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Posted: Wednesday August 27, 2008 9:40AM; Updated: Wednesday August 27, 2008 5:16PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >

College football mailbag (cont.)

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Quarterback Sam Bradford is one of nine offensive starters back for Oklahoma this season.
Quarterback Sam Bradford is one of nine offensive starters back for Oklahoma this season.
Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.

What percentage chance do you give that one of the top five teams you wrote about last week -- Georgia, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma and Florida -- will win the national championship versus another team rising up and taking it all?
-- Richard, Memphis

That's a good question. There are some years where there's a fairly obvious favorite or two that seem head and shoulders above everyone else (USC and Texas in 2005). There are other years where the field seems completely wide open. Heck, the theme of our 2006 preview was "The Great Wide Open," in which we identified 16 teams we felt had the ingredients for a possible run -- and the team that ended up winning it, Florida, wasn't even on there.

To me, this year feels closer to the former than the latter. There aren't necessarily an obvious "one-two," but those five teams you mentioned do seem a step above everybody else (with Florida more of a stretch than the others). Unlike the past couple of years, when even the top contenders had a bunch of holes to fill (remember that Ohio State entered that '06 season No. 1 despite losing nine defensive starters and LSU, as mentioned earlier, entered last year No. 2 despite losing Russell), all those teams at the top are fairly loaded. Part of that has to do with the fact that Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma in particular are all coming off 11-win seasons in which their lineups were primarily young. Now they're both talented and experienced.

So to answer your question, I feel more confident than most years that the national champion will emerge from that group rather than "the field." I'll put it at 80 percent.

Why is it that the media is practically ignoring Oklahoma State? This team was so balanced last year they had exactly 3,161 yards rushing and passing. QB Zac Robinson had 2,824 yards throwing the ball and 847 yards running the ball. Do you feel OSU has a chance to be a dark horse and win the Big 12?
-- James White, Stillwater, Okla.

First of all, it says something about the preponderance of dual-threat quarterbacks in the game today that Robinson has managed to remain largely under the radar despite a season like that. Five years ago we would have been going nuts over a player with those kind of numbers (he also completed 60 percent of his passes and posted a 23-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio). Instead, he takes a distant backseat to guys like Tim Tebow, Pat White and Dan LeFevour.

Speaking for myself, there are two reasons I'm not giving much consideration to the Cowboys. For one, their defense last year was every bit as awful as their offense was spectacular, ranking 112th nationally against the pass and 101st overall. But mostly, there's the inescapable reality is that their head coach, Mike Gundy, is a complete clown.

I know what you're going to say. I'm only ripping Gundy because of his infamous "I'm a Man!" tirade last year. ... Well, yeah. Whether or not you agreed with the content, I can't imagine anyone who watched that charade -- which I presume is all of you -- came away from it thinking: "That's a guy I'd want leading my team." (Unless, of course, your team at the time was coached by Bill Callahan or Karl Dorrell.) Gundy is certifiably nuts. He's like the Ed Orgeron of the Big 12. And he's got a 18-19 record to his name. What possible evidence is there to suggest that one of his teams should ever be taken seriously?

Stewart, given the over-the-top negativity from the national press -- yourself included -- surrounding Bobby Petrino's hire at Arkansas, do you think the Hogs are going to get the cold shoulder from pollsters in the next couple of years should they turn out to have a pretty good team?
-- Doug Brewer, Richmond, Ky.

Nick Saban's team is ranked 24th in the preseason AP poll. I don't think you have anything to worry about.

If you look back at past BCS National Championship games, teams that have played in a conference championship game have gone 5-1 against teams that did not. What do you make of this?
-- Brian Coleman, Columbus, Ohio

That's a pretty fascinating stat, one I had not previously seen, and it would seem to give credence to the notion that teams like Ohio State the past two years suffer from the prolonged layoff between games. (Note that in the one example to contrary, USC's 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in 2004, the Trojans still played their last regular-season game the same day as the Sooners.)

The fact is, it's unnatural for a team to go more than seven weeks between games, a period that includes two holiday breaks and the early-December awards circuit. And that time off has only grown longer with the BCS pushing back the title date a full week after New Year's and, depending on the calendar, teams ending their regular season earlier. (In 2002, for instance, Ohio State played its last regular-season game on Nov. 23 and the title game on Jan. 3; last year it was Nov. 17 and Jan. 7 -- 10 extra days off.)

Not that a five-week break between games -- as is the case for a conference title-game participant -- is entirely normal, either, but those teams spend a much smaller amount of time away from the practice field. LSU took two weeks off following the SEC championship game last year -- one of which was finals week -- then basically practiced non-stop leading up to the title game, save for a four-day Christmas break. Ohio State followed much the same schedule but after a longer postseason break. I know the Buckeyes worked in more individual conditioning workouts after the Michigan game than the year before, but they were still forced to spread out the same number of practices over a longer period of time.

Since both teams are allowed the same number of practices, it's not like one comes out "more prepared" than the other. I just think that when you're dealing with college kids, the closer you can keep things to their usual structure, the better.

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