Surprise team facing Week 1 statement game; more mail
Georgia's performance against Boise State will greatly impact perception
Oregon's execution and creativity will need to be in top form against LSU
Plus: Miami fallout, Texas' depth chart surprise, geography lesson, more
|The Mandel Initiative|
|Week 1 preview: George Schroeder joins the show to discuss Oregon-LSU; Stewart and Mallory preview the opening slate and answer your mail.|
Among the eight million reasons the college football season is so captivating: It's not just about whether a team wins or loses, but about what that win or loss means. In a sport where perception (by fans, by poll voters, by recruits, etc.) carries nearly as much weight as actual results, we can't help but attach added significance to the final scores.
The coaches and players will tell us "it's just one game," but we're not having that. No sir. What's the point of even lining up if not to "make a statement?"
Most opening-weekend games are not usually big statements games, but there are a few are this year. Boise State is going to Georgia to prove it can be a national title contender, Oregon is going to LSU to show it can compete with the SEC and BYU is going to Ole Miss to prove it can get things done as an independent. Which opening-day statement game is the most important for which team?
-- Shane Hale, Las Vegas
My answer is: D) None of the above. Boise certainly can't play for the national title without beating Georgia, but the Broncos have beaten better teams before. And while the SEC milestone would be huge, it wouldn't legitimize the Broncos any more than beating Virginia Tech did last year. Similarly, I know Oregon would love some SEC bragging rights, particularly after the Auburn loss, but it's not like the Ducks are hurting for national respect. And Shane is a BYU fan, but frankly I'm puzzled by why that one's even on the list. The Cougars faced better teams than Ole Miss when they were in the Mountain West. We'll need at least a full season, if not longer, to truly gauge whether independence is working for them.
As I wrote Monday, the team on Shane's list that most needs to make a statement this weekend is Georgia. As quarterback Aaron Murray said this summer: "It's a great way to put us back on the map." From 2002-07, Mark Richt's program won two SEC titles, went to three BCS games and finished in the top 10 five out of six seasons. But over the past three years, during a time when the SEC has never been more nationally visible, the Bulldogs have sunk into mediocrity, bottoming out at 6-7 last year. This is a team few outside of Athens would be talking about this preseason if not for this Boise game.
So while it bucks the conventional AQ vs. non-AQ narrative, in this case the SEC team is the one that could really use a primetime win over a top five team to show it's still got a pulse. And it goes without saying that Richt, despite owning the fourth-highest winning percentage in the country (.738), needs to show he's got things back on the upswing or risk the vultures circling tighter. Technically Georgia's Week 2 game against South Carolina is more important because of the division-title implications, but the Boise game is going to impact the Dawgs' perception far more.
And isn't that really what we mean about making a statement?
So ... five games for getting a tattoo (if you're a Buckeye), but only one game for visiting a gentleman's club (if you're a Hurricane)? Really? Are the words "tattoo" or "gentleman's club" even written, specifically, anywhere in the NCAA bylaws, or is someone coming up with these punishments using a dartboard?
-- Wood, Minneapolis
Actually, this is a rare instance where the NCAA is not using the dartboard. The reinstatement staff has written guidelines for the length of a suspension based on the dollar amount of the benefits. For instance, a player who receives $100 to $300 in benefits is supposed to sit 10 percent of the season -- which comes to one football game out of 12. A player who receives $500 or more is supposed to sit 30 percent -- or four out of 12. The NCAA said the Tattoo 5 all received between $1,000 and $2,500 in benefits, hence the four-game suspensions (plus an additional game because, according to the NCAA, "they did not immediately disclose the violations when presented with the appropriate rules education.") By contrast, the five Miami players who got one-game suspensions all received $400 or fewer.
The guidelines are not ironclad by any means, as the staff is supposed to consider "if a significant competitive advantage was gained, the student-athlete's responsibility for the violations and any mitigating circumstances." Last year Alabama's Marcell Dareus got what by dollar amount should have been a four-game suspension reduced to two for "mitigating circumstances" that were never revealed. And I assume Miami defensive lineman Olivier Vernon's suspension went from four games to six because it involved his recruitment, hence a competitive advantage. The real question isn't how the NCAA came up with these punishments; it's how did it come up with exact dollar values for all those drinks, cover charges and lap dances from three years ago?
More of a comment than a question regarding your Oregon-LSU breakdown. Besides their physicality, another similarity between the nonconference teams that have beaten Oregon the last two years is that Boise State, Ohio State and Auburn all had extra time to prepare for the Ducks' offense. Teams with just one week to prepare are going to struggle, but teams with extra time have also had the chance to implement more effective schemes. LSU has the same opportunity.
-- Jamie S., Beaverton, Ore.
No question, that's certainly another element to consider, though I'm not sure it's about Xs and Os. Oregon has the same amount of extra time as its opponents to prepare its own "more effective" schemes. But I have to believe conditioning comes in to play when facing Oregon's offense. Given the absurd tempo at which the Ducks operate, you'd much rather play them with fresh legs than, say, in Week 9, when teams are banged up. There's also the rust factor. Offenses often struggle with execution the first week of the season and early in BCS games after such a long layoff. That, too, can work against an offense like Oregon's that is so precision based.
But maybe we're just overthinking this. Boise, OSU and Auburn were all end-of-season top five teams the years they beat the Ducks. Maybe they were just that much better. If Oregon is more talented than LSU, it should win Saturday night, schemes or layoffs be damned. But judging by recruiting rankings and LSU's recent track record, the Tigers' defense should be just as talented if not more so than those other elite groups that felled the Ducks, so this will be a game where Oregon's execution and Chip Kelly's creativity need to be in top form.