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College Football Mailbag (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday June 13, 2007 12:30PM; Updated: Wednesday June 13, 2007 1:52PM
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Charlie Weis
Although he doesn't boast a marquee win in his short tenure at Notre Dame, Charlie Weis has reached exalted status among Irish faithful.
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In two years, Charlie Weis has beaten one team that finished the season in the Top 25 (No. 24 Penn State last year), yet he seems to walk on water Notre Dame's fan base and evades all criticism. Lloyd Carr has multiple Big Ten titles over the last decade and a national championship, yet a large chunk of the Michigan fan base can't stop dissing him. By mid-January 2008, what are the chances that ND Nation will be starting to wonder about Charlie and the forever Blue have all decided that Lloyd is worthy of being rated amongst their best ever?
--Ken Braun, Lansing, Mich.

There's no question this is going to be an important year in both coaches' tenures, but I'm not sure it's fair to compare the two so directly. Weis is still very much in the building phase of his program, which was pretty far down when he got there. While all those big-game blowouts the past two years exposed the 2005 and '06 Irish as national-title pretenders, I can't say I blame ND fans for being excited about the future following 19 wins and consecutive BCS berths. Apparently they've seen enough to believe Weis is the guy to lead them to the promised land. The question is, will they still feel that way if, as most of us expect, Jimmy Clausen & Co. endure a rough transition season in '07. We're talking about an offense that is going to be very young and will almost certainly struggle early in the season. Unfortunately, that also coincides with the toughest part of ND's schedule. It's not inconceivable to envision the Irish losing their first three games (Georgia Tech, at Penn State and at Michigan) as well as several others (at Purdue, at UCLA, BC, USC).

The Irish close, however, with Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. If they can get to a bowl, and especially if they finally win a bowl, I would imagine the enthusiasm surrounding Weis will remain in tact come January. If they finish 5-7 or 6-7, we may see the beginnings of a Tyrone Willingham-style backlash.

As for Carr, the expectations are higher because he raised them by winning that title in '97. While Michigan has fielded many good teams since then, the closest they've come to returning to that level was last year, and even that season culminated in a familiar ending -- losing to Ohio State, losing the Rose Bowl. The prevailing feeling is that this may be Carr's last season one way or the other, but if he wants to go out with the kind of legacy and appreciation one might reasonably associate with a guy who's won 76 percent of his games and five Big Ten titles, he'd best be advised to finally beat the Buckeyes (he'd still be just 2-5 against Jim Tressel but would finish with a winning record -- 7-6 -- against OSU overall). Beating a national-title caliber program like a USC in the Rose Bowl or another BCS game would be icing on the cake.

Wouldn't it be nice to see a Big East team beat a Top 25 team outside of its own conference? The conference had one such win last year -- Louisville over big, bad Wake Forest. Do you think this year we'll see the Big East up the ante to maybe two wins over Top 25 teams?
--David Lucky, Ridgewood, N.J.

If so, it's probably going to have to wait until bowl season. One of the biggest disappointments to me about the coming season is the Big East's non-conference schedule. West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers all figure to be among the most exciting teams in the country -- but on opening weekend, we'll be watching them face Western Michigan, Murray State and Buffalo, respectively. About the only true measuring-stick game early on will be South Florida's trip to Auburn on Sept. 8. I realize there are extenuating circumstances. When the ACC purged the conference a few years back, its members had to scramble to find replacements on the schedule. And I've heard the horror stories, especially from Louisville, about how no one wants to come play in their home stadium. But if I were one of these teams, knowing I'm facing an uphill climb to gain respect nationally, I'd take the Fresno State approach, at least temporarily, and go on the road to play somebody even if you can't get a return game. It may not be the smartest thing to do financially, but if you win, the dividends will be long-lasting.

Good news ... Julianne Hough has called off her engagement. Feel free to ogle without shame.
--TM, Wrentham, Mass.

I got a ton of e-mails just like this one after the last Mailbag. I appreciate your attentiveness to our girl's marital status, I really do. But either you read right past the part, or just don't care, that she's EIGHTEEN. So no, I'm sorry fellas, I can't ogle without shame, but by all means, be my guest. You might want to take a look at this clip, however. Let's just say that without the costumes, the makeup and the sexy dance moves, Julianne barely looks old enough to attend her own prom.

Stewart, how can we tell who the star is: the flashy receiver or the reliable QB? I know Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald was a mega receiver, but no props to Rod Rutherford? Ken Dorsey and all those Miami receivers? Blake Mitchell/Sidney Rice? Troy Smith/Ted Ginn Jr.? Jay Cutler/Earl Bennett? Can one survive without the other?
--Jay, Charleston, S.C.

Wow, that's tough. I would argue that it's a lot easier to identify a mega-receiver, as you called Fitzgerald, then it is to conclusively judge a quarterback. Simply put, the great receivers make catches no one else can. During his two seasons at Pitt, Rutherford spent a whole lot of time just throwing up jump balls that Fitzgerald would invariably reach to the sky and grab. When Dwayne Jarrett makes a one-handed catch while falling out of bounds, I'd say that means he's pretty good. And the fact that Calvin Johnson was able to establish himself as the nation's best receiver last year despite having to catch passes from Reggie Ball tells you everything you need to know about that guy.

The problem comes when you try to do it in reverse. Case in point: Dorsey. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out he benefited from the luxury of not only elite receivers (Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson) but also his entire supporting cast (Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Jeremy Shockey, a ridiculous offensive line). But does that mean you could have replaced Dorsey with any old quarterback and Miami still would have won all those games? I highly doubt it. So the long answer to your short question is, if you've got a receiver like Larry Fitzgerald and you still manage to lose four or five games, it's probably the receiver who's the true star. To contend for a national title, it takes both.

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