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Posted: Wednesday August 13, 2008 2:20PM; Updated: Wednesday August 13, 2008 4:14PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >

A true conference showdown, preseason injuries and more (cont.)

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I had only read the first sentence of last week's Mailbag and I had to drop you a note. Sir, you are incorrect. Rock Band is NOT the greatest invention of the 21st century. The runaway winner in that category is TiVo. It changes your life.
-- Mark Saenz, Honolulu

You have a valid point. In terms of its impact on society, TiVo isn't all that far behind electricity, air conditioning and cell phones. I certainly can't remember watching TV without it.

That said -- TiVo was invented in 1999. I stand by my original choice.

Stewart, why, oh why do we get our hopes up every year for a new team to make it to that elite-level and become national champion, only to see them crash and burn and watch the big boys take home the trophy? It seems like every year, people get excited about "someone new at the top" -- Wisconsin, West Virginia, Missouri ... even Kansas or USF -- only to have them pushed back off the playground while the 10-12 annual powerhouses trade spots as national champions. Parity in college football? Bah-humbug!
-- Joe B., Apex, N.C.

Joe makes a good point, though I'd say it's only half-true. Remember, there was once a time when those 10-12 powerhouses (Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama, USC, etc.) were winning 10-12 games every single season. The fact that they don't, and the fact that programs like the ones you mentioned now do so with increasing regularity, is all the confirmation you need that parity in college football is very real and has had a dramatic effect on the sport over the past 10-15 years.

But it's also true that none of these schools have yet climbed that final hurdle to the very top of the polls since the advent of the 1-vs.-2 game in the mid-'90s, and you wonder, is it even possible? While various factors have made it possible for just about anyone to rise up and field a top-five or top-10 team, the reality is there's still a core of elite programs -- USC, LSU, Ohio State, etc. -- that are simply far more talented than Missouri or Kansas is ever going to be. What we have seen is that the presence of even a single, transcendent difference-maker can lift one of these teams right to the cusp, as Michael Bishop did for Kansas State, Michael Vick for Virginia Tech, Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin for Missouri last season and Pat White/Steve Slaton/Noel Devine for West Virginia these past few years. But as you saw in the Big 12 title game, even an offense as powerful as Missouri's was for 12 games last season couldn't handle the physicality of an Oklahoma defense chock full of future pros.

If there's any "non-traditional" program that would seem capable of breaking down that wall, it's Virginia Tech. The Hokies have been turning out national-championship caliber defenses for several years now, and only a handful of programs nationally are capable of producing eight NFL draft picks in a single year, as Virginia Tech did this past spring. And yet, to this day, the closest Frank Beamer's program has come to reaching that brass ring was when it was blessed with an otherworldly athlete at quarterback. His more recent teams had more overall talent than that 1999 squad, but they've lacked difference-makers on offense. That's pretty much the only way a program of that stature is going to win a national championship because, as you saw last year, there's still quite a disparity between the overall talent level of an LSU versus that of a Virginia Tech.

I noticed it's been two years since you've written about the monkeys that compile your 26-119 rankings. Then last week you mentioned Florida Atlantic as a potential top-40 team this season. Have the rankings for teams beyond the top 25 increased that much in importance, causing you to stop delegating to the monkeys? What ever became of your private consultants?
-- Ulises Burgos, Brazil

I'm sorry to have to tell you this -- but the monkeys quit. Seriously. All of a sudden, one day, they got up and walked out, muttering something about a pension plan, overtime-pay and a threat of reporting us to the ASCPA for making them watch one too many Utah State-Idaho games. In their absence, I did pitch in on Sports Illustrated's preseason 21-119 edition (with which numerous Michigan fans were apparently none too pleased), but once the season starts, I'm not going to have time to focus on anything beyond my obligatory top 25. I'll keep you posted on their eventual replacement(s).

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