Posted: Wednesday June 14, 2006 10:32AM; Updated: Wednesday June 14, 2006 1:13PM
An injury kept JaMarcus Russell out of the Peach Bowl, opening the door for Matt Flynn and a QB controversy this fall.
John W. McDonough/SI
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Stuck though we may be in the throes of the offseason, it's been quite an exciting time lately in the world of Mandel.
A new season of Entourage has finally arrived, though the first episode was admittedly lame (save all scenes involving Lloyd). After a rough first half of the season, my New York City softball team, Sporting Wood, recently earned its first win, complete with a full-blown, World Series-style champagne soaker afterward (don't worry, it was a $6.99 bottle of Cook's). Most importantly, a week from Saturday I will be in attendance for what could very well be the greatest event in the history of American music, a concert I never dreamed I'd live to see: Def Leppard and Journey, together on the same stage, June 24 at Jones Beach Amphitheater.
As I type this, I'm finding it hard to sit still due to my increasingly giddy anticipation for that moment when the lights go down and the sweet sounds of Don't Stop Believin' or Photograph come serenading out of the speakers. If it's Wheel in the Sky or Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad? you'll see me making a beeline toward the bathroom.
Of course, all around the country right now, fans of various college football teams are basking in their own form of eager anticipation as they pass the long days of summer fantasizing about impending gridiron triumphs. Leave it to the Mailbag to rain on at least one parade.
Who is going to be this year's Tennessee, a highly ranked team that falls on its face? --Aaron, Dacula, Ga.
I don't have the cojones to sit here and predict that one of the likely preseason top three teams (as Tennessee was last year) is going to wind up going 5-6, but there is at least one highly ranked squad that has all the makings of a big-time bust. That team, I'm sorry to report, is LSU.
It's not hard to see why so many people are falling for the Bayou Bengals. They did go 11-2 last season, after all, and knocked the living bejesus out of Miami in the Peach Bowl. Seemingly their entire roster is made up of former Parade All-Americans (heck, their third-string quarterback was one of the biggest-name recruits in the country two years ago).
However, the Tigers are also beset by at least three potential downfalls that most pundits seem to be conveniently overlooking.
1. A quarterback controversy: Matt Flynn's Peach Bowl performance may have been the worst thing that could have happened to the Tigers, because these things almost never end well. JaMarcus Russell is a proven, clutch performer (see last year's Arizona State and Alabama wins), yet the first time he screws up, people are going to be calling for Flynn. That's a huge distraction.
2. Depleted offensive and defensive lines: Besides having a proven quarterback, experience on the two lines is, to me, the most important criteria to consider when assessing a team's preseason prospects. Do people not realize that LSU lost three all-conference O-linemen (Andrew Whitworth, Rudy Niswanger and Nate Livings) and two All-America defensive tackles (Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten)?
3. Running back is a huge question mark: Joseph Addai never got much pub, but he was a first-round draft pick, leaving the Tigers dependent on two tailbacks, Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent, who are both coming off ACL injuries. If Broussard can return to his 2004 form, fantastic, but that's hardly a sure thing.
Of course, I myself overlooked all these when I ranked LSU No. 5 in my post-spring Top 25. But having had more time to think about it, I can't possibly see the Tigers losing fewer than three times in a schedule that includes road games at Auburn, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas. The only question is whether there will be an all-out implosion, like last year's Vols.
Anyway, sorry to spoil your party, Tigers fans. Here, this will cheer you up. Two words: invisible instruments.
I plead for your mercy, kind sir. I have great want to satiate my college football needs. Please post mailbag articles more often. Also, does no one believe that Penn State is a top 10 preseason pick? Seriously, dude. -- Daniel J. Loht, Los Angeles
My dear fellow, if it is more Mailbags that thou doth desire, then more Mailbags thou shall receive. Just not until July. Sorry. As for Penn State in the top 10 ... are you smoking dope, man?
It's not that I think the Nittany Lions' return to glory last year was a fluke. On the contrary, Joe Paterno's program is definitely back on the right track. However, the 2005 Nittany Lions, much like the Larry Johnson-led 2002 squad that came within a few close calls of winning 11 or 12 games, were a senior-heavy team that endured three years of mediocrity to come together for one glorious season.
In particular, an offensive line that struggled so mightily through the nightmare '03 and '04 seasons before finally jelling in '05 must rebuild itself yet again after losing four starters to graduation. My guess is they will struggle. Coupled with similarly heavy losses on the defensive line and in the secondary, it's almost inevitable that Penn State will take a step back this season.
However, it won't be nearly as big a step back as in previous years, thanks to the program's drastically upgraded recruiting efforts over the past few seasons. No team with Paul Posluszny, Anthony Morelli, Dan Connor, Derrick Williams and Justin King is going to go 4-7. It's going to take a couple more stacked recruiting classes, however, before Penn State returns to the days where 11-win seasons are the norm.