Posted: Wednesday May 18, 2011 12:09PM ; Updated: Wednesday May 18, 2011 12:40PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

ASU's sleeper potential; more mail (cont.)

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Case Keenum is returning to Houston for a sixth year after the NCAA granted him a medical hardship waiver.
Case Keenum is returning to Houston for a sixth year after the NCAA granted him a medical hardship waiver.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

This might be a bit premature, but can you run one of those "I Can't Believe They're Still in School" lists? I was reading one of your articles, and Stephen Garcia's name was there, indicating that he's the starter for the Gamecocks next year. All I can say is: WHAT?!?!
-- Andres, Atlanta

It's never too early to start soliciting nominees for the Eighth Year Senior Team, especially now that longtime captain Mitch Mustain has finally moved on. Garcia, who's had a suspension for each year he's been in school (five), is certainly on the list, though he'll be backing up Houston's Case Keenum (back for a sixth season) at quarterback. I'd also submit for your consideration: Florida running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, USC linebacker Chris Galippo (I believe he was MVP of the 2003 U.S. Army game), Georgia running back Caleb King, Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, Texas running back Fozzy Whitaker and Oregon State receiver James Rodgers.

I could not have been more upset when I saw that the Fiesta Bowl would remain a BCS game after all it had done. If this had been a student-athlete who did anything close to what these guys had done he would have been suspended for the year and chastised for his actions, yet the Fiesta only gets a slap on the wrist and told to donate to charity, which, as you pointed out, should have already been happening anyway. The NCAA wants it so morally uptight when it comes to the student-athletes that it exploits and punishes them for anything that might seem improper, but these guys do something morally wrong and they get a light punishment and get to remain in a high moneymaking position. This just isn't right.
-- Drew Marshall, Topsham, Maine

While I understand your frustration, you might want to rethink your analogy. The NCAA, which you're saying is too harsh on individual players who violate rules, did not decide the Fiesta Bowl's BCS fate; the BCS did. Meanwhile, the individuals involved in the Fiesta Bowl malfeasance did get punished. John Junker lost his job, as did several other staffers and board members. Local authorities have begun a criminal investigation, and some of those same people may go to jail. I'd hardly call that a slap on the wrist.

What you're calling for is a more severe punishment against the Fiesta Bowl as an institution, and that may well be merited. But how many times do we complain that the NCAA infractions process winds up penalizing people (like current USC players) who had nothing to do with the crimes committed? Here we have the antithesis of that: The individual perpetrators (that we know of) have been penalized and the institution has been sanctioned ($1 million fine, among other conditions), but innocent bystanders -- like the people of Phoenix whose economy would be negatively impacted were the city to lose the national title game -- didn't get caught in the path. I'm not saying it's a perfect solution, but I don't think it was an injustice, either.

Stewart, I read your Mailbag when my wife doesn't let me look at anything else. But, c'mon "revelatory"?? I don't want to have to look up words in the middle of my reading. And you probably went to Thesaurus.com just to find a fancy word and show your fiancée that you're educated. That means you had a spat. Just buy her some flowers, apologize (even if you were not wrong) and go back to writing English. This is a football column, dude.
-- Lazer, Detroit

Thank you?

I know this is a compliment of my vocabulary disguised as a complaint ... but I'll take it, considering all the complaints I normally receive about mixing up "nevertheless" and "much less," using "flaunt" when I mean "flout" and generally bungling the English language.

With the Pac-12 announcing that Colorado and Utah will be playing each other the Friday after Thanksgiving, it is obvious that they want to create a new rivalry. My question is why try to create a new one when Utah already has a great one with BYU? They have been playing each other for almost 90 years and always have close, hard-fought games, and a BYU-Utah game would draw much higher TV ratings than Utah and Colorado. So why is the Pac-12 doing this?
-- Shane Hale, Las Vegas

Well first, remember that there was no guarantee the Utah-BYU series would continue once the two went their separate ways last summer. Utah had to scramble and break one of its existing nonconference contracts for this year (a game against Boise State), and it had to find a date that wouldn't conflict with the Pac-12's as-yet-unannounced schedule. Therefore, it scheduled this and next year's games for mid-September.

Larry Scott has made it a point that going forward he wants the stretch run of the season to be reserved primarily for conference games, as a buildup to the championship. In fact, the newly announced deal with ESPN and Fox explicitly restricts nonconference games to the first three weeks of the season, unless all 12 athletic directors grant a waiver. USC and Stanford have already received said waiver for their rotating year-end games with Notre Dame. Presumably Utah could ask for one going forward, but it wasn't likely to push for one as the new kid on the block. In the meantime, it only makes sense that Utah and Colorado (which itself lost its annual Thanksgiving weekend date with Nebraska) fill the mutual void on their schedules.

The upshot is that this year's Holy War will be played in prime time on Sept. 17 on ESPN2 -- as a BYU independent home game, mind you, not a Pac-12 game -- marking the first time in seven years most people outside of Utah will see it. It's at 9:15 p.m. ET, so I'm guessing a lot of folks will flip over in the third quarter after the Oklahoma-Florida State and Ohio State-Miami games end.

Stewart, I love a lot of things about the Mailbag but I really love it when you call out and verbally abuse idiot homers. Cheers to you good man!
-- Trevor Kuhn, Portland, Ore.

I sometimes get the feeling people would love nothing more than for me to fill an entire Mailbag with those e-mails and my snarky retorts. But that would delve from amusing to mean, and I'd hate to be known as a party-pooper.

Can you describe for us a hypothetical, 16-team college football playoff scenario in which the outcome would justify the "I told you so" article you'd love to write in your hypothetical future.
-- Sean Moran, Austin, Texas

But I don't want to be a party-pooper! Oh, if you insist...

INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 4, 2024) -- Texas defeated Stony Brook last night in the thrilling iPad 17.0 NCAA Championship Game presented by Five Guys, ending the 13th-seeded Sea Wolves' quest for a Cinderella trophy. The game capped yet another thrilling edition of "December Madness," the 16-team college playoff that's captivated America in the 10 years since a grueling Department of Justice investigation prompted leaders of the now-defunct Bowl Championship Series to finally throw up their hands in defeat and turn over control of the postseason to the folks in Indianapolis.

The 2023-24 tourney set yet another ratings record for ESPNU27, which has helped turn the college postseason into the most popular sporting event outside of the Super Bowl, drawing even more viewers than the 73rd season of Dancing with the Stars (featuring the former baby from the E*Trade commercials).

"These are the greatest four weeks in sports," said Texas head coach Major Applewhite. "We're just so fortunate that our third-string quarterback stepped up after the first two went down earlier in the tournament, and that half our freshman class allowed us to pull their redshirt in the semis. They really sacrificed for the team, just like all those guys in casts back in our locker room."

While Monday night's game served as a memorable finale, the season leading up to it was mostly forgettable. Regular-season attendance was down across the country for the ninth straight year, as fans at Penn State, Nebraska and other schools with large stadiums stopped turning out once their teams were eliminated from playoff contention. This year's Alabama-Auburn game, once the sport's fiercest rivalry, was played in front of 20,000 empty seats, as both teams entered the game just 5-6.

Once upon a time those teams would still have gone into their season finale with bowl berths on the line. However, 28 of the 35 bowl games played in 2010 went out of business within three years of the playoff's inception, as ESPN realized it could get higher ratings airing weeknight shows previewing the following weekend's playoff action than it could showing the Alamo Bowl. The Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls continue, but, much like basketball's NIT, they've become known mostly as scores that run across the ticker during playoff games.

Meanwhile, in the month since the regular season ended, Ohio State, Florida, Iowa and 17 other schools fired coaches who failed to reach the playoffs. All had been on the job no more than three years, now the average tenure for most head coaches.

In other news, Illinois captured the first-ever Limbo League championship last weekend. Upon seeing a drastic decline in fan interest among teams that rarely win their conference (and thus rarely reach the playoff), about half of schools formerly in conferences like the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC could no longer afford to fund their programs and decided to drop down to a newly created NCAA level somewhere between FBS and FCS. The Illini emerged from a field that also included Oregon State, Baylor and N.C. State. Only the SEC remained fully intact, with Ole Miss still dogged in its belief that it will one day climb the mountaintop. It has gone through eight coaches in 10 years.

There are still 64 FBS teams, the symmetry of which has led to an emergency meeting of the NCAA's board of directors next month. There, they will discuss the ongoing debate to expand the tournament to 32 teams.

"It's the right thing to do," said Virginia Tech coach Stan Greenberg, whose team was denied an at-large berth for the seventh straight year. "The system we have now is a joke."

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