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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 (cont.)

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UCLA quarterback Ben Olson was part of a 2002 recruiting class that included Troy Smith and Vince Young.
UCLA quarterback Ben Olson was part of a 2002 recruiting class that included Troy Smith and Vince Young.
Kevin Reece/Icno SMI
Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
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Hey Stewart, who in this year's freshman class do you feel is going to make the largest impact for his team this year? Who will be this year's Adrian Peterson or Herschel Walker?
-- Jay, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Jay: You say that is if the presence of a Peterson or Walker is an annual occurrence. They've been the exception, not the rule. While freshmen in general are contributing more now than ever (in large part because of early enrollment), it's still rare for a true freshman to come in and dominate like that. The closest we saw last season was Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy, but I don't think anyone's ready to put him in the same class as those two.

On that note, I believe the freshmen who will have the biggest impact this season will be on the defensive side of the ball. The most likely candidates: Clemson DE DaQuan Bowers, who ripped it up in the spring; Florida DT Omar Hunter, upon whom Gators coach Urban Meyer has already pinned ample expectations; or Miami linebackers Sean Spence and Arthur Brown, both of whom could start right away. Your best bet for an offensive skill player is likely at receiver. Perhaps Alabama's Julio Jones, Georgia's A.J. Green or Notre Dame's Michael Floyd.

If guys like Brian Cushing qualify as "eighth-year seniors," can't we come up with an even longer term for someone like UCLA QB Ben Olson, who attended multiple schools, went on a two-year mission, redshirted, got married and suffered multiple injuries? How long has it been since this guy was the best high school QB in the nation?
-- Chris Ochoa, El Macero, Calif.

Good point. Olson, while technically a fifth-year senior, was the top-rated quarterback (by some) in the high school class of 2002. How long ago was that? Well for one, some of the other top-rated QBs in his class included Vince Young, Troy Smith and Marcus Vick. It would be another year before Chris Leak signed with Florida. And Chad Henne and Brian Brohm had just completed their sophomore years of high school.

So yes, unquestionably, Olson should be added to the list. But in reading some of my e-mails, it seems some of you took this exercise a bit too literally. Just because a guy is only a fourth-year senior on paper does not disqualify him if, as in the case of Penn State's Derrick Williams; it still seems like he's been in college since 2001. And while several Ohio State fans nominated Todd Boeckman -- who, because he delayed his initial enrollment, will be 24 this fall -- the fact is no one outside of Columbus had heard of him prior to last season and therefore he does not count.

You are a complete idiot. Nice eyebrows, by the way.
-- WVU Man, Morgantown, W.Va.

Why thank you. I'll be sure to pass along your compliments to my stylist.

Stewart, it has now been a few years since the ACC made the big move to bring in Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. Are they going to be any closer to becoming the next powerhouse conference like the SEC? If not, how much longer do you think it will take, or will they ever be as good as the SEC?
-- Ken Odom, Miami

Right now it's not remotely close, and while the SEC has only gotten stronger since 2004 (the year Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC), the ACC has deteriorated. It's not that there's a massive disparity in talent. In fact, over the past four years, the SEC has produced 31 first-round draft picks, the ACC 30. On the field, however, there's no comparison. The SEC has won three of the past five BCS championships, while the ACC has not even played for one since 2000. The SEC has won nine of its past 10 BCS games, while the ACC has lost eight straight.

As I've said -- oh, about 8,000 times -- conference strength is cyclical, and the ACC will not remain in its current rut forever. A conference is only as strong as the quality of its coaches, and the ACC has made some serious upgrades recently. Miami and Florida State will eventually return to respectability (though I'm starting to think that will happen in Coral Gables sooner than it will Tallahassee). I expect North Carolina to become very dangerous very soon under Butch Davis, and Georgia Tech could do much the same under Paul Johnson.

But no, the ACC will never be the SEC, primarily because its constituents simply don't care as much. The SEC championship game sells out every year, regardless of the participants; the past two ACC title games in Jacksonville have been half-empty. SEC boosters are crazy enough to shell out the kind of money necessary to lure the likes of Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino; ACC schools will save that money for Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. Call me skeptical, but I don't see the ACC ever being much more than the fifth-best football conference.

Was any school hit harder than Washington State by the recent APR reports? Do you think new coach Paul Wulff can get WSU back on track in academics so they don't lose more scholarships.
-- Ric Jensen, Royal City, Wash.

Of the BCS conference schools, yes, Wazzu was hit hardest, losing eight scholarships due to a low score (916) for the 2006-07 academic year. This reflects an inordinate amount of attrition (either players becoming ineligible academically or leaving in poor academic standing) during former coach Bill Doba's last full year on the job. Kansas was the only other major-conference school to lose scholarships this year, with two.

The good news for Washington State is that it had no prior APR run-ins, and the penalties solely reflected the program's academic performance during one academic year. Next year could be an entirely different story. Even so, however, that one bad year gets rolled into the program's four-year average and could contribute to harsher penalties down the road.

Temple, for instance, has cleaned things up significantly under Al Golden and incurred no lost scholarships for the '06-'07 year. However, the program was such a mess before that and its four-year average was so low (868), that the Owls did suffer "historical" penalties of two lost scholarships and a reduction in practice time from 20 hours a week to 16. The latter seems far more costly to me than the loss of a couple scholarships..

You didn't answer a single question regarding Ohio State in your last Mailbag. Are you going to answer one in this Mailbag?
-- Elijah, Columbus, Ohio

I'm afraid not. Why? Am I going to be arrested or something?

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