NCAA investigations may linger but 2010 season looms; more mail
Even without Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska is stacked with potential this season
Schools aren't necessarily in trouble when their players are investigated
Other topics: Texas QB Garrett Gilbert and Georgia State's FCS future
The college football world is abuzz with headlines about agents and NCAA investigations, which are indisputably newsworthy but pretty darn inconvenient, too. With fall camp just a couple of weeks away, these unanticipated developments are disrupting SI.com's season preview planning and coordinated effort among our reporters.
Therefore, we are filing a lawsuit in the state of Tennessee. Take that, dirty agents.
More practically, I will be sprinkling a few of your agent-related questions throughout this week's Mailbag but will begin with a more traditional, season-preview query.
Georgia in '08, Ole Miss in '09. What team this year is most likely to be the "sexy" pick that falls far short of expectations?
-- Jared, Columbus, Ohio
A little context: Georgia went 10-3 in '08, Ole Miss 9-4 in '09, and both played in semi-major bowls (Georgia beat Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, Ole Miss beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.) However, because the Dawgs had been touted as a preseason No. 1 team and Ole Miss as high as fifth, their seasons were considered letdowns. Yet, in neither case were people all that "surprised" by their "downfall" because most considered them "overrated" to begin with.
The one common thread you'll find in both cases (as with so many other preseason "flops") is that prognosticators got caught up in their impressive bowl performances the prior year (Georgia's Sugar Bowl demolition of Hawaii, Ole Miss' Cotton Bowl upset of 11-1 Texas Tech). Granted, it's much easier to reach that conclusion with the benefit of hindsight, but I can think of at least one soon-to-be preseason top 10 pick coming off what was, at the time, a very uncharacteristic bowl performance: Nebraska.
Last we saw the Huskers, they were dismantling Arizona, 33-0, in the Holiday Bowl, to cement their first 10-win season in six years. Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh led another dominant performance by the nation's seventh-ranked defense. That part was par for the course. Quarterback Zac Lee ran 18 times for 65 yards and threw a 74-yard touchdown. Where on earth did that come from?
The 2010 Huskers are undeniably talented. Receiver Niles Paul, defensive linemen Jared Crick and Pierre Allen and cornerback Prince Amukamara are all considered potential high-round NFL prospects, and running back Roy Helu Jr. could work himself into the mix with a big senior year. But anyone predicting Nebraska as a BCS title contender is making two considerable leaps of faith: 1) That the defense will remain at or near last year's level despite losing the nation's most dominant defensive tackle (Suh), and 2) The productive bowl performance from Lee and the offense is a better predictor of things to come than their 13 mostly woeful outings before that.
Nebraska's defense will still be very good, but not as relentlessly devastating as the unit that nearly beheaded Colt McCoy in the Big 12 title game. Its offense, best-case, goes from lousy to average. Nebraska plays a couple early "trap" games on the road (at Washington and at K-State) before hosting Texas, and visits A&M late in the year. It's easy to envision a scenario where the Huskers stumble early, rally, but ultimately finish around the same as they did last year -- a good season but not the return to glory many have predicted for this team.
Or they could win the national championship, and 500,000 Husker fans will rub this column in my face. But hey, that's the risk you take when trying to predict ahead of time whether a prediction might not come true.
We are seeing more and more programs being investigated for the actions of one or, at the most, several players. How does the NCAA deem it fair to penalize an entire program for the mistakes of a few? Especially if the player in question has already left the program? Shouldn't punishment be more directed at the guilty party?
-- Will, Gadsen, Alabama
Hey Stewart: Thanks again for the LOST podcast! Still thinking about the show ... Didn't it seem like the stories from SEC Media Day were putting the NCAA on trial? Andy Staples recently wrote, "[Nick] Saban and [Michael] Slive are powerful men, but are powerless against agents." Any headlines like that for Pete Carroll? Is it just me or did the entire media do an about-face regarding this issue, turning the coaches and the schools into victims?
-- Eric Krust, New Orleans
AgentGate may lack mystical numbers or Dharma jumpsuits, but much like the former ABC series, Eric, and I mourn, it has generated a lot of good discussion and opinions on the issue -- and some pretty zaney ones as well. I also sense a lot of confusion, so let's start by clarifying a major point.
When you read that NCAA investigators are coming to a campus (North Carolina, Georgia, etc.) to interview players about their dealings with agents, that doesn't necessarily mean the school itself is in trouble. As was described to me by an NCAA official, the investigators looking into current players' eligibility act separately from the larger enforcement division, which would only open an investigation into the program itself (like it did at USC) if there were issues of "institutional culpability." There is no indication as of yet that the NCAA is looking to "penalize" any of the schools you've read about in recent headlines.
The reason USC is currently on probation, banned from bowls, etc., isn't because Reggie Bush took money (though that alone may have led to vacated wins) but because it was charged with "lack of institutional control." Rightly or wrongly (read any USC fan site for the argument behind "wrongly"), the NCAA determined that running backs coach Todd McNair knew of Bush's "arrangement" but failed to report it; that the compliance office didn't follow up on any number of red-flags; and that Carroll's "openness" allowed for such infractions by allowing various hangers-on access to his sidelines and locker room.
Personally, I agree with Andy that coaches are largely powerless to prevent the underground interactions between players and agents/runners, and perhaps Saban and Slive were playing a bit of preemptive defense with their comments, knowing the hard-line stance the NCAA took in the USC case. But as long as the current programs involved are acting on the info they receive and dealing with the accused players accordingly, they should be OK -- unless, of course, investigators uncover that coaches or school officials were complicit in any players' arrangements.
#DearAndy: Big Ten football, Baylor Bears, and bacon
Spring football primer: Big 12