More mail (cont.)
You have noted in the past that schools penalized with scholarship reductions are put at a big disadvantage from a recruiting standpoint. Maybe I'm ignorant as I was never a high school All-American, but can't having fewer scholarships actually work in a program's favor? For example, if you are a five-star recruit and you are being recruited by major FBS programs, can't a depleted scholarship roster at a USC be seen as more attractive than a fully-stocked Alabama roster because you have the opportunity to play early and often due to a team's lack of depth?
-- Adam, Lancaster, Pa.
I think you're actually seeing that right now with USC, which is reeling in five-star commits like nothing we've ever seen. While the program has other obvious selling points, it's been reported that Lane Kiffin and his staff have made the smaller classes a selling point of their own -- as in, we only have 15 spots, and we want to use one of them on you. Come join our exclusive club. And they need only point to Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Hayes Pullard and others -- who signed on when the Trojans couldn't go to a bowl game -- as evidence that you'll get to play early.
The caveat, though, is that you've got to keep winning. Appealing the sanctions and thus delaying the scholarship limit implementation to this year really worked wonders for Kiffin, who used those two years to restock the roster and turn USC back into a national title contender -- but it won't likely stay that way once the impact of multiple smaller classes is felt. Just ask Miami in Butch Davis' early years, or Alabama under Mike Shula. Penn State is not USC. It has no recent history of national championships to sell, and it's not going to be playing for one again anytime soon. So yes, maybe some recruits will be intrigued by the prospect of early playing time and fewer competitors at their position -- but that will likely be negated after a couple of years if Bill O'Brien's team finishes below .500, as most of us expect.
Why has your Mailbag gone downhill since you moved out to the Left Coast? You really seem biased toward USC now, when in past years I couldn't detect as much (but there was still some) bias toward one of the dirtiest programs in the country, but hey everyone loves a winner. Here's hoping you can correct your flawed and obvious slant in your reporting.
-- John, Little Rock, Ark.
There seems to be a sect of USC/Mailbag conspiracists clustered in Little Rock.
If Gus Malzahn does well at Arkansas State this season and John L Smith's tenure at Arkansas is a one-year shot, does Malzahn end up back at Arkansas as head coach after this season?
-- Sam, Knoxville, Tenn.
I'm inclined to say no, even if on paper it would seem a logical step. While Malzahn has never discussed it publicly, his lone season in Fayetteville in 2006 was a nightmare, from the way his preferred offense was discarded by Houston Nutt and Nutt's staff after just one game to the fact he and his former Springdale High players (most notably quarterback Mitch Mustain) became a lightning rod for debate when the Arkansas fan base essentially splintered that offseason. On the one hand, he's always maintained he was grateful to Nutt and the school for affording him the opportunity to move from high school up to college, but you have to imagine there are still some hard feelings -- on both sides.
That being said, a lot has changed at Arkansas since then. Frank Broyles was still the AD at the time. He's long since been replaced by the more progressive Jeff Long. And Malzahn has built up considerably more SEC credibility. It's his home state and presumably a longtime dream job. However, that doesn't mean he's a sure-thing as an SEC head coach, and one season in the Sun Belt won't likely prove much. Arkansas has the money and the cachet to attract any number of high-profile candidates. It made Petrino one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the country. While there's no obvious name out there right now like there was last offseason with Urban Meyer, much will change between now and December. I see Long going after an established head coach, either from college or the NFL.
Stewart, now that UCLA has selected redshirt freshman Brett Hundley as its starting quarterback, what will we see from the UCLA offense this year? More growing pains under a young QB? Or might we see something resembling an actual offense, which has been missing the last few years?
-- Garrett, Sacramento, Calif.
See, I'm answering a UCLA question. Where are those "too much USC" complainers now?
I'm as curious as the next guy to see what the UCLA offense looks like. Hundley's ascension is just one source of the mystery. For the third time in four years, the Bruins will be running an entirely new system. New coach Jim L. Mora hired former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who is turning UCLA into something of a hybrid spread team (lots of shotgun and hurry-up, but still utilizing some pro sets). Mazzone has become something of a one-back offense guru nationally, which is a bit puzzling to me seeing as his Sun Devils one-back offenses weren't that good. Quarterback Brock Osweiler was obviously effective, but the running game never took off.
In Westwood, the most talented returning skill player is tailback Johnathan Franklin. Between his presence and having a freshman quarterback, you'd expect the Bruins to run a bunch. It will be interesting to see how much Hundley himself becomes part of that running game. One thing's for certain: Without having yet seen him play, I'm now more confident in UCLA's offense than I would have been had Mora gone with ineffective staples Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut. Any change is welcome at this point. With a lot of talent back on defense, and a favorable conference schedule, the Bruins could surprise some people this season, provided first-time college head coach Mora is more Pete Carroll, less Bill Callahan.
Texas, a team that hasn't sniffed relevance since losing in the title game in '09 and doesn't have anything approaching a legitimate quarterback, is the first team you list with the best shot to beat the SEC? Have you lost your mind? Are you on their payroll? Texas at best will finish fourth in the Big 12 this year behind OU, OSU, WVU, and KSU.
-- John, Washington D.C.
In that same article -- right before I lost my mind -- I wrote: "The following is not a prediction of which teams have the best chance to reach the national championship game." The beauty of which is: You may be right about Texas, but we'll never know whether I was wrong.