Wilson's Wisconsin impact; more mail (cont.)
Stewart, I've heard lots of different things about Texas A&M this year. What do you think are the Aggies' chances to win the Big 12? Or how about to just beat Oklahoma?
-- Dan, Tyler, Texas
I'll admit, A&M is one of those teams I'm instinctively inclined to dismiss relative to general expectations due to its long history of not achieving said expectations. So I was skeptical when I saw the Aggies popping up in the early preseason top 10 rankings. But in researching the Big 12 more closely, I have to say: A&M is stacked. While Oklahoma figures to have the most all-conference and All-America-caliber players, A&M is not that far behind. Mike Sherman's team has the conference's most proven running back (Cyrus Gray), an elite receiver (Jeff Fuller), two sophomore offensive linemen (tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews) who began blossoming into future stars last season, a standout defensive end (Tony Herod-Eddie), a dynamic cornerback/kick returner (Coryell Judie) and one of the league's top safeties (Trent Hunter).
Still, it's possible the Aggies could field a better team and not improve on last year's 9-4 mark. The 2010 team got hot (six straight wins) but overachieved. A&M finished 24th in Football Outsiders' efficiency ratings -- just behind Pittsburgh and N.C. State -- which means it caught some breaks. If the Aggies play to their potential, they can beat everyone on their schedule (including Arkansas) outside of Oklahoma (which doesn't lose at home), but I could easily see a couple close games going the other way and the final ledger looking the same as 2010's.
So you said in last week's Mailbag that with Mack Brown and Bob Stoops in the Big 12, any other team only had a 20 percent chance of winning the conference. Which means you're giving the Ags (and anyone else) 5-1 odds at best. I'll gladly take those odds this year Stewart. I'll put my $20 against your $100. Or, just be sure and print this e-mail in December when the Ags are sitting at the top of the Big 12 standings. Whooop!!
-- Brett, Fairplay, Texas
Jeez. I haven't seen this much confidence emanating from Aggieland since right before Dennis Franchione switched up the offense on poor Reggie McNeal. We don't condone gambling in these parts, but sure, feel free to rub this in my face if A&M wins the Big 12. Let me say this, though: Don't sleep on Missouri. The Tigers are being overlooked almost as much as the Ags are being overhyped.
Given the historical argument from the AQ conferences that it's easy to get up for one game, but the non-AQ schools can't handle the week-to-week grind that the [insert major conference, though typically Big Ten or SEC, here] teams face, is it safe to say that Utah's Pac-12 record this season has the potential to do more for or hurt non-AQ schools than could the results of any bowl game?
-- Mike B, White Lake, Mich.
I'm guessing it can only hurt, not help. If Utah were to go in and win the Pac-12 in its first season, it would be a great story for that program, but I doubt it would cause people to take the next undefeated Mountain West champion any more seriously than they already did. But if the Utes -- who went 33-6 the past three seasons -- come in and go 5-7, you better believe we'll be hearing about it, particularly from SEC country. The fans in Alabama who got so unhealthily obsessed with Boise State last year can just copy and paste those e-mails and add a line at the top that says: "See!"
Of course, that's not fair. It would be one thing if we could take Utah's undefeated 2008 team or even TCU's Rose Bowl championship team from last year and stick it in the Pac-12 to see what would happen. Then we'd have an apples-to-apples comparison. But every team and every season is different. Utah, lest we forget, suffered some bumps last season (blowout losses to TCU, Notre Dame and Boise State), and while this year's team should be slightly improved, it wouldn't necessarily go undefeated if it were still in the MWC. No one ever claimed the Mountain West or the WAC was as strong top-to-bottom as a league like the Pac-12. The argument that comes up every year, and is virtually impossible to answer, is whether a particularly dominant team like last year's TCU squad was one of the two best teams in the country in that given season. How Utah fares this year will do nothing to settle that question, but some may view it that way if the Utes lay an egg.
Do you think Todd Graham and Dana Holgorsen will be able to repeat their past successes with their respective wide-open offenses at Pitt and West Virginia? If these coaches are both successful in implementing these offenses this season, are they the front runners for the Big East title?
-- Jeff, Ashburn, Va.
You've got two different coaches with two different backgrounds walking into two completely different situations. Holgorsen's offensive acumen is unquestioned, and many feel he can come in and have similar success to what he had at Oklahoma State thanks in part to the presence of talented quarterback Geno Smith. Count me among those who fully expect the Mountaineers to produce a high-flying offense this season, though perhaps not to the lofty standard Holgorsen set at Oklahoma State. The concern with Holgorsen isn't his offense, but whether he's really ready to run a program.
The concern with Graham is the opposite. He's a proven head coach, going 43-23 at Rice and Tulsa, and while he put up big offensive numbers, it's hard to say how much of that was him and how much was having guys like Gus Malzahn, Herb Hand (now at Vanderbilt) and Chad Morris (now at Clemson) as his offensive coordinators. Graham has hired another respected coordinator, former Rich Rodriguez understudy Calvin Magee, but the players Dave Wannstedt recruited for his traditional, pro-style offense may be ill-suited for the hurry-up, shotgun attack Graham and Magee have planned. It won't be quite as messy as when Magee got to Michigan, thanks to the presence of an experienced quarterback (Tino Sunseri), but I'd be highly surprised if the Panthers put up 40 points a game.
Of the two, I have more confidence in West Virginia. But like most years, no one in the Big East stands out as a true front-runner.
Stewart, with Ohio State vacating its 2010 victories, where is the outcry from Michigan State fans? If the Buckeyes had not tied for the Big Ten title last year, Sparty would have won the tiebreaker over Wisconsin and gone to the Rose Bowl rather than have their hat handed to them by Alabama. Should they be storming the streets of East Lansing?
-- Richard, Dallas
I've heard from several ticked off Spartans fans, though not a great amount. Who's to say TCU wouldn't have delivered the same New Year's beheading, but in front of three times as many television viewers?
Stewart, the news came out recently that Texas' new Longhorn Network is going to broadcast one of the Longhorns' Big 12 games. How in the world can the conference let it and ESPN get away with this? Wouldn't the opposing team have to be paid, too? And wouldn't that go right back into the conference's TV rights pool of money? How does this not open up a huge can of worms in terms of future TV broadcast rights? Not to mention, how PO'd do you think a rival team's fans will be to have to watch their team play on a rival team's biased home broadcast?
-- Ben, Atlanta
I'd definitely be ticked off about the latter part. That's the TV equivalent of trying to find your favorite team's game on the radio while driving and only being able to pick up the opposing team's station. Even if the announcers remain mostly neutral, you'll be subjected to 700 Longhorn-themed ads and in-game promotions. I wouldn't worry about the financials too much. ESPN is simply shifting one of its ABC-allotted broadcasts to the Longhorn Network, so the opponent will get the same cut, regardless. It tells you something about just how much ESPN is investing in this thing that it not only gave up a network window, but, according to reports, basically made a trade with the conference's cable partner, Fox, that will allow Fox to move a 2012 Big 12 game to its mother channel.
And that's the part that should really be troubling not just to Big 12 fans, but to college football fans everywhere. From the moment this 20-year, $300 million deal was announced, it's been astounding just how deeply the company is getting into bed with one of the schools it covers journalistically. Granted, conflicts of interest are unavoidable in sports media these days. This website is owned by a company (Time Warner) that holds the rights to NBA, PGA and NASCAR programming. But ESPN isn't just testing the separation between church and state with Texas; there isn't one. Case in point: The ever-popular GameDay crew (Chris Fowler and Co.) will be appearing live from Austin for the channel's Aug. 26 debut. ESPN and Texas are now one and the same, and you can't tell me it won't affect the way GameDay, SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, et. al., cover Mack Brown's program. In a sport where many fans already live in a constant state of paranoia that the media is propping up someone else at their expense ... well, ESPN is flat-out doing it. It should make for some interesting signs the first time GameDay goes to Norman.
Wow, when did you become a sellout? You're writing lately sucks.
-- Gabriel, San Jose, Calif.
I don't know. Was it marriage? I sure hope not. So far I'm enjoying it much more than your grammar.
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