Preseason poll puzzle, RichRod's latest woes; more Mailbag
Pac-10 has load of talent, but poor '09 bowl showing hurt it in preseason polls
WVU violations may lead to Kelvin Sampson treatment for Rich Rodriguez
It's time for the NCAA to take a hard line against college coaches who oversign
There are some things that simply defy explanation. Take, for example, my infatuation with Jersey Shore.
As a 34-year-old professional whose prime MTV-watching days ended about 10 years ago, there's no logical reason why I should find so much enjoyment in watching a bunch of dim-witted twentysomethings in Miami get drunk, fight, break up, get back together, rinse and repeat. But I do. Oh, how I do. I live to see JWoww threaten to punch someone in her sleep. Few things are more amusing to me than "Situation" using his nickname when ordering takeout. And literally every word that comes out of Snooki's mouth is pure entertainment gold. "Angelina died." Incredible.
In fact, it would be much easier for me to identify the reasons behind Jersey Shore's age-defying appeal than those behind various team rankings in the preseason coaches' poll. And yet, like Sammie and Ron, I just keep trying.
Mr. Mandel, I was happy to see Oregon (No. 11) and Oregon State (No. 22) ranked in the coaches' poll, but I also noticed they were the only Pac-10 teams ranked despite not having a high-profile quarterback. Much is being said about the quarterback talent in the Pac-10 this year with Andrew Luck, Jake Locker and Nick Foles, but the pollsters seem to be saying that their talent is trumped by other factors. In the NFL success and failure seems to rely heavily on the QB. Is college football that much different?
-- Michael Kurtz, Roseburg, Ore.
To address the last part of your question first: Yes, I do think the difference in overall talent level among NFL teams is far thinner than among college teams, therefore putting NFL quarterbacks in the position to make or break a season. Obviously, you're not going to win championships in college with a subpar signal-caller -- but Alabama did win a national title last season with a first-year starting quarterback (Greg McElroy) who ranked a modest 28th in pass efficiency.
However, it does seem like voters put less of a premium on quarterback experience this year than they have in the past. While Oregon probably dropped about five spots when it lost Jeremiah Masoli, No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Texas were hardly affected by losing Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy. No. 14 Penn State and No. 15 Pittsburgh both garnered generous rankings considering their huge question marks at quarterback. Georgia, 8-5 last year, checked in at No. 21 despite not having a quarterback with any experience.
But that doesn't explain the low number of Pac-10 teams in the poll. (And we must mention as a disclaimer that USC was ineligible.) It was probably more a reflection of the conference's poor showing last bowl season. Oregon State came darn close to reaching the Rose Bowl, but probably cost itself a preseason top 15 ranking by laying an egg against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. Arizona's 33-0 Holiday Bowl loss to Nebraska cost it any shot at a preseason ranking. And imagine how different the preseason rankings might have been for both Oklahoma (No. 8) and Stanford (unranked) had the Sun Bowl gone 31-27 the other way.
The irony, of course, is that bowl results are rarely representative of anything other than which team cared more about the game and which team handled the layoff better. Luck didn't even play in Stanford's bowl game. My guess is at least two or three other Pac-10 teams will be ranked by the end of the season -- but good luck guessing which ones. While only two made the preseason cut, seven of the league's nine eligible teams received votes (everyone but UCLA and Washington State). It's not that voters didn't notice those veteran quarterbacks, they just couldn't agree on which had the best supporting casts.
With the new allegations that have surfaced that Rich Rodriguez committed the same violations at West Virginia that he did at Michigan, do you think the NCAA will be less likely to penalize the University of Michigan as it's obvious that the problem is more RichRod and not the university? As a lifelong Wolverine fan I can't wait for UM to fire him. He is a cancer to a once proud program.
-- Chris Hale, Barrington, Ill.
Sorry, Chris. Regardless of a coach's involvement, the NCAA sanctions the school where the infractions occurred. This happens to be a particularly unusual situation because, while most of the West Virginia violations allegedly occurred before Rodriguez got to Michigan, the Committee on Infractions will be hearing that case after Michigan's. If they go strictly by the book, committee members won't even be able to discuss or consider the West Virginia allegations when Rodriguez and other Michigan officials appear before the committee this weekend in Seattle. This could create an awkward situation for Michigan.
Mind you, of the five "major" violations alleged against Michigan (personally, I think they're all still fairly "minor"), the only one the school is contesting is the allegation that Rodriguez "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance" in the football program. AD Dave Brandon has continually defended RichRod publicly, and the school is defending him to the NCAA as well. Should the Committee rule against him, the school would at that point be able to fire Rodriguez "with cause," but I think we can all agree that if Michigan wins nine games this fall, he's not going anywhere.
However, what happens if Rodriguez is found guilty again next winter in the West Virginia case? At that point, the Committee would consider his history of violations, and in turn, might impose a "show-cause" penalty against the coach. It's the one individual sanction the Committee can levy against a coach, and it puts the onus on his current employer to "show cause" why he should be allowed to hold his position. To use a basketball comparison, it's the Kelvin Sampson penalty, and it's hard to see Rodriguez surviving it. But due to the timeline of the West Virginia case, we might not even reach that point until next spring.
Do you think Montel Harris of Boston College could potentially be one of the "new faces" of college football? Last season, he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and double-digit touchdowns as a true sophomore. Going into this season, he should be the focal point of the Eagles' offense and is running behind a very good offensive line that includes a potential NFL first round pick at left tackle.
-- Jermaine Starks, Jacksonville, Fla.
Harris is a beast, no question, but one who's done his best work with near anonymity thus far. How many people outside of ACC country could tell you that Harris ran for 264 yards in a game against NC State last season or 179 against Florida State? Or that he closed the season with five straight 100-yard games? Or that he ran for 900 yards the year before?
Harris faces two obstacles in terms of exposure. For one, he's only the third-most decorated player on his own team behind linebacker Mark Herzlich (who will be getting a whole lot of deserved pub this season when he returns from bone cancer) and preseason All-American tackle Anthony Castonzo. And secondly, BC, while always a bowl team, rarely seems to play in nationally prominent games. The last one that comes to mind is Matt Ryan's Thursday night miracle against Virginia Tech in 2007. If Harris and the Eagles can have a similar season as that 11-3 team -- and personally, I consider BC one of the biggest sleeper teams in the country -- Harris will get his recognition. Whether he distinguishes himself from a boatload of other high-profile running backs around the country remains to be seen.