Posted: Wednesday September 5, 2012 12:19PM ; Updated: Thursday September 6, 2012 2:51PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

NCAA's controversial new helmet rule deserves a chance; more mail

Story Highlights

The NCAA's new helmet rule this year has drawn criticism, but it deserves a shot

'Bama rolled Michigan, but SEC should have no issue scheduling high-profile foes

Plus: Boise's BCS chances, results from reader survey, Nebraska's hot start, more

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Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd couldn't keep his helmet on against the Auburn defense last Saturday.
Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE
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A week of football is in the books. Some highly rated teams disappointed. Some freshmen burst onto the scene. But the topic my audience seemed most interested in discussing was ... helmets.

Stewart, I noticed a couple of times during the Clemson-Auburn game where it looked like Auburn's defense was purposely trying to pull off Tajh Boyd's helmet knowing he would have to sit out a play. With this rule change, do you think this will be the new way teams try to slow down no-huddle offenses instead of the old "fake" injuries?
--Jim, Brunswick, Maine

How long until the new rule that mandates a player must sit out one play if their helmet falls off costs a team a game? For example: Let's say LSU is playing Alabama, it's fourth-and-goal -- but AJ McCarron's helmet fell off the previous play and Alabama is forced to use the backup quarterback because of this rule.
-- Nathan Leingang, Fargo, N.D.

Rarely has a rule change been so visible so quickly as the helmet rule was last weekend. Not surprisingly, the reaction has been almost universally negative, not just among fans, but among coaches. Even FOX officiating guru Mike Pereira said the NCAA rules committee has "gone too far."

The funny thing is, for the past several years I've been getting regular e-mails during the season from people alarmed by the growing number of helmets falling off (an average of two per game, according to the NCAA). Now we have an actual rule addressing the issue and ... people aren't happy. This reaction fits with an ongoing contradiction: While most reasonable fans agree that football has serious safety issues that need to be addressed, every time the NFL or NCAA does something to address them (the NFL's fines for illegal hits, the NCAA's leading with the shoulder rule, kickoff changes, etc.), we all freak out. We want to make the sport safer without changing any rules.

I like the intent of the helmet rule. You might say, c'mon, how often does a player get injured from his helmet falling off? Well, first of all, one catastrophic injury to a player's unprotected head is one too many. But the overarching goal right now is to reduce concussions, and incentivizing players to properly lace up their helmets can help achieve that. In theory, the potential gain from a player purposely pulling off an opponent's helmet is negated by the fact that, if he gets caught, the player's team will lose yards while his opponent won't have to come out. But I realize the officials can't catch every such instance. Enforcement might be clunky. I also realize fans will never accept an outcome being decided by this call, as in the example Nathan describes.

So it's possible the rule may eventually need to be revised, but I'd like to give it a chance first. And I'll probably say the same about nearly any player safety initiative.

With LSU's beatdown of the Pac-12 last year, and now Alabama showing no mercy to the Big Ten, do you see other teams/conferences being hesitant to play the SEC in the opening classic in Jerry World?
-- Sean O'Brien, New Orleans

Indeed, I think the rest of the country will collectively agree to throw up a white towel after the results of those two games. The shame is just too much to bear. Have fun with those SEC-Sun Belt games from here on out, Jerry.

C'mon.

As much as we love painting these games as conference vs. conference, the SEC's all-stars did not play the Big Ten's all-stars last weekend. Alabama, the defending national champion and now the No. 1 team in the country, played Michigan. LSU, the No. 1 team in the country for 12 weeks last year, played Oregon in 2011. The victors in both cases happened to be the very best in the country. However, I seem to recall Boise State handling Georgia at a not-so-neutral site to open last season. Clemson beat Auburn at the same event last weekend, and Virginia Tech will take on Alabama there next year. No SEC nonconference games are currently scheduled for Jerry World in the immediate future (Notre Dame plays Arizona State there next year, Texas plays UCLA in 2014), but if 'Bama or LSU would like to come there again, I'm sure someone would sign up as a challenger.

In hindsight, Michigan would have been better off avoiding the Tide, since it dropped 11 spots in the polls as the result of its whipping. It fell one spot behind Oklahoma State in the AP poll, so perhaps the Wolverines would have been better off scheduling Savannah State. The problem is that the current BCS system seems to disincentivize playing tough nonconference foes. In theory, the 2014 playoff selection committee should change that. The Big Ten, for one, has already encouraged its members to upgrade their schedules, and considering the league already has three annual bowl games against SEC opponents, I don't think it will shy away from facing them in neutral-site openers if the opportunities arise.

I'm trying to figure out why everyone is already writing off Boise State as a BCS buster this year. As I understand it, all they have to do is finish ranked in the top 16 and ahead of the Big East or ACC champion in the polls or the top 12. If the Broncos are able to get their offense going and finish 11-1, I would put their chances of ending the year in at least in the top 16 and ahead of the Big East champion as favorable. It's always better to lose early rather than late.
--Trent, Layton, Utah

You are correct in thinking that an 11-1 Boise team would probably rise back up as high as you're saying. I'm just not sure how anyone who watched the Michigan State game would have much confidence in the Broncos to win out. Yes, the 17-13 final score was close (in part because the Spartans took a knee inside Boise's five-yard line in the waning moments), but Michigan State dominated the game statistically and exposed both of Boise's big concerns heading into the year. New quarterback Joe Southwick struggled (including misfires on two downfield throws to open receivers late in the game), and the Spartans ran right at Boise's rebuilt defensive line all night. The Broncos will assuredly get better and were facing a Big Ten team that I think will win 11 or 12 games, but they'll likely be the underdog for their Sept. 20 matchup with a very good BYU team. And there's reason to think Nevada, coming off its upset of Cal, might challenge the Broncos for Mountain West supremacy.

One other thing worth noting here: I wouldn't call it a given that the Big East champ finishes outside the top 12. Did you watch the Louisville-Kentucky game? The Cardinals looked pretty darn good, admittedly against one of the SEC's worst teams. But considering they're already ranked, it's not a stretch to think Charlie Strong's team could win 11 games. Previous Big East teams with that type of record have finished in the top five to 10.

So your upset special was Ohio over Penn State, 24-20, and Ohio beat Penn State, 24-14. Not too shabby.
--Dave, Washington D.C.

Indeed, the Upset Special -- and the Weekend Pickoff itself -- got off to a nice start in Week 1. But a lot of those games were layups. It's about to get a lot harder. You know that cliché that teams make the most improvement between Week 1 and Week 2? It's a near mortal lock that won't hold true here.

 
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