim Tebow. Most importantly, he's recruiting the type of athletes that fit his preferred spread-option offense. But this is hardly a new phenomenon for the Gators -- Steve Spurrier landed the consensus No. 1 class in 2000 (led by QB Brock Berlin), most of which wound up a complete bust, and Ron Zook's first full class in 2003 (led by Chris Leak) was ranked No. 2 or 3 by most services. So far, those players have yet to deliver even a division title.
That doesn't mean Meyer's prospects can't buck the trend, but they bring with them enormous expectations. The reality is, the true impact of the class won't be felt for two or three years. In the meantime, Meyer goes into next season with many of the same problems that plagued his team this year: Mainly, a substandard offensive line and a quarterback, Leak, who doesn't fit the system Meyer favors. So while the new generation of Gators could well deliver a SEC and/or a national title in 2007 or '08, will fans grow restless if there are more 5-3 conference records in the meantime?
With Virginia losing both its offensive and defensive coordinators this offseason, do you realistically see them being able to keep up with (or make up ground on) the top teams in the ACC? Will they always be a middle-of-the-pack team, or do you foresee them taking that next step up (or down)? --Robert, Lakeland, Fla.
While it's usually a sign of success when assistants move on, the exodus coach Al Groh has experienced hasn't exactly been a strong endorsement. You can't blame offensive coordinator Ron Prince for taking the Kansas State job, but defensive coordinator Al Golden was either really desperate to become a head coach or really anxious to get out of Charlottesville when he accepted the seemingly dead-end Temple job. And what about assistant Mark D'Onofrio following him? Or associate head coach Danny Rocco taking the head-coaching job at Div. I-AA Liberty, where Jerry Falwell himself fired the last coach? From the outside, it sure looks like a rush to get off a sinking ship.
Thing is, it was only a little over a year ago that the Cavs were considered a rising team. They started 5-0 and reached the top 10. They had a host of current and future NFL players like tight end Heath Miller, guard Elton Brown, tackle D'Brickshaw Ferguson and linebacker Ahmad Brooks. But then they got humiliated at Florida State (36-3), finished 8-4 and slipped to 6-5 this year. If you believe the recruiting rankings, the cupboard is hardly bare. Groh's classes have consistently placed in the top 25, a couple as high as 10th or 15th. But Virginia had a hard time getting over the hump even before the ACC added Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. And with the 'Canes and Hokies in Virginia's division, I fear the Music City and MPC Computers bowls may become annual destinations.
Why do you think Nebraska is recruiting so many junior college players (with seven commitments so far this year)? I am an avid Cornhusker fan, but am worried that Bill Callahan is focusing too much on the NFL-mentality of win now rather than develop freshman to be good in a few years. --Aaron, Scottsbluff, Neb.
Is college really that different than the NFL anymore in terms of the urgency to win now? While I don't disagree that focusing entirely on high school players would be better for Nebraska's long-term stability, I'm sure Callahan realizes if he keeps going 7-4, he won't be around long enough to see those high-school kids develop. That might not be the case at a lower-profile program, but at Nebraska, Callahan is under extreme pressure to win as soon as possible. He also probably feels like the Huskers aren't that far away, and if he can find a few juco guys to plug the most pressing holes, they could put together the kind of season that gets him off the hot seat, gives the program momentum and allows him to focus more on the long-term future.
I noticed you ranked bowl games instead of a final ranking of the teams after the last weekend. Guess you just couldn't stand ranking USC over your beloved 'Horns, eh Texas homer? --Chris McCoy, Los Angeles
Stewart Mandel is a USC whore. You're one of the reasons they've stayed No. 1, making them out to be the greatest team ever to grace a football field. USC hasn't done anything remarkable but cry its way to two undeserved national championships. --J.W., Helena, Ala.
I kid you not, but these two e-mails arrived within a half hour of each other, back-to-back in my inbox. I intentionally stayed away from USC-Texas talk in this Mailbag because I'm about to deluge you with a week's worth of coverage from Pasadena, culminating, of course, with a prediction. Until then, I guess you'll just have to live with me being a homer whore for both teams.