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Posted: Wednesday June 25, 2008 12:01PM; Updated: Wednesday June 25, 2008 1:19PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Preview magazines love Florida, ND's TV advantage and much more

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Tim Tebow
Florida looks to decrease Tim Tebow's rushing workload this season by leaning more heavily on its running backs.
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Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
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You know that college football season must be getting closer -- or at least closer than it was in, say, March -- when the first wave of preview magazines start hitting the newsstands. I've seen two, Athlon and Phil Steele, and both have the same team at No. 1.

I must say, it's not the team I was expecting.

It appears that a few preseason magazines have the Florida Gators at No. 1 for the upcoming season. What do you think?
-- Ryan, Orlando

As I've said in the past, different people have different interpretations of what a preseason poll should be. I'm one of those who treat them as a "starting point," based on how a team finished the year before and who it has coming back. Most people, however, treat them as a prediction of what the final poll will be next January -- and obviously preview magazines fall into that category.

To that end, predicting Florida to win this year's national championship is as reasonable a prediction as any. The Gators return 16 starters, including a Heisman-winning quarterback (Tim Tebow), an otherworldly playmaker (Percy Harvin), a solid offensive line and nearly every key defensive player. And if you're one of those that likes to "play out" the schedule, you have to like the fact Florida plays just one road game against a team likely to be ranked in the preseason (Tennessee).

But let's not forget, the Gators lost four games last season and finished last in the SEC in pass defense. Anyone who's projecting Urban Meyer's team as national champion is making three pretty bold assumptions:

1) That Florida's defense will improve considerably. The Gators were extremely young on that side of the ball last year, starting as many as 10 freshmen and sophomores, and it showed. With a year's experience under their belt, it's not unreasonable to expect former all-everything recruits like linemen Carlos Dunlap, Justin Trattou and Torrey Davis or safety Major Wright to explode, but will it be enough for the unit to leap from mediocre to dominant?

2) That Tebow will hold up physically for another entire year. Which goes hand in hand with No. 3.

3) That a legitimate tailback will finally emerge. This is not just important in terms of taking some of the rushing load off Tebow but also because Florida's offense, for all its purported weapons, was very predictable at times last season. In the Capital One Bowl loss to Michigan, Tebow and Harvin accounted for 29 of 32 rushing attempts. The Gators need Chris Rainey or Emmanuel Moody to become a threat for Meyer's spread offense to be consistently dangerous.

Preseason magazines are mostly for fun (and for trying to decode Steele's elaborate color scheme), so there's no point getting too worked up over these rankings. If you're a Georgia fan, however, I'd imagine you're going to be pretty steamed if the AP and coaches polls follow suit. The Dawgs finished ahead of the Gators in the SEC standings last season, beat them on the field and return more starters (17).

We all know that preseason starting position can have a direct impact on the final results. For instance, while I thought LSU was plenty deserving of both its preseason and end-of-regular-season No. 2 rankings, there's no doubt in my mind that had the roles been reversed and Oklahoma had started the year No. 2 instead of No. 8, and LSU vice versa, the 11-2 Sooners would have played in the BCS title game instead of the 11-2 Tigers.

Fast forward to this year. Let's say, hypothetically, the preseason AP poll replicates Steele's, which has Florida No. 1 and Georgia No. 9. And let's say, hypothetically, that it's another year like last season where a cluster of teams all finish with one or two losses. If Florida winds up one of those teams, it will have a much better chance of finishing in the top two than Georgia would if placed in the same scenario, and that's an advantage the Gators have not yet earned.

I was somewhat astonished and dismayed at NBC's renewal of its TV contract with Notre Dame. This is not because I don't want to watch Notre Dame, but rather that it seems to be a slap in the face of the parity that the NCAA seems to be trying for. The reasoning being that all else being equal between two schools, isn't the fact that a recruit would be guaranteed to be on national TV for every home game an artificially introduced advantage toward Notre Dame? How is this fundamentally any different than if Notre Dame was able to pay recruits?
-- Darren Beyer, Orlando, Fla.

The difference is, the NCAA has rules against paying recruits, and can penalize its institutions accordingly. It does not have the authority, however, to tell NBC what it can or cannot put on its airwaves. In fact, it would be breaking the law if it did.

Notre Dame's right to sign a contract with NBC -- just like the Big Ten's right to sign with ABC, the SEC's right to sign with CBS, etc. -- was established by the United States Supreme Court in 1984. Prior to that, the NCAA strictly regulated how many times a school could appear on TV and how much it could be compensated for those appearances. Georgia and Oklahoma sued the NCAA on the grounds that those policies violated anti-trust law, and ultimately, the highest court in the land agreed. As a result, technically, all schools are free to negotiate their own network TV deals; it's just that all but Notre Dame, Army and Navy choose to do so within the confines of a conference.

So while the Irish's perceived recruiting advantage may in fact exist, it would be incorrect to describe it as "artificially induced." It actually came about through the most natural means possible: Capitalism.

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