College football Mailbag (cont.)
Do you see the ACC making a strong push this season and becoming the third-best conference behind the Big 12 and SEC?
Back in December, I took it one step further than that. When SI.com asked me to list five storylines to watch in 2009, No. 4 on the list was: "The ACC will emerge as the nation's toughest conference." I'm going to back off from that a tad bit now -- the Big 12 looks awfully tough once again -- but I would not be surprised to see the ACC give the SEC a run for its money.
While it's true more nationally elite teams (Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss and possibly Georgia and/or LSU) reside in the SEC, there could be a pretty steep drop-off after that. Most of the other teams in that league are in some form of transition. That's how the ACC was for many years, as the league gradually ran off a slew of underachieving coaches (Chuck Amato, Chan Gailey, John Bunting, Larry Coker, Ted Roof, Tommy Bowden). But now the likes of Paul Johnson, Butch Davis and David Cutcliffe have replaced those faces and the league suddenly looks a whole lot more competitive.
In addition to prohibitive favorite Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State, Miami, NC State and Clemson could all potentially field top 25 teams. It's rare to look at a conference before the season and say, "I could see any of 11 teams reaching a bowl." (Sorry, Duke). When there's almost no dead weight, you've got a tough league.
With Penn State having such a weak nonconference schedule (thanks to Syracuse dropping off the face of the college football earth over the past seven years), how badly do you see this hurting the Nittany Lions' BCS bowl chances if they don't win the Big Ten?
The only time strength of schedule matters is in the national-title discussion. If Penn State were to go undefeated and its opponents (Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois) prove as weak as projected, and the Big Ten's reputation continues to stink (i.e., if USC crushes Ohio State again), then there's a realistic possibility the title game could pass on the Nittany Lions for a more credentialed team. But if all you're talking about is a BCS bowl berth, well, 10-2 is 10-2. I'm sure someone in Miami, New Orleans or Glendale would be happy to have them.
Incidentally, I realize Penn State is taking a lot of heat for its schedule this season -- to the point where its co-captains, Daryll Clark and Sean Lee were recently forced to defend it -- so it's worth pointing out the Nittany Lions begin a home-and-home next season with Alabama. Also, you never know what might happen when Greg Paulus steps into Beaver Stadium on Sept. 12.
I've been reading your articles for years and believe you are the most level-headed college football writer out there. Today is the first time that something you wrote set me off, with the most insane statement I have ever read. You actually referred to Evangeline Lilly as "mildly attractive." You've lost it.
If I could take back two words I've written at any time in my career, they would be "mildly attractive." The many of you who e-mailed are well justified in questioning my sanity, because there's no denying Evangeline Lilly the actress is certifiably stunning. As I wrote last week, however, my beef isn't with Lilly -- it's with the character she plays.
I'm serious about this. For the most part, I sit in genuine awe of Lost writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and cannot begin to imagine how they do what they do. However, even with no screenwriting credentials, I believe I could write the typical Kate scene myself.
EXT. ISLAND BEACH CAMP -- DAY
Kate sits by the shore, staring pensively into the water. She is clearly deep in thought, most likely reflecting for the umpteenth time about the guy she murdered or the friend of hers that got killed. Suddenly, one of her two male admirers approaches from behind.
(As she turns toward him, Kate's expression instinctively changes to her flirty, manipulative face.)
KATE (her face scrunching back up)
JACK (shaking his head skeptically as he walks off)
And ... scene.
If you could make one minor change to college football's rules [on the field], what would it be?
I don't have any major grievances, especially now that the play-clock rules seem to have stabilized. However, I do get annoyed from time to time at the preponderance of ticky-tack pass-interference calls that help bail out offenses on third-and-12. I realize pass interference is a judgment call, and therefore one that's hard to "revise," but it seems odd that the same, 15-yard penalty that applies to a cornerback who knows he's about to get burned down the sideline and purposefully shoves the receiver off course also applies when a safety's hand happens to graze an opposing receiver's shoulder while jostling for a jump ball.
My suggestion: adopt the NFL's more severe pass-interference penalty -- which moves the ball to the spot of the foul -- but instruct the officials to enforce it more selectively.
Speaking of Bobby Petrino, who you wrote about last week, has any team ever fallen as far and as fast as Louisville? I have a lot of respect for AD Tom Jurich, but when he says this is not a "make-or-break" season for coach Steve Kragthorpe, I am concerned. Very concerned!
Plenty of programs have plummeted as badly as Louisville, which went from 12-1 in Petrino's last season to 6-6 and 5-7 the past two years under Kragthorpe. However, the Cardinals' situation may be more dire due to their less-established tradition. Over the years, whenever a longtime power like USC or Alabama experienced a few down years, one could reasonably assume it wouldn't stay down for long. With that much tradition and built-in recognition, all it takes is the right coach to come along and steer the ship back on course. Louisville, however, has invested an awful lot -- mainly $72 million on a stadium expansion -- based largely on faith and a relatively brief spurt of national prominence.
The Cardinals are less than five years removed from Conference USA, and right now they're a lot closer to that level than they are to the Brian Brohm/Michael Bush days. Jurich is saying what he has to say publicly to show support for his coach, but trust me, this is most definitely a make-or-break year for Kragthorpe. Jurich spearheaded the project that will increase Papa John's Cardinal Stadium's capacity from 42,000 to 63,000, but if Kragthorpe spends another season losing 63-14 to Rutgers, the Cardinals will be lucky to draw half-that for the 2010 opener.
Why do you consider UNC the flagship program in North Carolina, when State, under Tom O'Brien, has beaten Butch Davis' team two years in a row. I guess you are like most reporters: no respect for the Wolfpack.
Remember that question earlier about any rules changes I'd like to see? Here's one: Don't go playing the "no respect" card when your team hasn't posted a winning record in four years.
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