Anticipation mounting for changing of the guard; plus more Mailbag
With QB trinity gone, young stars have chance to emerge as faces of the sport
Houston Nutt hasn't broken rules, but his "win-at-any-cost" tactics are shameless
Plus: Where I stand on paying college athletes, nine Big Ten games, "system" QBs
It's finally August. College football teams around the country will be hitting the practice fields as early as today. If you're like me, you're brimming with anticipation for the 2010 season.
Unlike this guy...
Maybe it's just me, but I have to share a feeling I've had for months: I'm not too excited about the upcoming college football season. Will I still follow it? Of course. But I'm just not feeling the anticipation like I have in past years. I feel like it has to do with the departure of big-name QBs like Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy. It just seems like a down year when most teams will be replacing key players.
-- Ken Devine, Centerville, Ohio
Among the 1,927 reasons I prefer college to the NFL is the ever-changing wave of new stars and breakout players. While I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the careers of Tebow and McCoy, their departures are the very reason I find myself more excited for this season than last. Nothing against those guys, but we were due a changing of the guard, and I can't wait to watch the next generation.
Last week in New York, several other writers and I enjoyed the opportunity to have dinner with four Pac-10 quarterbacks (USC's Matt Barkley, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Washington's Jake Locker and Arizona's Nick Foles). They're all great kids, very mature for their age, and yet they've all only begun to scratch the surface of their talents. It will be neat to see whom among that group -- along with other rising talents around the country like Terrelle Pryor, Ryan Mallett, Jerrod Johnson and Blaine Gabbert -- emerge as the faces of 2010.
Meanwhile, the aura of those quarterbacks and their title-contending teams last season overshadowed an abundance of big-time running backs that burst onto the scene. Obviously, Mark Ingram and the now-departed Toby Gerhart got their due acclaim, but few seemed to notice Pitt's Dion Lewis run for nearly 1,800 yards or Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams score 21 touchdowns, both as freshmen. Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers remains one of the most exciting, if overlooked, players in the country, and the Oregon tandem of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner is going to be fun to watch.
And finally, you've got a whole host of intriguing new coaches, many of whom could have an immediate impact this season. For all that's been said and written about Lane Kiffin, it's time to find out what kind of a coach he actually is. Will he lead USC back to the 11-win level? Fall on his face? We don't know. For all we know, Brian Kelly could well walk into South Bend and turn Notre Dame into a BCS contender and Jimbo Fisher could restore swagger in Tallahassee.
Change is really the overriding theme in the sport right now, and it makes for a whole lot more preseason mystery than there was this time a year ago when it was all about Tebow/McCoy/Bradford.
Your Houston Nutt article is an outrage! Who are you, Mr. Stewart Mandel, to call a fine coach trying to help someone dirty or question his integrity? You should be fired!! I think you, sir, are a big A$$!!
-- Steve, North Mississippi
After reading your latest article on Houston Nutt, I only have one thing to say: Thank you so much for publishing that article. I honestly can't thank you enough for exposing this man for who he truly is.
-- James, Little Rock, Ark.
I knew the Nutt column would elicit some strong reactions, but I had no idea they would split so diametrically between the states of Mississippi and Arkansas. I literally received hundreds of e-mails just like these two. It's no surprise Ole Miss fans so vociferously defended their coach (though I have no doubt the same exact people would have crucified Dan Mullen if by chance Mississippi State had taking Masoli instead), but apparently Nutt is about as popular in Arkansas as Kiffin is in Tennessee.
But the point of the column was not to rile up those two fan bases. Let me address a less partisan e-mail.
Stewart, your writing is usually spot-on in regards to the ever-wavering ethics of college football, but your criticism of Houston Nutt's acceptance of Masoli is uncharacteristically harsh to the point of seeming almost personal. I'm not saying that you're wrong about Nutt, just that you seem to have lost your perspective as a journalist on this one. What gives?
-- James, Edmond, Okla.
I don't dispute that the column was harsh, but it wasn't without reason.
My hope with the Nutt-Masoli piece was that readers might take a moment to rethink what truly constitutes "dirty" in this day and age. It's been an eventful off-season for scandal-related headlines, and as I wrote in the lead, I've noticed fans throwing around the d-word with reckless abandon, demonizing coaches and programs based mostly on blanket assumptions and innuendo. Listening to some of the revisionist history out there about Pete Carroll's USC tenure, you'd think he was handing Reggie Bush money out of his own wallet, which couldn't be further from the truth. If you're going to accuse someone of being "dirty," it really ought to be for something of his own doing.
Admittedly, Nutt has broken no rules, and if that's your sole criteria for judging a coach's ethics, then you're obviously going to disagree with the column. But as I wrote, Nutt has demonstrated a repeated pattern over the past several years of shameless win-at-any-cost tactics. Taking on Masoli just happens to be his most brazenly transparent. No one's buying the cover that this has anything to do with "helping" a wayward kid. As Nutt himself told the Memphis Commercial Appeal: "I could have not gone after him, gone 6-6 this season and got ready to reload [for 2011]. But when you think about your team, you have an obligation to them to do everything you can to put them in the best situation to win."
Sadly, this has become the standard operating mentality for a lot of coaches, and I happen to find it more troublesome than many of the things others might consider "dirty," but unfortunately, a lot of fans now tacitly accept it.
I am an Ole Miss fan, and if taking Masoli helps us win more games, so be it. This is what college football has become. Get over it.
-- David Davis, Taylorsville, Miss.
Case in point.
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