Big 12 gauntlet; more mail (cont.)
I surrender. I've been defending the ACC for years now, mainly by pointing out respectable regular season records against the other BCS conferences despite persistent BCS bowl failures, but now I don't even have that. This conference stinks. Period. The only thing I can't figure out is why. The ACC annually produces among the most NFL talent, and the coaches are largely respected in some form. Maybe the answer has something to do with only two quarterbacks being drafted out of the ACC over the last six years (Matt Ryan and Charlie Whitehurst)?
-- J.D. Bolick, Denver, N.C.
You know I believe strongly in the cyclical nature of conference strength, but admittedly the ACC has yet to hit its "up" cycle. And the interesting thing is, you can actually divide the league's seven seasons since expansion into two cycles.
The quarterback void was definitely a prominent factor for several years, starting after Phillip Rivers (NC State) and Matt Schaub (Virginia) played their final seasons in 2003. Around 2005-06, the ACC had arguably as much defensive talent as any league this side of the SEC. Florida State and Miami were still churning out elite defenses but bumbling around on offense with QBs like Kyle Wright and Drew Weatherford. NC State had three first-round picks (Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo) on its 2005 defense, but couldn't break seven wins. (Our old pal Chesty Chuck might have had something to do with that.) Georgia Tech endured the four-year Reggie Ball era. It was ugly.
Now, the league finally has a whole bunch of good quarterbacks -- Russell Wilson, Christian Ponder, Jacory Harris, Josh Nesbitt, Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Parker and the much-improved T.J. Yates -- but the defenses have gone in the toilet, most notably Florida State's. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are struggling on that side of the ball, too. North Carolina was expected to be an exception before suspension city kicked in. Bottom line: I think most schools in the league have the right coaches in place and a good number of NFL-caliber players, but just can't seem to put it all together. Things are better than they were in the latter half of the 'aughts, but not there yet.
Stewart, thanks for picking Texas Tech to upset UT. I was honestly worried Texas was going to lose in Lubbock, but once you picked Tech, I knew we were safe. Please pick OU and Nebraska as well. Thanks.
-- Alan, Houston
Nice picks for the upset this week! Either you were living on another planet or you were on some really good drugs when you said Washington (seriously, Washington?) would upset or even come close to beating the Huskers.
-- Chad Hutchens, Laramie, Wyo.
I hit 80 percent of my picks the first two weeks, and do you know how many e-mails I got about it? Zero. But of course after this weekend's unmitigated pickoff disaster, the e-mails start pouring in. No worries. I can take it. Though I'd be a lot more impressed if you guys had the stones to send these in before the games.
Here's my prediction of your predictions. You will lose five of these picks, most notably Texas and Nebraska.
-- Chris, Portland, Ore.
Well played, sir.
I just finished watching Nebraska's drubbing of UW, and in light of that humiliation, I have a question about Jake Locker. I am absolutely not disputing his athleticism, but given his performance today (4-of-20 for 71 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions), does he deserve the hype he's been getting? I just don't get it: His stats are mediocre, and he looked awful today. What gives?
-- Angela, Seattle, Wash.
As I wrote this summer, Locker is the rare player whose "hype" was trickling down from the NFL rather than vice versa. Personally, I've long ago given up trying to figure out which quarterbacks will succeed at the next level and which won't. If you'd told me in 2005 that five years later Matt Leinart would be a career backup just cut by his original team, I'd have said you were out of your mind. Of course, I would have said the same thing if you told me in 2006 that JaMarcus Russell would be a No. 1 pick the following spring. I don't claim to be an NFL talent evaluator. I leave that to the "professionals."
With that in mind, I drank the Kool-Aid when guys like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay started speaking about Locker as if he were the second coming of John Elway. Kiper on April 7: "If you had to ask me right now who is going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, I would say it's etched in stone it's going to be Jake Locker." McShay on July 14: "Just finished Locker '09 tape. Anyone that thinks he's not [round one] talent either hasn't done homework or doesn't know how to eval[uate] QB's." And now comes the backtracking. McShay after Saturday's game: "Watched all 16 Locker misses, incl[uding] 2 picks + 1 pick erased due to flag. Of the 17, 8 were on Locker. Bad reads, erratic throws. Not good." And: "Definitely mounting concerns about Locker pressing and confidence level..."
Just a guess, here: Perhaps some of that pressing and lack of confidence comes from having been anointed a No. 1 pick more than a year before the actual draft. Between the pundits' hyperbole and Washington's own aggressive Heisman campaign, Locker bore some serious public expectations coming into the season despite relatively modest production his first three seasons. Physically, he's a great talent, and we've seen him make some fantastic plays, but he's yet to do it for a full game against an elite opponent. Hopefully he'll get back on the right track and not pull a Jevan Snead, who, like Locker, had a much higher reputation among the draftnicks than he did in actual NFL war rooms. Says McShay: "... Snead comparisons are crazy. Ease off the panic button folks."
Stewart: Just wanted to say I agree with you about all these "conflicted" college football fans. Alma Mater should always come first, no matter what. I grew up in the Florida panhandle. I was raised by Gator fans my entire life. At 8, I moved to New Orleans, the closest thing to the epicenter of LSU-dom outside Baton Rouge. I rooted for UF diligently, often at my own peril, during LSU's rise to prominence in the beginning of the decade. Nothing was sweeter than watching the Gators beat LSU and win the national title in 2006. Nine months later, I started school at LSU. The epic 2007 game between the two was pretty hard to watch, but at the start of my senior year I can honestly say I don't even give UF a second thought. I'll always cherish the Spurrier years and my childhood as a Gator fan, and I enjoy seeing them do well if they aren't playing LSU, but I am an LSU fan and only an LSU fan.
-- David, New Orleans
Thank you, David. I received a lot of e-mails like this one that confirmed what I already believed: I am right, and you alma mater dissenters out there are just plain wrong. Be true to your school, folks. Or don't go to school there.
How underrated is Nevada's Colin Kaepernick? With all the (deserved) press Denard Robinson is getting, shouldn't Kaepernick be getting some? As of now, he has 13 TDs in three games and is putting up numbers that would even make Tim Tebow do a double-take.
-- Scott Dean, Birmingham, Ala.
Kapernick has been putting up those silly numbers for four years now. He's the unquestioned king of the Pistol offense, a master of ball-fake handoffs and keepers. And he's got a heck of an arm, too. I started to have doubts, however, when he tailed off a bit last year, particularly against the best opponents on his schedule: Notre Dame (188 yards in a 35-0 loss), Missouri (205 yards in a 31-21 loss), Boise State (172 yards in a 44-33 loss) and SMU in the Hawaii Bowl (200 yards in a 45-10 loss).
But there's no doubt he's off to an incredible start this season, including a dominating performance against Cal. He ran 17 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns, but I was more impressed with the way he attacked downfield through the air, finishing 10-of-15 for 181 yards and two scores. With the caveat that Cal was playing without its best defensive player, linebacker Mike Mohamed, the Bears looked completely helpless against Kapernick and the Pistol. If Nevada can keep it up and go into its season finale against Boise State at 10-1 or 11-0, Kapernick will get all the attention he could ask for.
Stewart, I usually like your stuff, but you are way off on this hometown vs. alma mater discussion. I was raised a Cornhusker. I ate, slept, and breathed Cornhusker football. The first college that I attended out of high school was Miami (Fla). They played Nebraska my freshman year (1976). No way would I ever root for any team other than the Big Red ... EVER. And for extra measure, my daughter goes to the University of Arizona. She was rooting for Nebraska at last year's Holiday bowl. And she had a great time!
-- Jeff, Phoenix
That's cool. But if Arizona goes to its first Rose Bowl in school history this season, your daughter is ineligible to purchase a ticket.
I figured I should go to the expert regarding Case Keenum's future eligibility. Keenum is a redshirt senior, and the NCAA rule states that a player can't participate in more than 20 percent of his team's games and still receive another year. But I also know Keenum is probably close to graduate school by now, which potentially changes the rules. If Keenum IS in graduate school, could he get a sixth year?
-- GW, Baton Rouge, La.
Unfortunately, it's extremely unlikely Keenum would get a sixth year. I think perhaps you're getting confused with the graduate-school waiver Jeremiah Masoli used to become eligible at Ole Miss. Masoli was only entering his fourth year of eligibility. Keenum is in his fifth, and while he got injured early enough that this year would theoretically qualify for a medical redshirt, it's negated by the fact that he already used up his redshirt year as a freshman. The general rule is you have "five years to play four," and it takes some pretty drastic circumstances to be granted a sixth year, like missing two full seasons to injury.
You may recall that Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk unsuccessfully petitioned for a sixth season in 2008. He'd suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the '06 season while at Wake Forest and tried to claim retroactively that his redshirt season his first year had been due to an injury; however, it was not reported as such at the time. Oklahoma's Jason White, on the other hand, received a medical hardship waiver his first year on campus, then redshirted his second, then suffered season-ending injuries his third and fourth years. The NCAA's pretty strict with this rule. In 2005, I wrote about Cal receiver Chase Lyman, who missed one full season and parts of two others due to injuries, including a season-ender in the fourth game of his fifth year -- one game too many. He was denied.
One current player who will definitely have a case for a sixth year, should he choose to go that route, is Iowa running back Jewel Hampton. Talk about hard luck. After serving as Shonn Greene's backup as a freshman in 2008, he injured his knee in the preseason last year and took a medical redshirt. Then, last week against Arizona, he tore his other knee and will miss the rest of this season. Since it came in the third game, he should be eligible for a sixth year in 2013, but he won't be able to apply for it until then.
When my sweet 10-year-old daughter saw SI's @slmandel predict Texas Tech would beat #UT 27-24, she said "He gets paid to be that dumb??" Amen.
-- Bill Morrison, Austin, Texas (via Twitter)
Now that's just cold.