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Posted: Wednesday June 4, 2008 11:58AM; Updated: Wednesday June 4, 2008 4:19PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

College football mailbag (cont.)

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New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt will try to replicate his first-year turnaround at Arkansas when the Hogs went from 4-7 to 9-3.
New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt will try to replicate his first-year turnaround at Arkansas when the Hogs went from 4-7 to 9-3.
AP
Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
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Georgia this season plays at Arizona State, marking the first time since 1967 that the Bulldogs have played a regular-season game outside of the Southeast. Since 1992, the SEC as a whole has played less than half as many out-of-region games than any BCS conference besides the Big East.

So my question is, what incentive do teams really have to go out there and play legitimately tough nonconference games every year? Any respectable BCS school will demand a home-and-home series, and if the odds of actually winning that game are so terrible, why not be like Georgia or Florida or LSU, and never schedule a game outside of the Southeastern U.S.?
-- Ryan, Columbus, Ohio

First of all, that Georgia nugget, which has been circulating frequently in recent months, is truly astounding, and has surely contributed to the notion I asserted last summer about that program's lack of national cachet. Fortunately, current AD Damon Evans realizes this and has taken numerous, progressive steps to enhance the Bulldogs' image, including scheduling home-and-homes like this one.

As to Ryan's question, my answer would be that, historically, teams had almost no incentive to schedule such games. The BCS is only a recent phenomenon. Prior to that, most teams' primary goal was simply to their win their conference, and anything beyond that was left to the voters.

The times, however, are a changin'. The addition of a 12th regular season game has created new scheduling opportunities, and many of the nation's highest-profile programs are using that opportunity to schedule at least one intersectional foe each season -- even in the historically parochial SEC. Tennessee just finished a home-and-home with Cal and begins one with UCLA this season. LSU just announced a home-and-home with Washington. Florida may not be leaving its region but, in addition to its annual date with Florida State, is renewing its series with Miami. Arkansas has Texas this year and picks up Texas A&M next. Alabama visits Penn State in a couple of years.

These schools, along with the likes of Ohio State (which has upcoming series with USC, Miami, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech), Oklahoma (Miami, Florida State, Ohio State and Notre Dame) and USC (Ohio State, Boston College), realize that such games, while risky, carry far greater potential benefits (besides the obvious exposure). When Ohio State and Texas visited each other in 2005 and '06, the winner each year wound up reaching the title game. And there's no overstating how important LSU's rout of Virginia Tech was last season, both in generating the national respect that accompanied the Tigers the rest of the year and in putting that extra something on their résumé that helped lift them over the other two-loss teams at the end of the year.

Personally, I think such games will soon become the norm rather than exception.

After being the worst team in the SEC the past four years, do you think Houston Nutt can get Ole Miss bowl eligible this year?
-- Chris, Birmingham, Ala.

I do. In fact, I think this is a classic case of a coach walking into a ready-made situation.

Say what you want about Ed Orgeron as a head coach -- at 10-25 in three seasons, it can't be anything good. In many respects the man did exactly what he was hired to do: upgrade the Rebels' recruiting efforts. Nutt inherits a team with at least three projected high-round NFL picks, offensive lineman Michael Oher and defensive linemen Peria Jerry and Greg Hardy. Texas transfer Jevan Snead has the tools to be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and he'll be working with a fairly stacked receiving corps. While Nutt is obviously known for the running game, he is smart enough to play to his team's strengths. His first year at Arkansas, in 1998, he rode the passing tandem of Clint Stoerner and Anthony Lucas to a five-win improvement, from 4-7 to 9-3.

Ole Miss should make a similar jump, at the very least to bowl eligibility. Despite what their record indicated, the Rebels were fairly competitive in the SEC the past two years, particularly in their games against stalwart LSU (losing in overtime in 2006 and outgaining the Tigers 466 to 396 in a 41-24 defeat last season). My guess is Ole Miss will finish with a better record in Nutt's first season than Arkansas will under his successor, Bobby Petrino, which will inevitably stick in the craw of most Nutt-weary Razorbacks fans. In the long run, however, Arkansas unquestionably got the better coach ... if, by some miracle, Petrino actually sticks around for the long run.

Will you issue a public apology to Bill Stewart if West Virginia wins a national championship this year? Also, will you personally drive down to Morgantown and kiss his butt if they continue to win Big East titles, BCS bowls and earn top 10 finishes over the next three years?
-- Perry, Latrobe, Pa.

My loyal readers know I never hesitate to admit when I'm wrong about something (which happens quite often), so obviously, yes, I would do so in that situation. In the case of those particular scenarios, however, I'm not particularly worried, seeing as there's a better chance of Adam "Pacman" Jones winning an NFL humanitarian award.

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