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

Getting to know you, the reader, in the final Mailbag of the preseason

Story Highlights

Tell us about yourself so that we can make the Mailbag better for you

USC is the preseason favorite, but Oregon is the smarter Pac-12 pick

'Seismic Saturday' is an exciting prospect that's bound to fall through

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So here we are, on the eve of our first date (of the football season), and it's suddenly occurred to me: I don't really know you that well. We've spent so much time lately talking about Matt Barkley, Nick Saban, Tyrann Mathieu, et al., but I want to know a little bit more about you, the reader.

Some of you may remember that way back in 2006, before Twitter turned all of you into 10-letter user names with tiny little avatars, I had an actual MySpace page, and before it became overrun by middle schoolers and Macy's spam, it actually proved quite useful. I got to put some faces to names and get a better sense of exactly whom I'm addressing each week. I suppose I could do the same now with Facebook, but then I'd be expected to remember peoples' birthdays and comment on their kids' back-to-school pictures. No thanks.

Instead, I'm going to attempt a one-time get-to-know-you-a-little-better experiment. Call it market research. Just this once, please e-mail me (even if you're not normally the type to e-mail sportswriters) with simple answers to the following questions.

1. What is your age?
2. What is your favorite college team?
3. Roughly how long (be it years, months or weeks) have you been reading the Mailbag?
4. When (Nights? Days? Weekends?) and where (Home? Work? The bathroom?) do you usually read the Mailbag?
5. On what device (Computer? Phone? Tablet?) do you usually read it?
6. What's one thing you'd like to see more or less of in this column? (Note: Less of me is not one of the choices.)

Rest assured, I will not sell your information to a third party. I don't even know how to do that. But if this little survey works, it will help me write columns this season that are the most likely to interest you. And for anyone who's curious, I will publish the general audience demographics next week.

And now, on with the questions:

Hi Stewart, looking at your preseason bowl picks, I see you have Oregon in the national championship game against LSU. That tells me you like Oregon over USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game (if all goes the way I think it will). I think USC can win the regular season game Nov. 3rd, but playing twice will be very tough. Do you believe it's Oregon's offense or overall scheme that will give the Ducks the Pac-12 title?
-- Bill Van Iden, San Francisco

You wouldn't think my predicted national championship matchup of two preseason top five teams would be all that unusual, but apparently it is. This week ESPN sent out the predictions of 18 different on-air analysts, and while some had LSU and others Oregon, none had them playing each other. (Our own Holly Anderson, on the other hand, is very smart.) Meanwhile, I've gotten a number of e-mails and Tweets suggesting I'm either off my rocker or purposely playing the contrarian simply for not picking USC to win the Pac-12.

Is it really crazy to think an Oregon team that's gone 34-6 and won its conference three consecutive years might in fact win the league again? No question, USC will be very, very good, particularly on offense. But the Trojans, as you may have heard, are still under NCAA sanctions and playing with at least 10 fewer guys than everybody else. I'm concerned about their ability to withstand injuries for an entire season, and I'm concerned that their biggest question mark, the defensive line, just happens to be the biggest key to stopping Oregon's offense. As Bill said, barring the unexpected rise of some team like Cal or Washington, the Ducks and Trojans will likely face each other twice in November, and the later in the year it gets, the more depth will become a concern.

Hence, I see USC winning the first meeting but not the second, and assuming that's Oregon's only loss, I see De'Anthony Thomas and Co. rising back into the top two.

This season, Nov. 3 has the potential to be "Seismic Saturday," when four of the preseason top five teams will face each other on the same night: USC vs. Oregon and Alabama vs. LSU. This will only be the biggest night of college football "this century" if all teams remain undefeated going into the weekend. My question is, who gets upset first before that weekend?
-- Trevor Kuhn, Portland, Ore.

First of all, as thrilling as that would be, can we all agree it's highly unlikely to happen? Now that we've spent eight months assuming this hierarchy for the 2012 season, there is absolutely no chance it will stay that way for nine weeks. Someone we haven't even contemplated will rise into the top five by then, and at least one of the aforementioned teams will fall on its face. Given how I just penciled Oregon and USC into a de facto national semifinal, it will probably be one of them.

But just looking at schedules, the answer is Alabama. In the first three weeks alone the Tide face two preseason top 10 teams (Michigan and Arkansas) away from home. While I believe both those teams to be slightly overrated, they can still notch an early upset over an Alabama squad breaking in a whole lot of first-time starters at important positions. If it doesn't happen then, it might come in one of the Tide's consecutive mid-October road games at Missouri and Tennessee. Nick Saban's team is still loaded -- the offensive line alone has three preseason All-Americas (center Barrett Jones, tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack) and a former top-rated high school tackle (Cyrus Kouandjio) -- but so was the 2010 team that tripped up three times. This team, too, is bound to get upset at some point.

Do you see the ACC's Coastal Division coming down to a battle between Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech again this year? If so, the opening game in Blacksburg would seem to be key to the rest of the season for each. Do you think it is more advantageous to play the Hokies early in the season since they will be replacing so many pieces on offense this year?
-- Gil Myers, Blairstown, N.J.

I wouldn't dismiss Virginia, what with the progress the Cavs have already made under Mike London, but with North Carolina ineligible, Miami undergoing a massive youth movement and Duke being Duke (though I'm apparently more optimistic for the Blue Devils this year than most), it's very likely the division will come down to the teams that play each other Monday night.

Absolutely, it's better to face the Hokies early. That's not unique to this season; just look at their recent history. Frank Beamer's teams lost at least one of their first two games every year from 2007-10 before playing an all-cupcake September last season. Mind you, that included games against LSU, Alabama and Boise State, but also East Carolina and James Madison. From that point forward, however, they went a combined 41-8 in those four seasons. So yes, if you're Georgia Tech, you'd rather face the Hokies on Sept. 3 than Nov. 3. However, it's also advantageous for Virginia Tech to be facing the triple-option without a game the week before. The Hokies have had bye weeks before facing the Jackets the past two years and won both meetings.

Of course, the biggest advantage for Virginia Tech is that the game is in Lane Stadium at night -- which means this.

Stewart, really? Predicting ALL of the bowl games on August 27? Dude, you need to find something to do!!! No one, not even Rutgers fans, the poor things, cares about a Maaco Bowl prediction in August.
-- Pat Murphy, LaBelle, Fla.

The page views that thing got would suggest otherwise.

 
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