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Posted: Wednesday October 29, 2008 11:26AM; Updated: Wednesday October 29, 2008 12:52PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >
COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

BCS scenarios, Willingham's future, Minnesota's revival, more (cont.)

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Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
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Is Tulsa for real? It appears Gus Malzahn has found a happy ending to his Arkansas detour. Who's likelier to end the season undefeated: Tulsa or Ball State?
-- Bobak, Minneapolis

Tulsa's offense is incredible. Are the Hurricane "for real?" Who's to say? I wish they'd faced a marquee non-conference opponent early in the season so we'd have some measuring stick. Tulsa had a pretty good offense last year, too, but still lost 62-21 to Oklahoma. Now, we should get a better sense this weekend when the Hurricane visit Malzahn's former employer, Arkansas. The Razorbacks may be 3-5, but they've already faced a couple other pretty dynamic offenses: Texas and Florida. It will be interesting to see how Tulsa's compares.

As for the second part of your question, if the Hurricane make it past Arkansas, they would seem to have a pretty clear path to an undefeated season. No one in Conference USA is going to slow them down. Ball State's path is more challenging: Northern Illinois (5-3, 4-1 in the MAC), at Miami, and then, the double-whopper finale -- at Central Michigan (6-2, 5-0) and vs. Western Michigan (6-2, 4-1).

Which team has been the most disappointing this season?
A) Clemson
B) Auburn
C) Wisconsin
-- M.J., Baton Rouge, La.

I have to go with Auburn. Clemson, while unquestionably a flop, was a flop most of us saw coming from the get-go but foolishly talked ourselves into anyway. I certainly thought the Badgers would be better than they are, but their demise hasn't exactly sent shockwaves through the sport.

Auburn's implosion, on the other hand, is downright inexcusable. The Tigers have been playing at a high level for years. The athletes are there. It's just been a case of a coach's grand experiment going completely awry, and it's a complete waste of an incredibly talented defense. At this point, Auburn's problems run far deeper than their offensive scheme. As I predicted at the time, Tommy Tuberville's hasty dismissal of coordinator Tony Franklin sent that whole program into a cloud of negativity, and you can see the ripple effect.

Against West Virginia last week, the Tigers simply looked like a team that's thrown in the towel. They jumped to an early lead, but as soon as the Mountaineers fought back, Auburn flat-out crumbled. Suddenly this week's Ole Miss game is huge. Lose that one, and there's almost no chance the Tigers finish .500.

Not really a question, but I wanted to add to your answer last week about Notre Dame's Gator Bowl chances given that the Cotton Bowl can select Notre Dame once every four years to replace an SEC team, according to the school's Web site. I don't know if they would get to jump over the Gator Bowl to do so but I think an 8-4 ND team is playing on New Year's Day somewhere.
-- Sean, Hartford, Conn.

You are correct. As much as I try to keep on top of all the various bowl arrangements, there are so many kooky side deals and shared partnerships now it's almost impossible to keep track of everything. Making matters even more confusing is that, in talking to the various parties involved, no one seems to have the same understanding of how this arrangement works.

Yes, the Cotton Bowl's deal with the SEC includes a clause that it can select Notre Dame once in the current four-year period (this is Year 3). But the Gator Bowl also has a deal with the Big East (of which the Irish are a bowl partner) that specifically includes first dibs at Notre Dame if the Irish aren't in the BCS. One source told me that if both bowls desire Notre Dame, the school gets to pick. But another told me there would have to be "a discussion" in order for the Gator to relinquish its rights to the Irish.

All of which should make this year's bowl projections -- which I start next week -- extra fun.

Time for the ultimate BCS-buster question: If Penn State, 'Bama and Texas all go undefeated, and JoePa gets squeezed out of the national title AGAIN with another undefeated team in what may be his final season, will there FINALLY be enough of an outcry to restructure the BCS into a playoff (if even a four team, plus-one)?
-- Dave, Cincinnati

Well, it was Penn State's exclusion from the old Bowl Coalition title game in 1994 that motivated Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to finally relent on his conference's exclusivity to the Rose Bowl and sign on to what eventually became the BCS. Perhaps another Nittany Lions snub would cause him to reevaluate his opposition to a plus-one and persuade his colleagues to do the same -- but I wouldn't count on it.

Delany, incidentally, just signed a contract extension through 2013.

After watching the first half of the Oklahoma-Kansas State game, I was wondering which you thought would fare better: a compilation of the Big 12's best defensive players or a random selection of your readers? These 50-plus point games are getting old.
-- James, New Orleans

Gosh. If 50-plus point games are getting old in New Orleans, I can only imagine how they're going over in Baton Rouge.

 
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