Posted: Wednesday November 8, 2006 11:46AM; Updated: Wednesday November 8, 2006 11:46AM
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.
For the last four years, Mike Shula has been given a pass due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his hiring at Alabama. In this, his fourth year, the team has shown little-to-no improvement and has now lost to the worst team in the SEC, Mississippi State. What is the likelihood that this is Shula's final season coaching the Tide? Who is likely to replace him? -- Curtis, Leeds, Ala.
Back in 2003, when Alabama was going through yet another coaching change, I wrote a pretty critical column about the school and the state, saying the reason why the Crimson Tide have failed to sustain any long-term success since the Bear Bryant era is their penchant for chewing up and spitting out coaches. And now, it's happening again. No question, this has been a disappointing season for the Tide, and last Saturday's loss was horrendous. Has Shula done a good coaching job this season? Of course not. But hear me now: The worst thing Alabama could do right now is make yet another coaching change.
Most Alabamians remain in pretty strong denial about just how far the program has slipped -- and about just how directly two major NCAA sanctions and a gazillion coaching changes have contributed to that -- but think about it: Under the Bear, 'Bama was the undisputed king of the SEC. Over the past decade, however, the Tide have been no better than the sixth- or seventh-strongest program in the conference (behind Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, LSU and, at times, Arkansas). The one thing Alabama needs more than anything is stability. If it fires Shula -- who, despite what this season's record might indicate, has done a very good job recruiting and did just win 10 games last season -- who is it going to replace him with? Butch Davis? Do you really think he's going to be there for 10 years? No, he'll be back to the NFL as soon as he has any kind of success, and then you're starting this process all over again.
I beg of you, Alabama fans, to try something new for a change: It's called "patience." Get off Shula's back. I'm sure he'll make some staff/program changes during the offseason. And if things don't get better next season, then you have my full permission to hang him in effigy.
At Cal, Jeff Tedford has turned the football program into a perennial contender for the Pac-10 and BCS bowls. Is there a realistic sequence of events that puts Cal in the BCS championship game this year or next? -- Ernest, Benicia, Calif.
Obviously, this season looks like a long-shot at this point, even if the Bears beat USC and finish 11-1. They're going to need about five teams ahead of them to lose. That Tennessee game just killed Cal. Remember, the Bears started the season ranked in the top 10. If they'd lost that game by a close margin, my guess is they'd be higher in the polls right now, but as it was, they spiraled 13 spots and have had to spend the entire season trying to make it back up.
That said, if the Bears win out and either beat or play well against Ohio State or Michigan in the Rose Bowl, they have a chance to position themselves nicely for a title run in 2007. QB Nate Longshore, WR DeSean Jackson and at least 11 other starters will be back (not sure about Marshawn Lynch), and most importantly, the Vols come to Berkeley this time, again in the first week of the season.
Hey, Stewart, just one simple question ... WHAT ON EARTH CAN GEORGIA DO TO RIGHT THE SHIP? -- B-Dawg, Chamblee, Ga.
Oy -- what a mess that is. Georgia was due for a rebuilding season at some point, but I never imagined it would include losing to both Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Obviously, when a team implodes like the Dawgs have, the blame should be pretty widespread. I don't think Mark Richt has handled his quarterback situation well at all (which is ironic, seeing as his handling of the David Greene-D.J. Shockley platoon was something of a model for such situations). The offensive line hasn't played well. The receivers are underwhelming. And the defense is not up to its usual standards.
I think the best thing you can do at this point is not panic. Richt came into this season with a 52-13 record and won two SEC titles. I don't think he forgot how to coach in one year. Things can turn back around in a hurry -- just look at Michigan and Tennessee this year. But the Dawgs could really use an upset against either Auburn or Georgia Tech to serve as some source of encouragement heading into next season (not to mention avoiding the indignity of going 6-6), and QB MatthewStafford's development over the offseason will be extremely important because it's clear as of now he's got a long ways to go.
When are we going to realize that Boise State has never played a good team, and probably never will. Look at their schedule. They have found a huge NCAA loophole and we need to consider changing the requirements for at-large BCS bids. How about one win against a top-35 team during the year to be in the BCS? How about a top-50 team? How about Boise State simply being barred from playing in the BCS? -- Frank, New York
Oregon State is ranked 24th in the BCS as of this week. Boise State beat them 42-14. Hawaii is 30th. Boise State beat them, too. Got a different suggestion?
My college football viewing began in the '80s. Teams like Oklahoma and Nebraska ran the option and threw the occasional play-action pass. When Nebraska fired Frank Solich in 2003, the consensus (among the media and Husker fans) was that the option was outdated and couldn't work in modern college football. For me it was the end of an era. I'm watching West Virginia, and while it isn't exactly the same, it is a run-based offense that seems to live up to the idea of "we knew what was coming, we just couldn't stop it." My question is this: Are running offenses really dead or just out of vogue? -- Steve, Alexandria, Va.
You're absolutely right. The offense West Virginia runs is basically a modern version of the triple-option (same for Florida when it plays Tim Tebow at quarterback). The reason most pundits (myself included) considered Nebraska's old offense outdated was its reliance on the ability to physically overpower opponents. That's what the Huskers did in the old Big 8. But between parity, increased athleticism of defenses and advances in strength and conditioning programs, it's unrealistic today to think a team can just line up and run the ball down the other team's throat. Certainly you want to have that component to your offense, but you also need playmakers that can get to the outside.
That's why West Virginia's offense is so hard to stop. Both Pat White and Steve Slaton are about as fast as they come, and if you watched the Louisville game, you saw they have fantastic cut-back skills as well. But the Mountaineers also employ a traditional fullback (Owen Schmitt) and aren't afraid to run it up the gut. So whereas Nebraska's triple options were the fullback dive, the quarterback sprint-out or an option pitch to the I-back, with West Virginia you're defending the fullback dive, any number of tailback runs or White either on the draw or the sprint out. That's a lot to handle.