Posted: Wednesday September 28, 2011 10:21AM ; Updated: Wednesday September 28, 2011 1:32PM
Stewart Mandel

Risk outweighs reward of tough early games; more mailbag (cont.)

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Steve Sarkisian's defense has taken a step back this season, with the Huskies ranking 108th nationally.
Steve Sarkisian's defense has taken a step back this season, with the Huskies ranking 108th nationally.
Nati Harnik/AP

Stewart, how good could the Washington Huskies be with even an average defense? Keith Price has been impressive, he's accurate and runs Steve Sarkisian's offense better than Jake Locker. But the Husky defense is terrible. Sure, they survived a few games this year, but this team just doesn't seem to improve defensively at the same rate as the offense in Year Three for Sark, Nick Holt & Co. What gives?
-- Brian, Vancouver, BC

It's no secret Tyrone Willingham left the cupboard pretty bare three years ago (the Huskies, lest we forget, went 0-12 the year before Sarkisian took over), and we knew it would take time to bring the talent level back up to par. It's easier to upgrade an offense quickly, which you can do in large part just by adding a few talented skill players (mainly Price and running back Chris Polk), than it is a defense, which really needs all 11 positions to be solid AND, in most cases, experienced. It also doesn't help that Washington had to replace some of its best players from last year's defense (linebacker Mason Foster, defensive end Cameron Elisara and safety Nate Williams). It's not like the program is yet at a point where it can easily reload.

But I do think it's reasonable to at least expect continued progress from one year to the next. The Huskies have actually trended downward, from 79th nationally in Sarkisian's first season to 108th in total defense so far this year. Last year's defense couldn't stop the run. This year's defense is getting torched through the air, which is not a good sign going into a conference schedule that will include dates against Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Darron Thomas and the Pac-12's current highest-rated passer, Washington State's Marshall Lobbestael. Obviously there's a lot of time left to shore things up, and the coaches believe their players are making fixable mistakes. But if come season's end this is still one of the conference's worst defenses, Sarkisian will have to think hard about his loyalty to defensive coordinator Holt, who Sarkisian worked with under Carroll at USC but has not demonstrated his mentor's same prowess just yet.

Stewart: How can the Big East not vacate the Syracuse win and give it to Toledo? They not only admitted the on-field officials made a mistake, but the replay officials made the same mistake. That is what they are there for, to correct questionable calls on the field. Does Toledo have any other recourse?
-- Jeremy, Cleveland

I'm afraid not. The MAC petitioned the Big East, which checked with the NCAA, which relayed on Monday that according to Rule 1, Section 1, Article 3, Paragraph b of the 2011 NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations book, "By rule, once the game is declared over the score is final and there is no recourse to reverse an outcome." Of course we do know one way they could get the outcome changed after the fact: Uncover that one of Syracuse's players took extra benefits.

Stewart, I couldn't help but notice that there were two "Dan from Washington D.C." questions in the most recent Mailbag. The first Dan identifies himself as a Colorado fan, and the second question is about Colorado. Coincidence? My instincts tell me no -- this fellow is the one in the same Dan! Has this rare double ever been achieved before? What gives? Take us behind the scenes of the "Making of the Mailbag"
-- Mike, Melbourne, Fla.

While I have no Mailbag archivist to go to for 100 percent confirmation, I do believe it was a first, and it shows how unusual last week was. The "making of the Mailbag" usually begins either Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning when I go through the inbox and copy and paste about 10-15 possible candidates for the week. In doing so, it would be almost impossible not to notice the same name and e-mail address showing up twice. However, as I wrote then, I had to scrap about 40 percent of the version I completed Tuesday night when the Pac-12 announced at 11:18 p.m. EST that it was no longer considering expansion. First thing Wednesday morning, I pulled out the first good question I saw about the latest developments, admittedly without paying a lick of attention to who sent it.

So kudos to Dan, who, it should also be noted, helped his chances considerably by writing short, concise (and interesting) questions. Let that be a guide to all you aspiring e-mailers out there. But generally speaking, I prefer to spread the wealth. Especially when you read something like this.

I've been reading your mailbag since 2001 and I've written in at least a half dozen times and you have never published my questions. Shoot, I even bought your book a few years ago. South Carolina has a great team but a major question at quarterback. Given that Steve Spurrier is a quarterback guru, how do you explain the consistent lack of talent at the quarterback position at South Carolina and do you think it will cost us the SEC East?
-- John, Williamsburg, Va.

Steve Spurrier hasn't found his answer at QB in Stephen Garcia, who was benched in the win over Vanderbilt.
Steve Spurrier hasn't found his answer at QB in Stephen Garcia, who was benched in the win over Vanderbilt.
Jeff Vest/Icon SMI

The Spurrier-quarterback drought is one of life's unexplainable mysteries -- but I'll throw out two theories. The simplest explanation is that the Ball Coach has hitched his wagon for four years to a guy, Stephen Garcia, who has all the physical tools but clearly lacks the mental wherewithal to put it all together, no matter how much coaching you give him. Spurrier has tried on numerous occasions to give Connor Shaw a shot, but the sophomore simply isn't ready. Both were highly rated recruits, so either he misevaluated them or simply failed to develop them.

Or, here's a more radical thought: Maybe Spurrier, while certainly a quarterback enthusiast, isn't necessarily the quarterback guru we always thought? Maybe his teams' rabid passing success at Florida was more a product of the offense that he ran -- which at that time was revolutionary by SEC standards -- than the quarterbacks themselves. Consider that of all the guys that threw for all those yards in Gainesville, only two, Shane Matthews and Rex Grossman, saw significant playing time in the NFL. It's probably going a little too far, because you don't get that much consistency for a decade-plus without good coaching, but the sport has changed considerably from 2001 to 2011.

And yes, poor quarterback play will eventually cost the Gamecocks a couple of games. Whether it's enough to cost them the East will depend more on what Florida and Georgia do the rest of the way.

Stewart: In the Toledo news conference the athletic director let it "slip" that the Big Ten and MAC officials in the Ohio State-Toledo game got letters of reprimand. Remember -- two penalties for 13 yards on Ohio State, 14 penalties on Toledo.
-- Ed Maher, Bowling Green, Ohio

So you're saying this wasn't just an isolated, stupefying officiating breakdown at Syracuse, but that in fact there's a multi-conference conspiracy afoot against Toledo?

This is getting interesting.

Thus far, Clemson is a huge surprise, not the least of which is to its fans. The Tigers face a tough matchup this Saturday, one of your games listed to watch. If Clemson wins at Virginia Tech (always a tough venue, and one the Tigers have struggled at lately) and goes 3-0 through this rather brutal stretch of Auburn, FSU and Tech, how do you see them finishing out the year?
--Bryan, Raleigh

If Clemson wins at Virginia Tech, it can certainly win the ACC. I'm going to stop short of saying the Tigers will "probably" win the ACC, because 20 years of evidence tell us not to believe that until Dabo Swinney is actually hoisting the trophy, but considering they already have a leg up on FSU in their own division (the rest of which brutally stinks) and considering they will have beaten what most believe is the best team in the other division, you've got to like their chances.

That being said ... I don't really like the Tigers' chances in Blacksburg. While we don't have a true gauge of the Hokies after four games against weak competition, it's safe to say David Wilson is capable of going off against the Tigers' 90th-ranked rushing defense, while the Hokies' defense looks like it's back to its old dominant ways. But then again, Tajh Boyd ripped apart a pretty darn good FSU defense, and this is a much different Clemson offense than the Hokies have previously faced.

If Clemson does pull it off, I'm going to have to do the unthinkable: Start thinking about a possible replacement for Clemson-Ole Miss Syndrome.

Stewart, a while back you wrote an article on how the NCAA could be improved if the players were robots. Given Robert Griffin III's season stats so far, and the fact that he was born on a military base in Japan, I'd say the robot era has already begun.
-- Hayden Murphy, Waco, Texas

My gosh, you're right. Lord help us all if he becomes self-aware.

The Big East admits it made a mistake on the extra point call in the Toledo-Syracuse game. What stops Toledo from suing the Big East for damages if Toledo goes 5-7 and misses out on a bowl game? It's all about the money, right?
--Jeremy, Warren, Mich.

Now you're talking. Sue an officiating crew for malpractice.

Of course, as we learned from Death to the BCS, most schools lose money on their bowl trips. So even if a jury found in Toledo's favor, for compensatory damages, it might order the school to write the Bowl a check for unsold tickets.

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