Posted: Wednesday May 3, 2006 11:51AM; Updated: Wednesday May 3, 2006 1:30PM
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.
Ah, Stewart, after a long hiatus you are back to writing about college football -- I was afraid you had gotten lost between spring practice sites. Your assessments are usually on target, so I was wondering who you think could be the biggest surprise of 2006 -- that top 10 sleeper (and no fair saying Louisville). -- Dean, Akron, Ohio
I don't suppose Michigan counts. How about Clemson? I know it seems that Tommy Bowden's team is perennially stuck at 7-4, but I like the looks of this squad. I have a lot of respect for second-year offensive coordinator Rob Spence, who worked wonders at Toledo but was somewhat hindered last year because senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was a bad fit for the spread attack. Will Proctor could be the answer. Meanwhile, sophomore tailback James Davis, who showed great promise before his injury last season, gives Bowden the type of breakaway back he's been lacking seemingly his entire tenure, and Chansi Stuckey and rising star Rendrick Taylor are big-play threats at receiver. The defense is filled with experience.
Other potential sleepers that I wouldn't necessarily consider top 10 material but that could still surprise some people: Arkansas, an extremely young team last year that got progressively better as the season went on; Oklahoma State, which struggled badly for much of Mike Gundy's first season but also put a scare into Texas and knocked off Texas Tech; and Arizona, which is poised for a breakthrough under budding star QB Willie Tuitama.
Do you think that the Texans made the right selection with Mario Williams? -- Enrique Valencia, Saltillo, Mexico
I don't pretend to be an NFL expert, but I feel confident in saying that Williams will one day be the answer to a trivia question, the football equivalent of Sam Bowie, if you will. I don't care whether Houston has bigger needs on defense, whether it already has a decent running back, etc. You don't pass on not just one but two of the most dangerous players to come through the college ranks in years, Reggie Bush and Vince Young, for a guy, Williams, who wasn't all that dominant in college and has as much chance of winding up a total bust as he does of making the Pro Bowl.
Why is it that when Ohio State ran into trouble, we were bashed by everyone and their mom, but USC is getting a free pass for all the off-the-field problems it is having? -- Kevin Page, Lima, Ohio
I wouldn't exactly say USC's getting a free pass. The Trojans have been in the news for all the wrong reasons pretty much nonstop the past two weeks. In fact, when I checked SI.com's college football page at one point on Monday, there were five stories about the various alleged improprieties, including a column by none other than moi. That said, I don't think most of the things we're hearing about are all that shocking.
If Reggie Bush knowingly took money from an aspiring agent, sure, that's a huge deal. Bush's parents failing to pay rent on a house offered to them by said aspiring agent, who clearly had an agenda -- not exactly an indictment of the program. If Dwayne Jarrett was getting a vastly discounted rent from a landlord who happens to be a USC booster? Big, big no-no. But the father of Jarrett's roommate covering the difference so the two can live in nicer digs? You think Matt Leinart was the only college kid in America whose parents were helping out with the rent?
Like I said in my USC column, the most troubling news to me is the possibility that the future leader of USC's program, Mark Sanchez, may have committed sexual assault. But as I also pointed out quite vehemently, we're a long, long way from finding out whether that's even remotely true.
How did Chuck Amato manage a paltry 7-5 record last year with a defense that saw three players drafted in the first round? -- Chris D., Corvallis, Ore.
Good question. It wasn't because of the defense, which ranked eighth in the country. I would say the constant turnover on Captain Red Shoes' staff the past few years has caught up to him in a big way on offense, where the unit has gone through four coordinators in six years (remember when Norm Chow worked there?) and has had absolutely no identity since Philip Rivers left. The amazing thing is, based purely on recruiting rankings, the Wolfpack had a stable of running backs (Andre Brown, Toney Baker, Darrell Blackman and Bobby Washington) that would be the envy of nearly every team in the country, yet they ranked just 83rd in the country in rushing offense.
Oh well. N.C. State's football team might not have the world's greatest coach -- but at least it has a coach.
How realistic do you think it is for Florida to win the national title this year? We had one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, Urban Meyer's offenses are known to explode in his second year and Chris Leak now has a whole year of experience in the offense under his belt. I would like to believe that talks of a national title in Gainesville might be too optimistic, but I thought the same thing about the men's basketball team in the beginning of the year. -- Norman, Gainesville, Fla.
First, I think it's realistic for 20 or 30 teams to be talking about the national title this year, so wide open is the field. Florida would certainly fall into that mix. But I do think the Gators have a lot working against them in 2006. For the most part, Meyer will still be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole as long as Leak is his quarterback. Leak is a terrific passer, no question, but he's never going to morph into an Alex Smith-type runner.
The offensive line and tailbacks aren't exactly up to snuff either. And while some of the highly touted freshmen (Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, etc.) will surely see the field this fall, the real impact of those recruits won't be felt for another couple of years. Finally, the biggest obstacle for Florida will undoubtedly be its schedule. Over a four-week stretch, the Gators play Alabama (10-2 in 2005), LSU (11-2), Auburn (9-3) and Georgia (10-3). Good luck with all that.
Why do you continue to malign our 'Canes? Nine overall 2006 draftees and a record 12 consecutive years with a first-round pick indicates that UM is still elite. Granted, we need to show better on-field results than we have the past two years, but don't be surprised by an imminent return to form in 2006! -- Rich Lillis, Miami
You're absolutely right, Rich. Nothing says "elite" like losing a bowl game 40-3 and falling at home to a 7-5 Georgia Tech team. It's almost like watching Michael Irvin, Bernie Kosar and Alonzo Highsmith reincarnated.
Next Mailbag goes up May 17. Don't be shy with those questions, but do be clever. We're counting on you.