Posted: Wednesday August 29, 2012 5:05PM ; Updated: Wednesday August 29, 2012 5:05PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

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James Franklin and Missouri could contend in their first season in the SEC East.
James Franklin and Missouri could contend in their first season in the SEC East.
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Stewart, I'm a South Carolina alum and I'm cautiously optimistic about the Gamecocks' chances in the SEC East this year, not just because of the constant UGA threat, but rather the fact that EVERYONE seems to be overlooking Mizzou. I've kept up with this team the past few years and watched them play live last year. James Franklin is the real deal, T.J. Moe is getting overlooked and Dorial Green-Beckham will be a nightmare. Am I correct in thinking Mizzou is closely behind UGA and SC in the SEC East or am I just being a typical paranoid Gamecock fan who isn't used to high expectations?
-- Dan, Charleston, S.C.

I think you're correct about the Tigers -- and I also think you may be among the very small minority of SEC fans who believes one of the conference newbies will do something other than be beaten into submission by its new oppressors.

No team is a sure thing in the East, not even South Carolina (inexperienced offensive line and secondary) or Georgia (questionable running game, early season suspensions). Missouri's offense has been consistently potent the past five years, and Franklin's running ability makes the Tigers trickier to defend than during the Chase Daniel/Blaine Gabbert days. I don't expect them to score 35 points every week, but it will happen more often than many expect. My concern is whether defenders who have spent their entire careers to date facing the Big 12's mostly spread-passing offenses can handle the physical rushing attacks of teams like South Carolina and Alabama.

Mizzou probably won't win the East in Year 1, but it could mess things up for one of the favorites.

Your bowl picks are a joke!
-- Brian Nutt, Springdale, Ark.

I have got to start working on my Q Score in Arkansas. (Admittedly the Music City Bowl pick didn't help.)

Which formerly starting quarterback transfer is primed to have the best season at his new school? (Hint: He's the one whose name rhymes with Ferret Filbert.)
-- Kelly, Dallas

Wow, what a fun game. Are you saying I shouldn't go with Kansas' Vain Wrist?

June Jones is as good a bet as anyone to resurrect Garrett Gilbert's career. I don't think Gilbert will ever be the five-star guy he was touted to be when he got to Texas -- an opposing coach who faced the Longhorns during Gilbert's tenure told me he couldn't believe the quarterback they faced that day would be billed as such -- but clearly a lot of other things went wrong during his time in Austin. After attempting to succeed a legend (Colt McCoy) while getting no protection and no running game as the season rapidly deteriorated, his confidence was surely shot. Throwing five picks on two occasions (in the BCS championship game against Alabama and against Kansas State in 2010) probably didn't help, either. Jones has yet to produce another Colt Brennan at SMU, but you can usually count on his Run and Shoot quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,500 yards.

But if I'm going to pick one transfer quarterback to have the best season, without question it's Wisconsin's Danny O'Brien. For one thing, unlike Gilbert, we've seen O'Brien shine before. As a redshirt freshman at Maryland, he threw for 2,438 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions while starting the last 10 games, highlighted by a 417-yard, four-touchdown day against NC State in the regular season finale. Then Randy Edsall replaced Ralph Friedgen and everything unraveled. But now O'Brien is stepping into a talented team with an All-America running back (Monte Ball) behind him, a rock solid O-line in front of him and at least two very talented receivers (Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen) to throw to. While not as off-the-charts explosive as Russell Wilson, O'Brien is pretty darn athletic, too. So I'll go with Danny ... er, Fanny Orion.

Stewart, now that Penn State got one, what are the remaining BCS programs whose athletic departments have never committed a major violation, as you mentioned in your Monday column?
-- Kevin, Tampa, Fla.

Technically, Penn State still has not committed a major violation, since it never went through the actual NCAA infractions process. But the others are Stanford, Northwestern and Boston College. (Hat tip to the Wall Street Journal for doing the research.)

Vanderbilt and Northwestern are very similar football schools: academically minded, young energetic coaches, tough conferences. However, I feel like there's a lot of positive momentum around James Franklin and the Commodores, whereas Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats have slid back (in terms of wins) for the past three seasons. Which program is in better shape now, and which has a better outlook for next five years?
-- Michael Kasa, Lincoln, Ill.

No question, there's a lot of buzz surrounding Franklin and the Commodores right now. They're doing things once deemed impossible at Vanderbilt, like putting together a top 15 recruiting class highlighted by a quarterback (Johnathon McCrary) who turned down Alabama and Georgia. Franklin has done a nice job marketing himself and the program, as shown by the video that recently went viral of Franklin awarding a scholarship to a walk-on. Northwestern garnered some buzz last year for the clever PersaStrong Heisman campaign but that died pretty soon thereafter when Persa wasn't healthy enough to start the season.

But I don't know whether any of that means Vandy is in "better shape" than Northwestern. For one thing, we now take it for granted that the Wildcats will reach a bowl game every year. They've been to four straight and six in nine years. For the Commodores it was still a pretty big deal just to reach bowls in 2008 and 2011, and the teams both finished last season with the same 6-7 records. I fully expect to see Vandy improve over the next couple of years. Heck, the 'Dores might knock off South Carolina on Thursday. But I wouldn't bet my life on Franklin's still being in Nashville five years from now. His stock is only going to rise, and he has no ties to the area, whereas Fitzgerald, a Chicago native and Northwestern alum, will be in that job for eternity unless the Bears ever call. He's got another star quarterback in the making with junior Kain Colter, and I wouldn't expect the recent drop-off (from nine wins in 2008 to eight to seven to six) to continue.

Oh, so Miami will stink this year, will we? I imagine all the other teams who have won four national championships in nine seasons wish they stunk as much as Miami. Oh, by the way, who are those other teams? Exactly.
-- Mark, Miami

Are any of those trophies capable of playing defense this year? If so, I'll reassess.

And with that ... we're DONE previewing the season! Unleash the fireworks and confetti!

Follow along this weekend as I travel to Provo on Thursday to cover Washington State-BYU, then to Jerry World for Michigan-Alabama on Saturday. And please do take a moment to fill out my little survey. I'll tweet out some of the early returns if Ohio State lets me.

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