Week 1 statement game; more Mailbag (cont.)
I feel bad for Boise State. If it beats Georgia, the SEC apologists among us will proclaim that, "Well, that wasn't one of the Bulldogs' better teams." If the Broncos lose, it will be paraded around as prima facie evidence that the Broncos have always been, and will always be, overrated. Can this Pac-12 fan do anything to make people call it before the game ends, and spare us the revisionist analysis on Sunday morning?
-- Jonathan, Sacramento, Calif.
Not a chance. No SEC team has ever lost a nonconference game that couldn't be washed away by some indisputable excuse (Darren McFadden wasn't healthy when USC beat Arkansas 50-14; Alabama wasn't "up" for the Sugar Bowl when it got crushed by Utah). Likewise, every nonconference opponent every SEC team has ever beaten was slower, smaller and outcoached. This is actually the real reason Texas A&M wants to join the conference: Better spin.
Hi Stewart, just wanted to find out whether you were as shocked as I was when I FINALLY(!) got a look at Texas' 2011 depth chart this morning. After going three years without a premier workhorse back, Texas names their stud five-star/potential program savior Malcolm Brown not to be their starter, not even second-string, but as third-string behind both Fozzy Whittaker and fellow frosh Joe Bergeron. Is this a simple and direct indictment of Malcolm's progress in camp, or is there more to this and/or is this type of thing more typical than I'd believed?
-- Scott Aeschliman, Portland, Ore.
I was indeed shocked -- shocked to learn that Fozzy Whitaker is still at Texas. That does not seem humanly possible. Wasn't he in Chris Simms' recruiting class? But seriously, no matter how heavily hyped, no matter how many of us peg him with the "phenom" tag, it's asking a lot of a freshman to come in and win a starting job after three weeks of practices. Georgia's Isaiah Crowell, the other similarly acclaimed runner in this class, looks like he'll play significantly Saturday, but the Dawgs also don't have a lot of other options.
From what I've been told, Whitaker had an impressive camp. Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin called him "tremendous." But he's a fifth-year senior who's averaged 4.3 yards a carry. He may well be improved, perhaps in part thanks to the new offense, but he obviously has a ceiling. You'll note that Brown is not listed as third string, but co-No. 2 with Bergeron, a less heralded member of the same recruiting class (he was a three-star prospect). Bergeron is more of a power runner, while Brown is more elusive. My guess is we'll see all three early on, and perhaps Brown will eventually emerge as the go-to guy, but recruiting is an inexact science. It wouldn't be stunning if Bergeron keeps pace with Brown. It will be shocking if Whitaker turns into a 1,400-yard back.
Regarding the guy who said OU has no chance of winning the BCS because the state is landlocked: Oklahoma "has more man-made lakes than any other state, with over 1 million acres of water and 2,000 more miles of shoreline than the Atlantic and Gulf coasts combined." (Source) So I'd say the preseason No. 1 ranking is well-deserved.
-- RB, Rockwall, Texas
Wow, look at that. Come for the football, stay for the geography lesson.
Come on Stew, the Gophers have six national titles. So maybe the lakes theory is true!
-- AP, Golden Valley, Minn.
Did the lakes freeze over 50 years ago?
Everyone knows that the Pac-12 is loaded with great offensive players this year (Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Darron Thomas, LaMichael James, et. al.), and it seems that the country views the Pac-12 as an "offensive" conference. The defenses out here are pretty good, too, but defensive players are getting no media attention outside of Cliff Harris' driving skills. Anyway, I was debating with a co-worker on who the defensive MVP could be. I said Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu and he said Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict. Is it either one of the two or another? Thanks.
-- Tyler, Seattle, Wash.
The country views the Pac-12 as an offensive conference because it is. The reason USC was able to sustain such dominance under Pete Carroll is because it was the rare program in that conference that managed to assemble enough elite defensive talent to handle the challenge of repeatedly facing NFL-caliber quarterbacks. (Case in point: During its 34-game winning streak from 2003-05, it faced Aaron Rodgers, Derek Anderson, Kellen Clemens and Trent Edwards, among others.) And I'd argue the league's quarterback crop last year and this year is particularly strong.
But the league does have a history of producing elite individual defensive players at schools other than USC, like Oregon State's Stephen Paea and UCLA's Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore last season. I'm guessing by your hometown that your pick of Ta'Amu for this year is a partisan one, and no question he's a budding star. He was a monster in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska. But Burfict has to be the overwhelming favorite. He may be the most physically gifted defensive player in the country and the only thing that will keep him from a dominating season is himself. His oft-noted temper is no joking matter at this point. If he does wind up derailing himself, I'd keep an eye on two other candidates: USC defensive end Nick Perry, who as a full-time starter should increase on last season's 7.5 sacks; and UCLA defensive end Datone Jones, who, after missing last season with a broken foot, could be one of the conference's breakout players this season.
Is the decision by the Committee on Infractions on the penalties to Tennessee a prelude to the hearing for Ohio State? I know the charges are different from the standpoint of where the violations occurred, but both are centered more on the head coach and his lack of forthcoming to the school. This leads me to believe the NCAA may accept OSU's self imposed sanctions as well and go the show-cause route with Tressel. What do you think?
-- Steve, Mobile, Ala.
I agree 100 percent. We've long known the Ohio State case would end with Jim Tressel receiving a show-cause penalty (in which a coach is prevented from recruiting for an NCAA member school for a certain length of time, essentially making him unhireable); the only question is for how long. Pearl received three years for initially lying about the details of an incriminating photo of himself with a recruit and attempting to coerce the recruit's father to do the same. I have no idea whether the committee will consider Tressel's failure to report the memorabilia violations more or less seriously, but figure three years to be the ballpark estimate. And the NCAA's case against Ohio State is even more coach-centric than its Tennessee case, which also included impermissible phone calls, a failure to monitor charge against the school and, originally, a major violation in football (which the committee reduced to secondary).
It's interesting that at a time when figures all around college sports are calling for stiffer enforcement and penalties, the current committee (headed by MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas) has been rather lenient in its high-profile cases so far.
Why do you and other writers call picks like these "projections"? Projections implies a certain knowledge of outcome, such as election results projections which are based on actual data. These are guesses, and mostly, you guys are wrong.
-- Dennis Secret, Coquitlam, BC, Canada
You caught me. For the most part they're guesses. Except when I'm right, in which case they're the results of extensive data study and those giant touch-screens and holograms CNN uses on election night.
Just a compliment here: Your College Football TV Roundtable was impressive to say the least, and it's made me more loyal to the SI brand. The article itself is impressive and bold, for all the reasons many other e-mails have surely flooded your inbox by now. Props to both you and SI for having the courage to publish such an article.
-- John Bowen, Atlanta
Give credit to Richard Deitsch, SI.com's sports media guru, who came up with the concept and the questions. I had no idea when I gave my answers that it would garner the reaction that it has. Normally when a writer expresses a strong opinion about something, no matter the subject, he can usually expect reactions both positive and negative. This was a very rare occasion where nearly every single e-mail and tweet the other panelists and I received was along the lines of this one -- including many thanking us just for writing it.
College football fans will never agree on which conference is the best, which teams are overrated or underrated, whether there should be a playoff, whether players should be paid -- but they do seem to universally despise Craig James.
Irony: The Oregon/Will Lyles NCAA investigation moves to LSU, an LSU player (Russell Shepard) discusses the investigation with a teammate and gets benched for the Oregon game. So, at least for one game, Oregon actually benefits from the NCAA investigation into Oregon. Can this get any crazier?
-- Kevin Brunson, Collierville, Tenn.
This summer has taught me that whatever you think is the wildest possible story is probably just a precursor to something else. I'm ready for summer to be over. Kick it off, fellas.