Why Alabama, not Oklahoma could win title; LSU's surprising ranking (cont.)
Stewart, listening to your Podcast discussion about Dan Persa's Heisman media campaign got me thinking -- how many times do these preseason Heisman media campaigns actually do anything? The last two Heisman winners, Cam Newton and Mark Ingram, had zero preseason campaigns. Are they a waste of money? Or are they just a way of drumming up excitement before a season?
-- Gary, Houston
No Heisman winner in at least the past 20 years has done so because of a promotional campaign. They're fun, they create some buzz, but in today's media environment, the best players are on TV almost every week, discussed endlessly on ESPN's various platforms, featured in Sports Illustrated and other outlets. You didn't need Alabama or Auburn's p.r. department to tell you about Ingram or Newton.
But that particularly creative campaigns can still pay major dividends for a program like Northwestern, which doesn't generally get a lot of media coverage. Last week I saw "PersaStrong" mentions constantly on Twitter and in blogs. It created some nice buzz, and will likely continue to whether or not the senior quarterback actually winds up in Heisman contention. It's just good marketing. As much as it was mocked, the Joey Harrington Times Square billboard in 2001 really marked the beginning of Oregon's ascent as a national program. It wasn't enough to land him the prize (he finished fourth), but it garnered a lot of p.r. for a school that, at the time, was rarely mentioned outside of Pac-10 country, and years of similarly splashy marketing (most notably with its uniforms) helped transform that program's image. I'll be curious to see how Northwestern follows up on PersaStrong.
At the end of the 2009 season, Oklahoma was unranked. At the beginning of the 2011 season, the Sooners are ranked No. 1. Do you recall another team that -- in one season - moved from unranked to No. 1?
-- Steve, Nashville
Auburn did the same thing, only quicker: The Tigers were unranked at the end of '09 and finished last season No. 1. And in 2007, Missouri went from unranked to start the season to No. 1, albeit briefly, the second-to-last week of the year.
What I love most about college football (other than Notre Dame losing) is an upset victory by an unranked team over a ranked team. Now that we have our first "official" preseason poll, if you had to choose the most likely Top 25 team to be upset by a non-ranked team in its first game of the season, who would it be? Of course, I've got South Florida upsetting Notre Dame.
-- Michael Kurtz, Roseburg, Ore.
You know Notre Dame is back in the Top 25 when the anti-Notre Dame e-mails start popping back in.
Considering USF is my sleeper pick to win the Big East, it would make sense for me to go along with your upset selection, but no, I do not see Skip Holtz's team going into South Bend and knocking off an Irish squad that many (myself included) think will win nine or 10 games this year. Remember, last year Connecticut got whupped by a mediocre Michigan team the first week and still went on to win the Big East. The threshold isn't very high.
Put this one in pencil for now, because I don't like making game picks until the week of the game, but the best bet might be Baylor over TCU.
It requires a bit of a leap of faith, since Robert Griffin and the Bears were rendered mortal last season seemingly whenever they faced an above-average defense (and TCU tends to field way-above-average defenses). But the Horned Frogs will be breaking in a whole lot of new faces that Friday night in Waco, including a quarterback (sophomore Casey Pachall) making his first career start on the road. If you remember, last year, an Oregon State team that ended up going 5-7 was able to find some seams and make some big plays against the Horned Frogs' vaunted defense, mistakes they quickly wiped out within a few weeks. If this game were in October, I'd give Baylor almost no shot, but on the first Friday of the season, at home ... why not?
I see that only eight of the 12 teams in the SEC are ranked in the Coaches' Poll. What do the coaches have against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky?
-- Kirk, Lincoln, Neb.
Beyond the absurdity of Georgia being ranked coming off a 6-7 season and Florida being ranked coming off a mediocre season followed by a drastic coaching change, the most remarkable aspect of the SEC having eight teams ranked in a poll is that Tennessee is not one of them. Imagine if I'd laid out that scenario for you in, say, 1997. Or 2007.
After listening to your B1G podcast, I heard Penn State mentioned once: As a second-tier program. Is it safe to assume then that you don't think they'll improve much from last year? If so, would that feeling change if they somehow manage to beat Alabama?
-- Eli, New York
I've noticed the "B1G" moniker has caught on with much less resistance than the divisions-that-shall-go-unnamed. How do we feel about this? Do I need to update the Mailbag Style Guide?
You are correct, I don't see a whole lot about Penn State that excites me this year. (Like Florida and Georgia, I'm not sure why this team is ranked, either.) Tom Bradley's defense could certainly be very good. With Devon Still and Jack Crawford up front, you've got the makings of a classically tough Nittany Lions front four.
But offense was the issue last year, and offense remains the issue, even more so with the recent rash of attrition on their offensive line. Over the last decade or so, Joe Paterno's best seasons have come when he's got an experienced, reliable O-line, but this year's, like last year's, looks very much like a work in progress. Until that unit improves, it's going to be hard for either the quarterback (Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin) or the running game (which was abysmal last year) to be notably more productive.
The Nittany Lions have surprised me before when I wasn't expecting much, like the 2008 Rose Bowl season. But if Penn State manages to beat Alabama this year, it will be a bigger upset than the '87 Fiesta Bowl win over Miami.
Hey Stewart, I'm getting married on Saturday. Do you, as a newlywed, have any advice for a fellow college football fan whose soon-to-be wife isn't particularly interested in football? Thanks.
-- Louie, Pittsburgh
I'll give you the same advice so many married friends gave me before my wedding, and which I'm sure many married Mailbag readers would surely agree: Make sure to take a few moments during the festivities to stop and soak it in all in, because the whole night goes by in a blur.
Also -- make sure you have more than one television in the house.