College football mailbag (cont.)
Thanks for the DonorsChoose.org plug! I teach in an inner-city school in Atlanta, and we are already struggling because of the recent economic downturn as our families were particularly hard hit. I rely on DonorsChoose.org for the basic school supplies we need, and your help is greatly appreciated.
The real thanks go to all of you who stepped up during the first week of the Mailbag's Conference Showdown and donated more than $15,000 to public-school classrooms. Fans of the Big Ten -- perhaps stirred to action by the recent flack their league has taken -- have taken the early lead, but there's still five weeks remaining for fans of all conferences to pitch in. Visit DonorsChoose.org/sishowdown to peruse classroom projects in your area. (For more info, see the box to the right.)
So, I'm watching the Olympics the other night, the women's vault, I think. One woman runs up, springs up in the air, does twists and turns, lands on her feet and the crowd goes wild. She gets a 16 for her score. The next woman runs up, springs up in the air, does twists and turns -- and lands on her knees. Yet she gets a 15. This made me appreciate how simple scoring is for football. Or maybe we should add degree of difficulty to the points awarded for a touchdown? What do you think?
As much as I would love to take advantage of this opportunity to mock the Olympics -- not that there haven't been plenty already (They CGI'd the fireworks? Really?) -- this would be highly hypocritical of me. After all, the sport I cover is not altogether different from gymnastics. At the end of the day, the champion is determined by a set of judges.
Considering the injuries at quarterback and to the offensive line, do you think UCLA will win more than four games?
Well ... it's not out of the question the Bruins could win five.
If I was a UCLA fan, I would be bracing for the worst. It's entirely possible former third-stringer Kevin Craft could emerge as a surprise at quarterback, but the early returns in practice have not been encouraging. Consider: Coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow were both far more confident in their original starter, Patrick Cowan, than they were Ben Olson. So it says something about Craft's standing that when Cowan tore his ACL in the spring, and even after Olson spent the summer recovering from his first broken foot, he still remained ahead of Craft on the depth chart.
But the Bruins' issues stretch far deeper than just quarterback. Karl Dorrell left behind a paper-thin offensive line that's only gotten more dire with injury. But most notably, as it pertains to the four-win projection, UCLA's nonconference schedule consists of three opponents -- Tennessee, BYU and Fresno State -- against which the Bruins would have to be considered underdogs. Like I said: Prepare for the worst.
Enough with the endless "best conference" debate. It's time for you to address the real burning question: What's up with the recent rash of jock itch at USC? Have the reports on this outbreak merely scratched the surface?
Wow. That's a whole lot of puns for one e-mail.
You would think the USC jock-itch story would be like Christmas for the blogosphere, but the coverage seemed to die out pretty quickly. There's at least one angle to the story I'm amazed no reporter has yet tackled: Whether the Trojans may have been had by the Tri-Lams.
Eugene Jarvis of Kent State is the nation's leading returning rusher (1,669 yards) and should be ranked among the top running back candidates for the Heisman this year. But the argument is that he plays in a lesser conference (MAC). Granted, the MAC is no powerhouse, but he also doesn't get the luxury of running behind BCS-level O-lines. Now Jarvis has as much of a chance to win the Heisman as I do hooking up with Kaitlin Olson, but shouldn't he at least be in the conversation?
Jarvis' accomplishments are all the more impressive when you find out he's 5-foot-5. I'm sure you'll start to hear some buzz for Jarvis if he puts up big numbers in his team's season-opening games against Boston College and Iowa State, but it's all pretty much a fruitless exercise, isn't it?
Remember Garrett Wolfe? The Northern Illinois star led the nation in rushing two years ago with 1,928 yards and most certainly entered the "conversation" when he put up 171 yards in the Huskies' season opener against Ohio State. He stayed there for about half the season. But as soon as he had a few subpar outings against conference foes, he was out. Unfortunately, that's how these things work.
I don't think it's impossible for a non-BCS player to win the Heisman, but it's certainly going to require the stars lining up. He would likely have to put up Xbox-type numbers, like 2007 finalist Colt Brennan. He would almost certainly have to play for an undefeated team, like 2004 Heisman finalist Alex Smith. And most important, he would have to put up at least one big performance against a marquee opponent on national television -- like Byron Leftwich did against Virginia Tech in 2002 (preferably without the lopsided defeat).
Many people predict Notre Dame will rebound greatly from last year, ranging between an eight- to 10-win season. Much of this optimism comes from the heavier offensive line. Do you think bigger means better, or is Notre Dame just getting desperate?
Tell me something, Sam. Are these "people" you speak of by any chance the same ones who discovered Bigfoot?
By no means am I an expert when it comes to the weight of offensive linemen. I know offensive linemen, in general, tend to be very big, and I know Notre Dame's offensive linemen spent most of last season getting bulldozed. If the Irish coaches believe the problem stemmed from the fact their linemen weren't big enough, then I'm inclined to believe them.
There's just one little thing, though. Considering the trend among defenses is toward leaner, faster defensive ends and hybrid linebackers, shouldn't it be of greater importance that Notre Dame's blockers be quick on their feet? At 6-8, 330 pounds, I imagine there won't be too many defenders plowing over left tackle Sam Young -- but they could still run past him.
Speaking of which ....
OK, I am temporarily breaking my boycott of college football until they institute a playoff due to what some consider to be extraordinary news: "Bigfoot Discovered in Mountains of Northern Georgia." Big hairy seven-footers with outstanding foot speed and the kind of frame you want on an offensive lineman? The SEC has known about this for years, and your grandmother running behind five of these guys would have 1,500 yards rushing a year.
At last -- the secret to the SEC's supposed speed advantage has been exposed. Years and years of scared, Southern adolescents running from Bigfoots while sneaking around their local mountain range managed to turn them all into 4.35 sprinters!
I assume Jim Tressel will be instituting a new training program immediately.
Stewart Mandel's book, Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls: Tackling the Chaos and Controversy that Reign Over College Football, is now available in paperback with an update chapter on the wild 2007 season.