More Mailbag (cont.)
Stewart, RichRod and Todd Graham are finding early success in the desert with their version of the spread, yet both had limited success in their "rust belt" stops at Michigan and Pitt. Do you think certain programs are too ingrained in a certain style/culture to ever fully embrace an offense like that and are they selling themselves short by being so closed-minded?
-- James Smith, Pittsburgh
While it's an interesting coincidence between the two, it's time to bury once and for all any notion that geography or culture should dictate the type of offense a team runs. Wide-open offenses are now being run in every pocket of the country, at every level of football. RichRod had ample success with the spread just down I-79 from Pitt while at West Virginia, and his defense, not the offense, was his ultimate undoing at Michigan. Urban Meyer is now running the spread at another former bastion of old-school Midwest football, and Braxton Miller will keep running for 100-plus yards whether it's 80 degrees or 20.
In the cases of both coaches, it's about the personnel they inherited. Rodriguez didn't have a functional quarterback his first year in Ann Arbor, and his offense, in turn, was a mess. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson showed up the next year, the returning players had a season in the system and things quickly improved. At Arizona, Rodriguez has had the luxury of skipping through some of the growing pains since Mike Stoops already ran a fairly wide-open offense, and since senior quarterback Matt Scott is an ideal fit for the system. Similarly, Graham took over an Arizona State program that had been running much the same hurry-up scheme he hoped to employ, whereas at Pittsburgh he had the misfortune of succeeding a coach, Dave Wannstedt, who couldn't be more philosophically opposite in his approach. Thus Wannstedt left the Panthers with a roster built for power running.
In fact, after sitting through Pittsburgh's nightmarish performance last week against Cincinnati, one in which quarterback Tino Sunseri's offensive line seemed hell-bent on getting him decapitated in between interceptions, I have newfound respect for Graham's coaching. He managed to win six games there last year.
So I'm assuming the Arkansas faithful have filled up your inbox with apologies after chiding your preseason "flop" prognostication?
-- Josh Lehman, Columbus, Ohio
Nope, not one.
30-27? UGA routed Mizzou you dumba**.
-- Mike, Atlanta
Plenty of those, though.
I remember a time when it was a seemingly huge story whenever a I-AA school took down a I-A team. But ever since Appalachian State defeated Michigan in 2007, it seems to have become more common and has happened to BCS-conference teams in consecutive weeks to open the 2012 season (Youngstown State over Pitt and Sacramento State over Colorado). Is the gap between the FBS and FCS just narrower, or is it that coverage of games is just that much broader?
-- Brian S., Snellville, Ga.
The answer is pretty simple: There's a lot more of these games than there were five or six years ago. The permanent addition of a 12th regular season game along with the NCAA watering down bowl eligibility rules (prior to 2006, a team could only count a win over a I-AA team once every four years) prompted a lot more major-conference schools to start adding these games, both to fill home dates and to benefit from FCS' opponents' relatively cheap paychecks (usually $300,000-$400,000, compared with the $1 million range for low-level FBS foes). The number of FBS vs. FCS games nearly doubled from 2005 (54) to 2012 (106). So it's not entirely surprising that a couple of upsets would occur among those 106 meetings.
Also, there's a big difference between Appalachian State beating Michigan and Sacramento State beating Colorado. The first involved the defending FCS champion beating a preseason top-five team led by future pros Chad Henne, Jake Long, Mike Hart and Mario Manningham. The latter involved a 4-7 FCS team from a year ago beating a 3-10 FBS team from a year ago. There's no question the gap between the top tier of FCS and the bottom rung of the major conferences has shrunk. But high-level upsets, like Appalachian State over Michigan and James Madison over Virginia Tech, are still truly shocking.
So, Stewart -- In Syracuse's two losses, the Orange have averaged more than 400 yards on offense (a huge improvement from what we've seen the last several seasons). They've also given up 42 points in each game, mostly due to mental miscues (as far as I can tell, they've otherwise played well on defense). I've heard people say they may very well be the best 0-2 team in the country right now. So how optimistic (or pessimistic) should I be about my Orange this season?
-- Ray Kim, Troy, N.Y.
I'd definitely be optimistic. Your Orange outgained the No. 2 team in the country in a football game (455 yards to 445). Quarterback Ryan Nassib is completing 70 percent of his passes and averaging 402 yards per game. Senior receiver Marcus Sales, suspended all of last season, has picked up where he left off from his monster game in the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl; he and junior Jarod West comprise an explosive receiving tandem. And while I doubt mental miscues were solely responsible for Northwestern marching 75 yards for a game-winning drive or Matt Barkley throwing for six touchdowns last week, it's true the defense isn't as bad as the scores would indicate. One glaring problem, though: Punt coverage. Northwestern's Venric Mark had 82- and 52-yard returns in the opener, and USC's Robert Woods broke one 31 yards last week. Syracuse ranks dead last nationally in that department.
Louisville remains the Big East's team to beat, as the Cardinals have more high-level athletes across the board than any other school in the league. But Syracuse has a chance to put together a nice run going forward, keeping in mind it still has to play nonconference games at Minnesota and Missouri.
You said MetLife Stadium was half empty for the USC-Syracuse game. Can the ACC finally admit that Syracuse does not bring in the New York market? If they can't fill the stadium for the No. 2 team in the country, they are not going to do it for an ACC game.
-- John Jessup, Clermont, Fla.
It's entirely possible the last time John Swofford hailed a New York cab, he took the ad on top too literally.
Hey Stewart, I was wondering your thoughts on Colorado. They are 0-2 with two bad losses and don't appear to be heading in the right direction. Can Jon Embree and crew turn it around? And do you think they can ever return to their glory years of the late '80s and early '90s?
-- Carson Thomas, Frisco, Texas
I tweeted after the Sacramento State loss that Colorado is the closest thing you'll ever see to a post-Death Penalty program that never received the Death Penalty. The Buffs have never recovered from the sex scandal that rocked that program in the mid-2000s. Though no NCAA violations were committed, the stigma and rigid self-imposed restrictions regarding prospects' visits hamstrung then-coach Gary Barnett's recruiting efforts. Barnett's successor, Boise State's Dan Hawkins, proved unfit to recruit at the highest level, and, due in part to the athletic department's financial woes, AD Mike Bohn stuck with Hawkins at least a year longer than he should have. Then when Bohn did make a change, he went the cheap route again, entrusting a daunting major-conference rebuilding job to a first-time head coach.
It's too soon to write off Embree, who seems a nice enough guy and is certainly a better recruiter than Hawkins. But he sure seems in over his head. At $725,000 a year -- the lowest salary in the Pac-12 by far -- you get what you pay for. There's also a bit of bad timing here. Less than a year after Embree's hire, Larry Scott made everybody filthy rich with the conference's new TV deals, allowing a school like Washington State to afford a coach like Mike Leach ($2 million). The Pac-12 is a great fit for Colorado, and eventually it, too, will be able to take advantage of those resources. With the right coach, it could return to its former perch. But right now it's even farther from that level than it was during Hawkins' tenure.
Stewart, I see you still hate Georgia!! I guess you are jumping on hating Georgia and the entire SEC because you guys are tired of the SEC winning all the time! You might have went 9-1 last week, but with picks like Missouri over Georgia, I BET YOU HAVE A BAD WEEK!! When Georgia gets through running the ball DOWN THEIR THROATS, maybe, just maybe you will finally catch on!! Georgia WINS THIS GOING AWAY, 34-20, WRITE IT DOWN!! SEC HATER!!
-- Lamar Westbrook, Dallas, Ga.
Whoa. You were absolutely right about me having a bad week (4-6), you came within a Georgia touchdown of nailing the score exactly AND you became the first reader to ever accuse me of SEC hatred for picking one SEC team to beat another.
Well done, sir.